The contemporary ceramics from Jingdezhen we looked at, as part of our exhibition for the London Design Festival 2016, engage with and move beyond traditional decoration in various ways. All the pieces were made by contemporary ceramicists, who were trained at the Ceramic Institute in Jingdezhen, the most prestigious educational institution for ceramics in China. With the exception of the first ceramic vase, which is from a book, all the depicted pieces are available at Rouge. Now that the exhibition is over, we are sharing the highlights with you in this blog post.
Traditional Chinese Ceramics
Blue and white ceramics have a long-standing tradition in China. The Chinese name qīnghūa cí (青花瓷) means literally blue flower ceramics. It was coined in the early 18th century, when the emperor first awarded officials for honest and uncorrupted service with blue and white vases decorated with lotuses. The combination of qīng (青) ‘blue’ and lián (莲) ‘lotus’ makes for the pun qīnglían (清廉) ‘honest and upright’. These blue and white vases have consequently become known as ‘award vases’ (Welch, p.30 & p.213).
Contemporary Blue and White Ceramics from Jingdezhen by Shu Jing
The ceramicist who designed these jars and vases uses traditional floral motifs but disengages from the traditional symbolism. The leaves on the tall vase, for instance, are traditionally used as an interlocking pattern (chán zhī wén 缠枝纹), to symbolize continuity, not as a main decorative motif. The leaves are based on bindweed (qiānniú 牵牛), but the strokes are simplified.
Flower Planter, Flower Bowl & Flower Stool by Yi Xiao Wen
The artisan who designed and made these pieces draws inspiration from her everyday surroundings and hand paints her ceramics with artistic interpretations of flowers that grow in the garden behind her studio, or with anthropomorphic renditions of her pets.
While her individualistic decorations stand in contrast to the traditional Chinese visual art, her pieces are invariably elegantly shaped and exquisitely executed. In addition to her collection of homewares, this designer also creates purely artistic ceramic pieces. The 'Mug with a Female Face Showing Teeth' below gives you an idea of it.
'Mug with a Female Face Showing Teeth' by Yi Xiao Wen
This mug is decorated with a female face with an open mouth, full of teeth. Traditionally, homewares are decorated with auspicious motifs that bestow blessings on their owners. Decorations that include humans (or immortals) are common motifs, but it is highly unusual for a female face not to convey elegance and beauty, but an unapologetic, if playful, expression of self-assertion.
Cats (māo 猫)
Cats (māo 猫) traditionally do not feature as an auspicious, decorative motif in the home. They are valued as animals that protect a family’s provisions from rodents. On the other hand, ‘rural superstition also associates them with poverty as they are attracted to homes abundant with mice and rats – which are seen as auspicious to the Chinese for their ability to hoard things and accumulate wealth … - only to chase them away or worse yet, kill them!’ (Welch, p.115). The two contemporary designers showcased here, who are depicting anthropomorphic cats on their ceramics, clearly do not share these traditional, superstitious concerns.
The Goldfish and Carp Collection
In the Chinese tradition, the carp (lĭyú 鲤鱼) is a popular decorative motif, because it is a pun for ‘enormous wealth’ (lìyù 利餘). The goldfish (jīnyú 金鱼) is a pun for gold (jīn 金) and jade (yù 玉) combined, and therefore is also an important symbol for riches. However, the goldfish and the carp depicted on these pieces are based on the Japanese Ukiyo-e carp style.
The ceramicist, who has specialized in this technique, explains it in more detail in the short interview shown on the screen. It is remarkable, that glaze is only used for the red scales and the inside of the mug. The background is painted with silver, which is fired at 1280oC.
The mug shown above has been repaired with gold, using the traditional Japanese technique, called, Kintsugi (golden joinery). As this gives a unique appearance to the pieces, repaired pieces are often considered even more valuable.
Overall, we've found the contemporary ceramicists Lei has visited in their studios in Jingdezhen to engage with and adapt to the tradition of Chinese Visual Art in many different ways, often conforming to the tradition in one way while moving beyond it, or even challenging it, in other ways at the same time. And this is, indeed, how the tradition itself has evolved and developed over the centuries.
Please note: If you would like to buy any of the ceramic pieces featured in this blog post, but can't find them on our website, do get in touch, and we'll be happy to assist you. We'd also love to hear from you if you have comments or feel inspired by this post. For contact details, please click here.
For the interpretation of the motifs, we have mainly used two books:
Chinese Art – A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery (Patricia Bjaaland Welch, 2008)
Hidden Meanings In Chinese Art (Terese Tse Bartholomew, 2006)
For our exhibition 'Traditional & Contemporary Decorative Chinese Motifs in the Home for the London Design Festival 2016, we set ourselves the challenge to interpret the hidden meanings of the paintings on two pieces of furniture, the Tiger Cabinet (Gansu, China, ca. 1920), pictured below
and the Spring Blessings Cabinet (Gansu, China, 1974), pictured below.
The visual art of China is intricately connected to the Chinese language. The Chinese language possesses far more characters than sounds. Consequently, many words sound similar or the same. Based on this abundance of homophones, a tradition has developed, in which Chinese decorative motifs have hidden auspicious meanings, in addition to the direct symbolic meanings that derive from their own properties.
An example is bamboo (zhú 竹). ‘Bamboo is … said to be symbolic of filial piety because it grows in thickets or groves close to its “parents”.’ (Welch, p.21). In addition, it is a homophone of (zhù 祝), to wish or to congratulate. Therefore, whenever bamboo is included in a painting, its ‘hidden’ meaning is to carry a wish, or a blessing.
The combination of motifs can make up nuanced messages or blessings. Many of the decorative paintings on Chinese Vintage furniture carry well-known blessings for domestic harmony, longevity, fertility, wealth and honour.
A lot of information is available online about the symbolic meaning of individual motifs, but to get to the hidden meaning, based on rebuses and homophones, we relied on two excellent books:
Chinese Art – A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery (Patricia Bjaaland Welch, 2008)
Hidden Meanings In Chinese Art (Terese Tse Bartholomew, 2006)
Below we share with you what we could find out, first for the Tiger Cabinet, and then for the Spring Blessings Cabinet.
The Tiger Cabinet (Gansu, China, ca. 1920)
Mountain Flower (shān huā 山花) wild flowers that grow on mountains
山花烂慢 (shān huā làn màn) ‘mountain flowers blossoming in
Lotus (莲花 lion huā) or (荷花 hé huā). Lotus symbolises continuity and harmony in a domestic context, and purity and detachment from worldly cares in a philosophical context.
芙蕖青莲 (fú qú qīng lián) ‘lotus and blue lotus’. This phrase references the symbolism of coloured lotuses: ‘Red Lotus … represents the original nature of the heart and symbolises love, compassion and passion. The blue lotus, shown partially open, symbolises wisdom, knowledge and the victory of the spirit over the senses’ (Welch, p. 194-5).
Mountain (shān 山). Mountains are the places closest to the gods and because of their expanse and height convey the meaning of limitlessness. Shān (山) is also a homophone of shine (善) good, friendly, kind and perfect. ‘A “shine person” is the Chinese expression for “Philantropist”.’ (Welch, p.252)
Pine (sōng 松). Pine is a symbol of longevity and endurance. It has no homophone.
Bamboo (zhú 竹) Bamboo ’stands for vitality and longevity. It bends in the storm but does not break; thus it symbolises humility, fidelity, and integrity (Bartholomew, 8.2). It is a homophone of zhù (祝) ‘to wish or to congratulate’. The combination of bamboo and pine carries the hidden meaning ‘May the family unite and flourish’ (zhúbāo sōngmào 竹苞松茂). This motif is often used to congratulate a family moving into a new residence.’ (Bartholomew, 3.1.1).
Tiger (hŭ 虎). The tiger is a traditional symbol of strength and protection, and a homophone of (hù 护) ‘to protect, guard, shield’ and (hù 祜) ‘blessing’ (Welch, p. 51). In the Qing dynasty, it was the symbol of a military official of the third rank. The depiction of a tiger in a pine grove stands for ‘courage coupled with endurance’ (Welch, p.109).
气雄千里，威仪震万 (qì xióng qiān lĭ, wēi yí zhèn won) ‘powerful energy, reaching one thousand lĭ, mighty appearance felt by ten thousands’ (1 lĭ is approx. 500m)
The cabinet is decorated with auspicious symbols for the unity of a family and the protection of the household. It may have been made for a person who has just moved into a new residence. The decoration carries a pronounced wish for that person to gain honour and influence through courage and perseverance, possibly in a military position. The presence of the mountain and the bamboo grove add a connotation of moral integrity.
The Spring Blessings Cabinet (Gansu, China, April 1974)
Peonies (fùguì huā 富贵花). The peony is closely associated with royalty because it was grown in the imperial gardens of the Sui and Tang dynasties. It is called fugue huā, the flower of wealth and honour (honour stands for high social status or official rank).
Ribbon-tailed birds (shòudàiniăo 绶带鸟). Ribbon-tailed birds symbolise longevity ‘because the ribbon (shòu 绶) is a pun for longevity (shòu 寿).’ (Bartholomew, 7.51).
Two ribbon-tailed birds = double longevity (Bartholomew, 7.51.1)
七四年四月 (qī sì nián sì yuè) ‘April 1974’
幸福花开 (xìn fú huā kāi) ‘May happiness blossom like a flower’
Swallow (yàn 燕). Swallows are a symbol for spring. Swallow (yàn 燕) is a homophone of yàn (宴) ‘banquet’.
Carp (lĭyú 鲤鱼). The carp is a pun for (lìyù 利餘) ‘enormous wealth’ (Bartholomew, 6.11).
Lotus (héhuā 荷花) or (liánhuā 莲花). héhuā is a pun for harmony, harmonious marriage. Liana symbolises continuity and can be combined with fish to represent liánnián yuyú (连年有余), ‘abundance year after year’ (Bartholomew, p.19).
映日荷花别样红，接天连叶无穷碧 (yang rì hé huā bié yàng hang, jiē tiē lion yin wú qióng bì) – references a poem about the famous West Lake in June, praising the beauty of the flowering lotus in the sunshine.
Overall, we felt the style of the paintings on the Spring Blessings Cabinet matched the cheerful blessings they convey. The serious message, with its emphasis on discipline and moral, contained in the combination of the motifs of the Tiger Cabinet, however, did surprise and intrigue us.
To share our fascination with Chinese decorative motifs, we have hosted a creative workshop during the London Design Festival and we are going to repeat it on Sunday, 16th October (11am - 1pm) at the shop. To find out more about the upcoming workshop and to book a ticket, please click here.
As part of our tenth anniversary celebrations last November we hosted a Monohon Ramen Pop Up at ROUGE. Monohon Ramen founder Ian Wheatley offered a special dish, Abura Soba, 'a soupless ramen, made up of thick chewy noodles served with a sesame oil based sauce and toppings include char siu (slow braised pork), menma (seasoned bamboo shoots), beansprouts, a slow poached egg (onsen tamago) and many more ingredients, giving you every inch of noodles coated with creamy egg yolk, sauce and other yummy goodness.' (www.monohonramen.com) The evening was a big, soldout success and we will repeat the happy experience this Sunday 31st January and on Sunday 6th February. There are still a few tickets available for the 6th February, but they go really fast. You can buy the tickets at edible experiences. Below some images from the first Monohon Ramen Pop Up:
For the London Design Festival 2015 (19th to 27th September) Lei will take us along on a journey to the artisan workshops in rural China where she sources the restored vintage furniture and contemporary artisan ceramics for ROUGE!
As avid photographers, Lei and her travel companions have over time accumulated a collection of images and footage of places, products and people that assume a striking counterpoint to the Western public awareness of fast-paced mass production in China. For the London Design Festival 2015 we will create an installation from these unhurried images and stories of restoration, the mixing of old and new materials and hand-making that present a side of China that most people here don’t usually get in contact with.
To complement the installation, Lei and Kaja will talk about Lei’s journeys to the Chinese workshops on Sunday 20th September at 5pm. The talk will be followed by a complementary drinks reception.
The installation will be on view at ROUGE’s premises in Stoke Newington throughout the festival, 19th to 27th September 2015.
Both, the installation and the talk are free, but because of limited space we request that you register for the talk on Eventbrite under this link:
If there are no more spaces, do get in touch with us (firstname.lastname@example.org) and if there is enough extra interest, we might try to find a second date for the talk.
All the participants of our papercutting workshop at ROUGE in celebration of the Chinese year of the Ram said they enjoyed it a lot and would love to do another one, which is so nice to hear! So, below we share some images from the event that was hosted by Lei's friend Ding Ding and we will also post instruction videos in the mixed media section very soon.
In the image above, you see Ding holding up two of the floral papercuts she prepared for the workshop. She suggested we start with these templates as they are fairly easy to cut out, even though they look quite intricate.
floral papercut template
After everyone has cut a floral design, Ding explains how to combine patterned and plain paper to create an interesting background.
Someone says the paper used for this floral papercut reminds her of 1960s textiles.
Straightening the folds before gluing the papercut on the first background layer is a good idea.
the Ram template
one example of the Ram on a mixed patterned and plain background
another example of the Ram papercut, on the same background arrangement, but with different colours and patterns
the 'double happiness' template
'double happiness' accomplished :-)
a handful of double dragon papercut templates
the double dragon template transferred onto the paper - the most time consuming papercut of the workshop
a pink double dragon
Ding provides practical guidance on how to choose effective combinations of patterned and plain-coloured papers for the layered background on which the papercut is mounted.
smiles and concentration
a four-fold dragon - one participant creatively modified Ding's double dragon template
then she got even more creative and drew up her own bird papercut ...
... which impressed everyone enormously and led to a lively discussion about whether this bird is a crane or not
No time for a tea break! Everyone was too immersed in her work to even look up when Lei offered a tea break. We risked spills onto our precious artwork, but thankfully there were none.
Gluing the papercut onto a background paper is a tricky business. The glue is mixed with water in saucers and applied to the papercut with a calligraphy brush.
Finally all the finished papercuts are spread out on the table and discussed.
Preparing to pose for a final picture with everyone holding up their best papercut.
The final picture with everyone holding up their best papercut.
Thank you, Ding, for hosting this fun Sunday morning papercutting workshop in celebration of the Chinese Year of the Ram!
And thank you to everyone who attended! We hope you enjoy the artwork you created and feel inspired to make some more.
On Sunday we filmed our Chinese friend Ding Ding as she prepared templates for our upcoming Chinese papercutting workshop (Sunday 22nd February, 11am-1pm at ROUGE). Leon will make a total of four instruction videos from the footage and we will upload them onto our vimeo and youtube channels as soon as he has finished editing. If you want to know when they are up, please join our mailing list at the bottom of this page.
Chinese New Year papercuttings like the above 'Double Happiness' are traditionally made from red paper (the colour red is associated with good luck in Chinese culture) and people stick them into their windows for the light to shine through.
Our upcoming papercutting workshop at ROUGE is as much about creating beautiful papercut designs, as it is about arranging them artistically on layers of patterned or plain paper to make unique pieces of artwork, fit for framing and hanging up on a wall. We will be using high quality Japanese paper and mix it with more basic origami paper from Muji.
The interaction between the pattern of a paper with the papercut design can add artistic expression, so there is lots of room to get creative with the choice of material!
All in all we will offer four different papercut templates for you to choose from, and if you feel confident in drawing, you are most welcome to make your own. The material is included in the workshop fee, and for a glimpse of the atmosphere, take a look at one of our previous posts about the origami workshops.
Places for our papercutting workshop are limited, to secure your place for our workshop, please register through this link on Eventbrite
We won't give away all we have in store for you, but here are some 'behind the scenes' images of Ding making a quartet of the Ram papercut. Enjoy!
Thank you to everyone, friends and new friends, who came to our two recent Origami Christmas decoration workshops!
In these few weeks up to Christmas the shop is getting very busy, so we're only now getting around to upload some pictures from both workshops.
We hope everyone enjoyed making the colourful stars as much as we did. There are definitely some more creative workshops in planning for the coming year! If you haven't already done it, do sign up to our mailing list (at the bottom of this page) to be informed of the dates of our upcoming events.
Oh, and if you would like to make your own Christmas stars: we have made 3 videos on 'How to make an Origami Christmas Star' (with 24, 15 or 12 pieces). You can find them in our mixed media section and also download PDF instructions below each video there. In case you're wondering: we have used Muji's plain assorted origami paper for our stars.
Enjoy the pictures and the videos and see you soon, online or in our shop in Stoke Newington!
If we don't see you before then, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous NEW YEAR 2015,
Lei and the team at ROUGE