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All Fired Up: The art of modern ceramics

What is it about ceramics that attracts and intrigues? For the many who seek out fine china or artisanal pieces for their home, they encapsulate a sense of mystery while offering a comforting quality that relaxes the mind. Their very nature is a paradox, fragile yet durable at the same time.

A new generation of Hong Kong ceramic artists are merging cultures through earthware gafencu touch ceramics

(Photo courtesy of Touch Ceramics)

Ceramic works have seen a boom in interest among the younger generation – a growing trend, whether they are looking to create or collect. Although the craft is rooted deep in Chinese history – in their humble beginnings they were everyday receptacles such as cookware, tableware, flasks and vases – the focus now lies in contemporary artistic designs. But what exactly makes ceramics worth buying and collecting?

A new generation of Hong Kong ceramic artists are merging cultures through earthware gafencu touch ceramics kintugi enders wong

(Enders Wong of Touch Ceramics; Photo courtesy of Touch Ceramics)

For starters, every handmade piece is a one-of-a-kind creation. “Ceramic artists are extraordinarily hardworking,” says Enders Wong, the ceramic and kintsugi artist behind local gallery Touch Ceramics. “The medium can be hard to control and predict until you’ve actually finished firing the pieces and opened the kiln. In that way, with every piece that is created – every thought, experiment, discovery and care that is put into the work – the artist is actually giving more than they take,” he opines.

A new generation of Hong Kong ceramic artists are merging cultures through earthware gafencu touch ceramics kintsugi (2)

(Photo courtesy of Touch Ceramics)

Wong works with high-temperature ceramics and glass predominately. His sculptural pieces and kintsugi works typically take three months to perfect, from planning to finish, with the majority of time dedicated to conceptualising rather than the actual production. Wong’s process is very different to those working in conventional ceramics, though. “I reverse the sequence of traditional ceramic works to create new artworks,” he explains. “For example, I will do a glaze firing first, then pour slip on for another round of firing. This creates a peeling effect that is unlike the usual smooth surface of traditional wares. Using traditional techniques [melded with] my own approach allows me to chaSpotllenge myself and find my own unique style.”

“With every ceramic piece that is created – every thought, experiment, discovery and care that is put into the work – the artist is actually giving more than they take”

Also Read: The Arts of Survival: Hong Kong’s disappearing crafts

Made by Hand
There is a misconception that there is very little artistry in creating modern ceramics; given today’s advanced technology, people might assume that the pieces are mass-produced. This notion is refuted by Julie Progin and Jesse McLin, founders of Hong Kong-based design studio Latitude 22N, who stress that handcrafting is still the most constructive way to make ceramics, not to mention the most liberating for the creative mind. “Technology is something we try to disengage with whenever possible,” says Progin, “We like to work with our hands. With clay we can create forms almost as we conceive them. It’s very spontaneous and it allows us to quickly get a feel of what we want to make.”

A new generation of Hong Kong ceramic artists are merging cultures through earthware gafencu latitude 22N

(Julie Progin and Jesse McLin of Latitude 22N; Photo courtesy of Latitude 22N)

“We also benefit from skills that complement one another,” adds her artistic partner and husband McLin. “Julie may spend more time on the computer sketching and composing patterns, whilst I prefer to experiment directly with the clay to see what works and what doesn’t.”

The duo shies away from trends in ceramic design, preferring to draw from their different backgrounds and experiences to find a fresh perspective on preserving tradition and conceptualising meaningful, innovative ideas. “We love to investigate materials, push their boundaries and invent new processes which eventually lead to new works,” says Progin.

A new generation of Hong Kong ceramic artists are merging cultures through earthware gafencu latitude 22N (4)

(Photo courtesy of Latitude 22N)

This is clearly evident upon stepping into their studio. In a “library of experiments”, samples reveal the pair’s extensive investigations and document mistakes, tests and past works. It shows everything they’ve done – what works, what doesn’t, and what is yet to be discovered.

Clearly, mastering ceramics isn’t as simple as throwing clay on a turntable and shaping it to perfection. The research and development phase alone might take Progin and McLin two weeks or four, while their production time ranges upwards from a month to eight months and more. Small batches of their porcelain tableware, lighting and accessory collections, as well as uniquely shaped creations that require careful treatment, are all handmade in their studio. For large projects and collaborations that require specific skills such as hand-painting, carving or gliding, they will partner with various workshops. Having a team in a second studio in Jingdezhen, China’s porcelain capital, allows them to scale up production when required.

Connecting with Clay
The value of a ceramic work is not about its price, but the connection one has with it. For some, the pieces sit behind the glass of a display cabinet to be admired; for others collecting ceramics is a deeply personal and intimate way of interacting with everyday objects and appreciating art. Since each represents a piece of the artist, a bond between creator and owner is forged. At least this is what young local ceramic artist Allen Chiu, founder of Water Ceramics, believes.

A new generation of Hong Kong ceramic artists are merging cultures through earthware gafencu water ceramics

(Photo courtesy of Water Ceramics)

Just four years ago Chiu was fresh out of college with an art degree from the US, but not a single job offer lined up. Then, finally, she landed some work at a small ceramics studio and discovered her calling. As a one-woman team in her studio in Hong Kong, she not only handles production, sales, marketing and customer service, but also teaches pottery classes. But it is her background in fine arts, Western oil painting and collage that defines her distinctive aesthetic. Chiu’s works offer a soothing sense of Japanese-style minimalism with a vivid splash of colour that elicits joy.

A new generation of Hong Kong ceramic artists are merging cultures through earthware gafencu (2)

(Photo courtesy of Water Ceramics)

Unlike paintings and sculptures, ceramics are multifaceted in form, marrying traditional artisanal craft with aesthetic beauty, and communicating different cultural and historical narratives. Whilst being unique pieces that resonate with their collector, they are also more accessible to the ordinary person. As the famous English ceramic designer, Susie Copper, once said: “Pottery… is a practical and lasting form of art. Not everyone can afford original paintings, but most people can afford pottery.”

 

Also Read: Pottery, flower arrangement and more. New skills to pick up to expand your horizons

2022-04-16T08:27:40+00:00 April 14, 2022|Art, Culture, Lifestyle, Living|