What the Yixing Purple Clay Artists Say

The use of basic principles of elaborate and curious design is essential for effective Yixing tea ware. My hope is to use such inherent qualities to embellish a viewer’s involvement into narration. Narrating time can be a recorder of present dilemmas and concerns.

Chuck Aydlett, Winona, Minnesota

I became interested in Yixing ware when I was artist in residence at the Mendocino Art Center. Ah-Leon was there to give a workshop. Everyday he would take out different teapots giving lessons on them and different teas. Since that time, I have never looked at a teapot the same way. Although I find the trompe I’oeil effect of some of the teapots fascinating, I am drawn to the simpler and what I feel are the more elegant forms. My teapots draw sustenance from them, while the surface decoration is very much my own.

Lesley Baker, Oakland, California

Yixing teapots are continually evolving from their tradition integrating contemporary styles, ideas and cultural values. Some are only utilitarian while others are more decorative, derived from nature or stylized from existing objects. My work reflects the mergence of traditional vessels with contemporary ideas. The antique silverware that was pervasive in everyday life has been translated into hardware, a symbol of industry today. Simultaneously inspired by forms in nature, I translate vegetables and foliage as well as other organic references into my work. “Ornamentation is the symbol of cosmic activity, of development of space and the way out of chaos.” As the interior of a Yixing teapot develops an important layer of tea sediment, it produces a rich patina “on the exterior surface. Similarly, layering and encrusting the surface of my teapots is a metaphor for the field of active energy that portrays order within unrefined beauty.

Susan Beiner, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I look to the rich tradition of Yixing ware in the way in which it remains unglazed and exploits the qualities of the natural clay color. Through the process of carving, both my work and Yixing ware articulate natural and inanimate forms, transforming clay into art objects on an intimate scale. The arrival of working with carved brick as a medium came out of a culmination of years spent carving stone and wood, as well as “wet clay.” The tradition of carving these materials throughout several thousand years of Chinese culture is one I both aspire to and feed akin to. There is a consistent reverence to material and content whether it is wooden temple guardians, stone tomb statuary, jade, mythological animals, mountains or vessels.

Chris Berti, Urbana, Illinois

For me, the teapot reflects a craving for ritual. It offers not only a formal and technical challenge, but serves as a personal reminder of its role in ceramic education, Marvin Sweet described the principles that served as the foundation for Yixing ware as “understated and subtle, simple but elegant, refined yet earthy.” Those ideals guide my work but in ways that affect my choice of imagery and attention to surface. My work is inspired by the naturalistic style of Yixing ware created with a reverence for nature, an attraction to the narrative, reflecting a moment in place and time.

Susan Bostwick, Edwardsville, Illinois

As a senior at the Kansas City Art Institute, I made a series of small terra cotta teapots with burnished terra sigillata surfaces. Ken Ferguson, most likely, suggested I look at Yixing teapots. It was a revelation for me to see useful pots made with such attention to detail, and for a while I deliberately emulated Yixing ware. It felt very peculiar to be making a pot for use, but spending ten times as long at it as any functional potter who needed to make a living. In graduate school I realized that my best work consistently required hours (or days) of tender labor. This was an indication that I am not a functional potter. I am a representational artist and functional pottery is my subject The precision, scale and surface of my teapot stacks make evident the connection between my work and Yixing ware.

When I left the making of functional pots for the making of representations of functional pots, I had a hard time at first accepting the time I was devoting to each piece. I love functional pots, the simpler the better So why am I someone who spends forty hours making one miniature, highly decorated teapot stack that can’t be used to brew tea? I believe that we don’t necessarily make what we like the best, we make what we make the best.

Gail Busch, Corpus Christy Texas

There is something about Yixing teapots that permeates my consciousness. Yixing teapot artists personalized and individualized their work by building the vessel as a recognizable object or group of objects. The forms, the distinctive subjects, the allusions to the important stuff of life, the implied autobiographical content and most of ail the sensuous whimsy satisfy my desire to exploit clay in a trompe I’oeil manner. Rich surfaces, engaging textures, intense color, minute detail and the juxtaposition of ceramic illusions inspire me.

Robin Campo, Charlottesville, Virginia

I have been to China twice in the past ten years, both times making stops in Yixing. We visited several individual studios, factories, the teapot market, as well as the production of domestic stoneware using similar but less refined slab techniques. I returned with a modest collection of teapots. Also, I have been exposed to the making process and philosophy of the Yixing tradition through a workshop by masters Ran Chunfang and his wife Xu Chengquan, who gave a very detailed demonstration of their technique.

I am fascinated by the variety and complexity of the Yixing teawares, and of course the amazing ability to construct these volumetric forms from flat slabs of clay. The precision and crisp details seem to defy human ability. Every aspect of the pottery is carefully considered, particularly the transition between all the formal elements. Although the influences are not obvious in my work, the careful manipulation of the clay and detailed design considerations have affected my respect toward craftsmanship and material.

Bruce Cochrane, Mississauga, Ontario l’oeil manner. Rich surfaces, engaging textures, intense color, minute detail and the juxtaposition of ceramic illusions inspire me.

I have been to China twice in the past ten years, both times making stops in Yixing. We visited several individual studios, factories, the teapot market, as well as the production of domestic stoneware using similar but less refined slab techniques. I returned with a modest collection of teapots. Also, I have been exposed to the making process and philosophy of the Yixing tradition through a workshop by masters Ran Chunfang and his wife Xu Chengquan, who gave a very detailed demonstration of their technique.

I am fascinated by the variety and complexity of the Yixing wares, and of course the amazing ability to construct these volumetric forms from flat slabs of clay. The precision and crisp details seem to defy human ability. Every aspect of the pottery is carefully considered, particularly the transition between all the formal elements. Although the influences are not obvious in my work, the careful manipulation of the clay and detailed design considerations have affected my respect toward craftsmanship and material.

Bruce Cochrane, Mississauga, Ontario

My work celebrates ephemeral moments, what to some may seem mundane. I also consider the meditative and reflective qualities that are a part of the Chinese tea ceremony and the naturalistic detail found in traditional Yixing ware. Ultimately, my teapots are an attempt to suggest the seemingly mundane activity of cutting vegetables can be an act of contemplation and transcendence.

Trisha Coates, Durham, New Hampshire

My work is inspired by nature and guided by historical precedent I was taught and now teach my students to look to the past for their ideas and inspiration, My love of Chinese ceramics was originally centered on the work of the Song dynasty, as those great porcelain pieces profoundly affected my understanding of form and proportion. Lately, I have begun to draw my major source of inspiration and stimulation from the teapots made in Yixing. This was reinforced by my recent trip to China, I was able to meet a number of the Yixing potters and visit their homes and studios, studying a wide variety of current and historic teapot forms.

I also visited many museums and found Yixing teapot publications that are not readily available in the West These works and images helped me to discover possibilities and ideas that are evident in my newest teapot forms. They do pour and function as a normal teapot, but I view them as pure sculpture, to be looked at and admired for their form.

Jim Connell, Rock Hill, South Carolina

I studied Chinese history in college and became aware of Yixing teapots while visiting the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Since 1970, when I began my exploration of clay, I started making small pumpkin- and gourd-form teapots. Since then I have been on a quest In 1979, on a visit to the Freer Gallery in Washington, DC I was able to hold some ancient Yixing teapots. I felt a connection to these small teapots. I could feel the energy and see the perfection. In 1985 I was lucky enough to go to China. But my attempts to visit Yixing were thwarted as time and travel were difficult if you were not scheduled to go there. The culmination of my quest came in 2000 with another visit to China, this time with the express purpose of going to Yixing. I met all the grand masters as well as younger people working in the Yixing tradition. We were invited into their homes and workshops. I felt at home!

Annette Corcoran, Pacific Grove, California

My work reflects on all teapots. After all they are the only objects that I make. My original objective was to change the way teapots looked, to open up the parameters of shapes. I was influenced by everything including the Yixing teapots. However, in working I never took inspiration from other art forms, I am looking at the nature of all containing form.

We are who we are because of the containers we make. We can melt metal in ceramic containers and function at a high technical level, blessed by the containers that hold the magic sauces of industry. Tea is also a common dominator of all great societies and l am taking part in the visual discussion of how I think teapots should look.

Philip Cornelius, Pasadena, California

I first saw Yixing ware in London, in 1979, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. At the time I had just finished four years at university and I was already making realistic works in clay. One particular teapot at the museum was a pumpkin form with quite realistic branches. I was truly amazed that that kind of realism was being done several hundred years earlier. It was an affirmation that I was headed in the right direction with my own work. It was perhaps not so much an Influence as an encouragement.

Karen Dahl, Winnipeg, Manitoba

My work is a celebration of issues specific to the ritual vessel. Those prototypes contain important concepts: culture, religion and homage to the past. The tradition of Yixing teapots, which has fascinated me since I first encountered them during my undergraduate studies in ceramics, has provided inspiration and confidence to explore as well as abstract from pottery’s architecture. Their attention to detail, intimate scale and diversity of forms continue to influence my vessel forms. Looking at and handling Yixing teapots has informed and sensitized my personal approach to making objects in clay.

Andrew Denney, St. Louis, Missouri

My work has evolved in many ways over the years, but the Yixing influence is evident even in the newest work I am still trying to capture the sense of “the real” that pervades Yixing ware, white creating my own plant vocabulary on the scale of true flora. I was profoundly influenced by Yixing ware as an undergraduate. It was a revelation to see the work of Richard Notkin, which confirmed my own commitment to making one-of-kind functional ceramics that marries sculptural expression with utilitarian forms.

My work has consistently used an abstracted rather than representational organic Hanguage, informed by memory, imagination and the imitations of natural form so common in traditional Yixing tea ware-No matter how diminutive the Yixing object it has an expansive presence; this work can transport the user to the landscape suggested by its form. It is Yixing ware more than any other ceramic tradition (perhaps shared by Ralissy ware) that reinforces my belief that a single object can have the power to suggest a whole world outside, one that we are surrounded by and contained within while using them. It is the vessel as the place we hope to find.

Kim Dickey, Longmont, Colorado

It is difficult to pinpoint just what significance various experiences have had on our work. I have always been interested in detail and ambiguity. Qualities of surface have also been extremely important especially in the residual salt-glazed porcelain work. Though at first I was not impressed with the mechanical precision of the Yixing teapots (the images of seeds and nuts and muted colors), I also was unaware that they were hand-built. As I learned more about the tradition and experienced additional pieces,I was in awe of the care in crafting them and enamored of the exquisite detail, I particularly remember pieces mimicking bamboo and one stunning set of teapots in the form of tree stumps. Recently a workshop offered by Yixing potters in St. Louis, Missouri, encouraged an even greater respect for the people and their beautiful work. In surface and detail I believe that we share a kinship and I am honored to be included in such an august group.

Though my most recent work is not about the teapot form, I have all of the same formal concerns within the newest pieces. Trompe L’oeil and the attention to minute detail it requires remind me of those Yixing artists and the patience and pride they must bring to the effort.

Paul Dresang, Edwardsville, Illinois

My work in clay employs a broad historical reference with a complex structure that explores the transmigration of ideas and cultural influences in the decorative and functional arts, I create a playful arena in which fragments of Eastern and Western culture are staged to assemble precarious stairways into the future.

The use of purely material concerns to explore a narrative speaks to the sublime Asian aesthetic exemplified in the Yixing tea wares and its adaptation by the European potters in the seventeenth century. Beyond techniques, my interest in working with a wide range of play bodies and decorative finishes continuously rein forces the rich heritage of ceramics in several different cultural traditions. My life’s work is my love for expressing my feelings through all forms of art from the most unassuming object to the most exalted. As such, the imagery embodied in my pots tends to reflect the underlying archetypes of the human condition regardless of time period or cultural beliefs.

Michelle Erickson, Hampton, Virginia

I am most drawn to the Yixing potters because their work is pivotal in the dialogue between the manmade world and nature. In my work I add to that dialogue. In doing so, my sculptures straddle monumental concerns of architecture and the tactile nature and intimacy of the potter. Like the Yixing potters, I strive for fluid boundaries between reality and illusion.

Nature provides me with essential details that are often minute and easily overlooked (microscopic fungi, minuscule seed pods, male and female flower parts…). By selecting, enlarging and combining them with each other and with abstract forms of utility (an arch, a bowl, a ball…), form spaces for one to inhabit. These spaces transcend their origins and everyday associations, becoming something that appeals to our primal and more personal associations.

Similarly Yixing pots are accessible yet monumental works that contain the essence of the natural world. With extraordinary detail and empathy Yixing teapots transcend their rich history and origins, their indisputable craftsmanship and their association with function to symbolize eternal reverence for the natural world. The dialogue continues.

D. Leslie Ferst, Cambridge, New York

My present ceramic works are detailed sculptures of split wood related to the Yixing tradition of realistically reproducing natural objects in unglazed red clay. I select my models from hand-split logs that I do not alter. Sculpting each piece involves close examination of form and surface and interpreting what I learn in clay without adding anything to nature’s beauty and history. My sculptures are meant for contemplation.

Gayle Fichtinger, New London, New Hampshire

In November 1996,1 spent ten days in residence at Purple Sand Factory #5 in Yixing as a member of an invited group of Western ceramic artists who were interested in learning about the design and technique of Yixing teapots. This was a dream come true as the teapots of Yixing have long been among my most favorite clay objects from all of ceramic art history and I feel a particular kinship to this teapot tradition. I appreciate the technical, aesthetic and conceptual characteristics of Yixing pottery: slab built of richly colored iron-bearing clays; unglazed, most often allowing the clay itself to speak without any added detail; of diminutive scale; and often possessing the characteristic of duality which is so resonant I am continually amazed by the age of those early, classic Yixing teapots, as their sensibility seems to be so fresh and contemporary.

Like the Yixing teapot artists, I employ slab building as my primary forming technique and have often used unglazed colored clay, appreciating the unifor-mity, density and clarity of detail that vitrified porcelain allows. I am also interested in the fusion of a recognizable form with the vocabulary of the teapot, most recently in a series of boat teapots composed of porcelain stones created in homage to the smooth, rounded stones I find on the shores of Lake Ontario. I am concerned that the individual stones are believable as such but a trompe I’oeil effect is not the end in itself. I am more interested in creating what might be called an intensified realism. And, ultimately, the layering of rock pile with boat with teapot is not fact but fiction.

Barbara L. Frey, Commerce, Texas

My work carries on my preoccupation with trompe I’oeil sculpture, like the beautifully sculptured Yixing vessels which incorporate natural images from reality, reconfigured in the form of small-scale teapots. Like Yixing ware, I use realistic elements appearing in configurations that are decidedly fanciful and humorous; ones that could not exist in the real world without this artist’s intervention/imagination.

David Furman, LaVerne, California

The teapot as both a functional consideration and a concept has been my constant companion for some forty years now. It is hard to imagine not making teapots in some manifestation. I have really loved the tea stories that users of my pots share with me. They tell of intimacy and private enjoyment that come from daily rituals connected with tea and the pots that contain and serve it.

Beyond that quite lovely realm of use lies another, more fanciful territory that touches on the imagination. The “Fruit Teapot” series continues an investigation of teapot as storyteller. The roots for my investigations of these themes are directly traceable to my deep respect for the Yixing teapot tradition. My interest in the wares of the Yixing makers began with a powerful attraction to the modest scale of the wares and matured as I saw Yixing pots on display in Toronto, Canada, from the K.S. Lo collection. The storytelling aspect of some of the wares has been illumi-nated further for me since demonstrating with Yixing potter Zhou Dingfang during an international potters conference in Wales in 1995.

John Glick, Farmington Hills, Michigan

Yixing pottery has always been a significant inspiration in my work. A concern for utility steered this work; however, the Yixing potters were not constrained by the parameters of use. They embraced the challenge of solving simultaneously aesthetic and utilitarian problems and in so doing celebrated the full range of tactile qualities inherent in clay, expertly mimicking organic and mechanical forms. My fascination with this chameleon-like performance of Yixing sensibilities continually fuels my studio explorations.

As a potter, I am interested in reinterpreting the spirit of Yixing pots in a contemporary visual language. I use clay in combination with twentieth-century mate-rials such as rubber, metal, steel wool and plastic. My use of these industrial materials parallels the irony and fictional reality expressed through trompe I’oeil effects found in Yixing pottery. And just as in Yixing ware, these juxtapositions create sturdy visual partnerships and create a new presence for my clay vessels.

Like the Yixing potters I too use the teapot as subject My pieces ultimately are intended to celebrate the aesthetics inherent in daily routines. In this respect my pots share a similarity of content with Yixing ware. And like the Yixing potters, the success of my work is dependent upon its ability to stimulate the imagination, vacillating between a state of uncertainty and wonder.

John Goodheart, Bloomington, Indiana

I have looked at and admired Yixing ware since my college days in the 1970s. What first attracted me to the work was the attention to detail and tour de force craftsmanship. I am particularly drawn to those pieces that reference natural forms such as tree trunks, branches, seedpods, nuts and gourds. In my work I draw inspiration from the same botanical forms. I am a passionate gardener and plant collector, and looking closely at natural forms has greatly influenced my work. Yixing teapots are wonderful examples of this translation of the close observation of natural forms into beautiful intimate objects for contemplation and use. I had been lucky enough to travel to Yixing a few years back and visit some master craftspeople and factories where the ware was being made. It was a very impressive experience and I have a small collection of Yixing teapots. In my work I use the branch form for handles, teapots and goblets. I use acorn motifs for handles and feet and other organic frond, flower and pod forms for my larger vessels. The scale of my work is larger than Yixing ware, but the influence is definitely there in the details.

Carol Gouthro, Seattle, Washington

Yixing teapots have always intrigued me, with their scale and intimacy inviting use in a way that transcends cultural experience. Yet what truly fascinates me is the wonderful invention of form that these pots display within a very narrow window of functional context Though most of my work only alludes to function, I work with the teapot form because of its immense possibilities for abstraction. The skin of the clay holds the invisible interior of the vessel. How I manipulate my forms “around” that air, constraining it, enclosing it or letting it expand and swell, can allow analogy and metaphor to enter into the work.

My work explores the visceral, hoping to provoke memory to the viewer, to suggest something that is just on the other side of consciousness. My forms and surfaces purposely encourage touch, and by inviting the hand to explore the forms as well as the eye, I hope to provoke a connection that goes past the intellectual to the innate.

Chris Gustin, South Dartmouth, Massachusetts

To me, the intimately scaled, elegant and choco-laty Yixing teapots have always been a delicious aesthetic. Having worked in clay for over twenty years, I am in love with the earthy rawness of unglazed ceramics and often leave parts of my pieces unglazed or just wash the surface with an oxide to maintain the integrity of the material. Wanting the viewer to celebrate with me the minute details of life—dreams, brushes with strangers, a leaf or petal rolling across the grass – I relate to the importance of simplicity expressed in and through the Yixing teapots: the simple, profound ritual of the tea ceremony and the details of foliage, nuts and lotus pods carefully executed on the pots.

Both the scale of my own teapots and the forms/surfaces of my wall shrines are akin to the Yixing teapot aesthetic. I find a relationship between the proportions, lines and forms of Yixing teapots and Asian, specifically Chinese, architecture – temples, pagodas and dwellings- to which I am very much drawn. I want to express the quiet profundity of life in my work, which is what makes Yixing teapots so inspiring.

In 1996 I was invited to China to participate in the First Annual Yixing Symposium for Western Potters. Meeting and working with the Yixing artists was an absolutely wonderful experience. It gave me a deeper understanding of the history, concepts and techniques behind the teapot tradition. I can still feel my belly full of green tea and Yixing day under my fingernails.

Leah Hardy, Laramie, Wyoming

My current work evolves from a long-held fascination with artifacts from the past, most notably ancient Oriental bronze ritual vessels. I am preoccupied with the mysterious purposes, intricate surface details and mythological symbols that characterize these objects, Using clay instead of a contemporary rather than ancient temperament, I challenge myself to re-interpret their forms and meanings.

A variety of sources inspire my pouring vessels, which retain influences from many Chinese-inspired works, including their architectural composition. Of equal concern to me is the fabrication of intricate surface detail that remains crisp after firing because the vessels bear no external glaze, reflecting influences from Chinese Yixing ware. Each piece includes many press-molded and hand-built additions. They are intended to contrast with the formal elements of shape and design, and perhaps invite closer inspection from the viewer.

Susan Harris, Cedar City, Utah

The main inspiration I have drawn from the small masterpieces of Yixing ware lies in the combination of diminutive scale, the profusion of nature imagery and how these two elements interplay as I contemplate the work. The scale of the Yixing teapots draws my focus down into the object. In doing so, its effects are an almost magical transformation into a childlike state, inviting me to enter its world and wonder at its delights. Similarly, I hope that my pieces engage the observer’s fantasy and sense of playfulness.

Daina Heisters, Berkeley, California

While it is not obviously apparent, my work does draw aesthetic sustenance from Yixing ware and other objects historically associated with the Chinese literati. I am partial to their particular taste, which can be seen in articles selected or created for the scholars table. Here Yixing played an essential role, along with Chinese viewing stones. Both have become important resources for me. Inspired by the dialogue between man and nature, my work transposes natural forms into the architectural structure and language of the vessel. This conversation is completed with manmade constructs and elements. Ultimately, my objects strive to be visually subdued and emotionally contemplative.

Richard Hirsch, Churchville, New York

As one who has made many many teapots, I always felt delighted by Yixing teapots, their purity of color and crispness of form. However, it was not until I was invited to work in Purple Sand Factory #5, in Yixing, in 1996, that I fell in love with them. Using narrative imagery myself, I resonate with layers of symbolic meaning associated with Yixing ceramics and their beautiful surface and subtle colors of the clay.

It was fabulous to work with the highly skilled Chinese workers using their techniques. I was able to observe every step of the process, from the arrival of dry rocklike chunks of clay to the beautiful fired pots. The clay was the most amazing, forgiving clay I have ever worked with. No cracks EVER! The experience of living and working there was a really intense exchange of information and learning. (The young workers were as interested in my disco dancing as in my artistic expression – but that is another story!) To have shared this wonderful working experience was an extremely special cross-cultural experience.

Coille Hooven, Berkeley, California

All of my work over the last several years has been partially influenced by Yixing pottery. In 1984, I visited a Yixing pottery factory, while traveling in China for two months, Though I had previously done teapots in my Chinese Take-Out Teapot series, the teapots of Yixing caught my eye for their organic motifs, utilizing images of bamboo and tree stumps as body parts, handles and spouts. While in China, I was also quite taken by the Chinese stone rubbings that had the appearance of woodblock prints. These two influences came together seven years later in a series of black-and-white tree stump teapots. I continue creating these pieces to this day. Recently, I have created a series of monochromatic, white Tree Pots that are partially influenced by the monochromatic Yixing ware.

Jeff Irwins, San Diego, California

I hope in my work there is a glimmer of the unity that art enjoyed in earlier ages and other cultures, when it was less jealous of its autonomy and more willing to share its functions with religion and magic. For each of us this work becomes a symbol for attitudes, sensibilities and philosophies, some of which are shared by directly articulating the perception of the user/spectator whose world the work has entered. My first knowledge and connection to Yixing ware came about because of an interest in Northern Song dynasty ceramics. My immediate attraction to the teapots of Yixing was specifically in the way the handles, lids and spouts are used as spatial elements on the body of the teapot. Most of the bodies were hand-formed, which distinguishes them from pieces generated on the potter’s wheel. The other connection was the basically plain, clean surface elegance created by direct contact between the clay and the fire. This was very different from the many highly glazed and decorated teapots that I was exposed to at the time. The production of these wares and their relationship to the popular notions of tea drinking is also important to acknowledge.

Randy Johnston, River Falls, Wisconsin

I have tried, in the best traditions of Yixing pottery making and subject matter, to endow my pots with the awe and beauty I feel whenever I spend time “out there” just as the Song dynasty poet-scholars did. I am constantly struck by the sheer majesty of the natural world and the power it has over me. The monumentality I seek to build into my work is a reflection of places of excruciating beauty I have visited, I have stood where nature is supreme and felt subordinate to it. At those times my senses and everything I know from my urban existence have been overridden and these places have said to me, am the patience of the ages. ..I am not concerned with you.” So, perhaps rocks and trees can better explain than I, reasons for making pots of rocks and trees. This paradox greatly amuses me.

Geo Lastomirsky, Seattle, Washington

Gardening is one of my passions. After receiving a degree in horticulture, I worked for years as a landscape designer and as a floral designer. When I first touched clay, it was only natural that I began to incor-porate leaves and natural forms into my work,

I was first introduced to the Yixing potters by a friend who owned a teashop. I immediately felt a connection to the Yixing potters and their love of nature. I use real leaves and textures derived from natural sources to form the basis for my designs. Like the Yixing potters, I try to combine my love of nature with the functional aspects of pottery.

Amy Lenharth, Kansas City, Missouri

I tend to believe that everything that one has seen or experienced in life melds into the sources of the ideas one has. My way of thinking about my influences is that they go through a giant blender before anything emerges in a piece of my work. I have seen a lot of things over the years and they all have a part in who I am and what I do. Certainly Yixing ware has been one of those things. I have always been impressed by the delicacy, precision and preciousness of the work, as well as the fact that it is not glazed.

Marilyn Levine

Yixing ware is highly prized and admired for many reasons. Some of the things that influence me most are its simplicity of design, elegance of execution, attention to scale, proportion, detail and the impeccable craftsmanship evident in all the work. Also the references that Yixing ware makes to nature, objects, the material world, as well as its gift for the narrative all tie into my personal aesthetic, In addition, foremost among the wares of Yixing are the teapots that are formed using basic hand-building techniques. Hand-built teapots have been one of my primary vehicles of visual expression for many years, Even though my work may not seem to be directly linked to Yixing ware, I do consider it to be a very important inspiration or point of departure for me in that it expands the meaning of the teapot beyond its function and formal beauty, which is one of the primary intentions of my work.

Louis Marak, Eureka, California

I have always been amazed by Yixing teapots and sculpture, I still remember how I felt seeing them for the first time in the mid-1970s, when I saw an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, of five-hundred-year-old teapots and animal sculptures. I was deeply touched by the spirit in these fine pieces; the forms inspired by nature, the unusual colors of the local clays, the absence of glaze, the highly-refined crafts-manship, the breathtaking detail and their precious size, I value these attributes and have consistently cultivated them in my own work. I would look forward to studying with the potters in Yixing.

Kathryn McBride, Soquel, California

One of the pleasures I experience from working with clay is the kinship I feel with other potters now at work around the world and with those who have made pots back through the ages, I first began to pay attention to Yixing teapots when a Yixing collector, who had purchase one of my pieces, invited me to see his collection, I was amazed by the variety of the imagery, the technical precision of the pieces and how much like them were the stump teapots I had been making, even though I was working much larger and my imagery was overtly political, I found it affirming to discover I had been working in the Yixing tradition without specifically being aware of it and once again I had the opportunity to accept the fact that I walk in magic footprints. Most importantly, we are telling our own stories with the objects we make and thereby we are describing and commenting on the human condition.

Dennis Meiners, Jacksonville, Oregon

Yixing ware was first brought to my attention through my involvement in the ceramics department at the Kansas City Art Institute, I felt Yixing ware shared a sense of integrated and complex visual concerns that seemed so contemporary and fascinating. As a student it was refreshing to see a glorification of raw material used in such a sophisticated manner, where the teapot was treated as sculpture, yet function was imperative.

I was particularly attracted to the illustrative content, internal harmony, rhythm and balance of forms that magically integrated subject matter of universal appeal with a natural finish. I especially liked the works that seemed to exude an animated life force with outrageous displays of juxtaposed elements of nature. I also was very attracted to the natural clay body and the luminosity of the unglazed earth tones, which appealed to my pure sculptural sensibilities. This, perhaps in the long run, was even more influential than subject matter or form since my current work is all unglazed earth tones. It showed me an honest disregard for glaze, letting the raw material speak.

Bruce Morozko, Jersey City, New jersey

At first, I was attracted to Yixing teapots for their small scale, detail, composition, as well as their narrative qualities. The wide range of imagery, from purely geometric forms to totally organic studies of fruit and bundles of firewood or bamboo, is remarkable, demonstrating a phenomenal explosion of individual creativity. Yixing teapots are seemingly small and quiet at first encounter, but closer inspection and introspection clearly reveal that these pieces are indeed powerful works of art. Although I closely imitate the scale, formats, colors and textures of the unglazed Yixing wares, my intention is to borrow from these formal qualities with honesty and a sense of homage. It is of utmost importance, however, that my pieces retain a totally separate cultural identity, that they reflect our contemporary civilization’s imagery and speak of our society’s current situation.

The teapot has been a dominant and recurring theme in my work since I was a student twenty or so years ago. Like everyone who makes teapots, I have been inspired, entertained, educated and, truth be known, a bit intimidated by Yixing ware. At times I have explored the formal relationships found within traditional Yixing teapots, I have sometimes quoted from Yixing forms and I have always been inspired by the astounding skill and the amazing detailing one finds in the best Yixing pots. Their work sets a standard for care, refinement and precision that many of us would love to emulate. Even when its effects are not so apparent, I think there is a little Yixing influence in all of my tea-pots and much of my other work besides.

Peter Pinnell, Lincoln, Nebraska

One of the earliest sources of inspiration for me was Yixing teapots. My work is primarily inspired by nature itself, but I am also drawn to other artists who use nature as their subject. The Yixing teapots depict the natural world in an uncomplicated yet beautiful way. I admire the way these teapots transcend functionality to serve as works of art that can be appreciated for their beauty as much as their ability to hold tea. My pieces are not designed with function in mind, although they are perfectly capable of holding and pouring tea. Instead l am drawing on the idea of the teapot or tureen, functioning as a work of art.
Betsy Rosenmiller, Tempe, Arizona

The Yixing scholars, poets and craftsmen who longed for an ideal society of moral perfection chose to ignore the turmoil of the world around them and with careful introspection contemplated life. Valuing simplicity, drama and meaning many of the forms of their meticulously crafted teapots came from everyday life and the natural world. Teapots shaped like fruits, vegetables and nuts spoke of fertility, longevity and good-luck.

The similarities of my work and that of the Yixing teapots are expressed through the organic forms of the vessel, which are imbued with thoughtful meanings. Leaves, thorns and pears speak of different life experiences while individually they speak of pain, vulner ability and pleasure. Sometimes they overlap in such a way that one is the other and vice versa. The process of cooking down the essence of the human emotional plane is what I am interested in exposing. Thorns and leaves embody the drama of contradiction revealing emotional tension.

Kathleen Royster, Denver, Colorado

Much like my first encounter with Yixing ware, I am using scale and presentation to create work that is at first glance quiet and inviting, yet strong in its intimate reference to nature and simplicity.

Several years ago, I became increasingly aware of Yixing pottery and greatly admired it for its fine detail, its composition and its descriptive narration about everyday life. By using these ideas and forms, combined with other influences of traveling and working in Asia, I am illustrating the idea of slowing down not only to appreciate nature, family and friends, but also to become more aware of the simple pleasures of life.

Preston Saunders, Lakeville, Massachusetts

I came to know and be influenced by Yixing teapots through a workshop taught by the Taiwanese artist Ah-Leon. He was co-teaching teapot dissection with Pete Pinnell. To my good fortune, our class was invited to participate in a tea ceremony. I was already a teapot maker and a tea drinker, and my aesthetic interests had always been along the lines of subtle expression and attention to detail. Meeting Ah-Leon, whose work is grounded in the Yixing tradition, was the perfect evening for learning Yixing techniques and philos, ophies from a Taiwanese perspective. Over the years, as friends and from working with Ah-Leon in several workshops, I have learned the exacting standards of the Yixing aesthetic and of creating teapots that are functionally accurate.

I use Yixing techniques for making spouts and handle. I also use the double-lid techniques where I want to combine thrown and slab parts, and on thrown pieces I favor the aesthetic of inset lids. I am interested in the more geometric of the Yixing forms. Aesthetically, the sense of balance and subtlety they convey reinforces and influences my own work, as does the complexity of the proportions and the deceptively simple shapes. The harmony between the different parts of the teapot and the contrasts and complementarities between positive and negative space are all aesthetic considerations f work from, I consciously work toward creating teapots as sculptural vessels, while adhering to the demands of good workmanship. The Yixing emphasis on strength of form, enduring style and artistic presence in a well-functioning vessel are guiding principles for my own teapots.

Shelley Schreiber, Denver, Colorado

I have always been fascinated by the whimsical nature, extreme attention to detail and the incredible craftsmanship that exist in Yixing teapots. I have become a collector of these teapots and over time I have found that my work has become more and more influenced by them. One aspect of these teapots that has really inspired me is the combination of a naturalistic form with a functional object I enjoy the obstacles that come about when balancing conceptual and esthetic concerns with function. Like these Yixing artists, my work goes beyond being purely utilitarian. Although my teapots can be perceived as sculptures, I do not abandon the functional nature of my work.

Bonnie Seeman, Plantation, Florida

I first became aware of Yixing tea ware during a month-long trip to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea.

I always felt the most inspiring aspect of clay was its potential to appear to be something else. This chameleon-like aspect lent itself well to the trompe I’oeil creations of Yixing ware that transforms into bamboo, burlap and wood. For my work, clay transforms into spiny insects, encrusted ocean relics and science fiction movies. The details on my pieces appear to be intended as an integral component in an elaborate unknown ceremony. Their combination adds a timeless sense to the work leaving the viewer wondering if it is from the future or the past.

My main interest in Yixing ware is about craftsmanship and the sense of ritual and ceremony. The fact they are for tea is minor, I have yet to witness a Chinese tea ceremony, I prefer it that way because it keeps the ritual a mystery to me, as I hope my vessels function as a mystery to people who view them, I find it interesting that most people in the United States are unaware of the Chinese tea ceremony. They are interested in Yixing pots, but do not know how to use them. “How does a tea bag fit in the pot? How do you get a full cup of tea?” My hope is to use the Yixing sense of quality and craftsmanship, as well as its ritualistic and ceremonial attributes, in creating my vessels. I want the work to feel as if it were created to brew an unknown concoction or perform some elaborate ritual that no one has ever witnessed.

Nick Sevigney, Newport, Rhode Island

The vocabulary of my art has loosely taken on the description of the traditional art form trompe l’oeil because I work with the illusion of seemingly real objects. What first inspired me about this way of working were the American painters Harnett, Peto and Haberle and the French and German ceramists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, all who used common and sometimes aged or discarded objects as central themes in their work. These works evoke memory, history and humor brought on by something simple, unpretentious and usually taken for granted.

Since the middle 1970s, I have been dealing with the realistic still life both as a functional object, that is: jar, bottle and teapot, while also anthropomorphizing them into standing figures. I became aware of Yixing ware at that time, Yixing ware’s affinity toward the common object, its intimate scale and craftsmanship move me to this day. To me, the very best of Yixing ware evokes a sense of incredible skill, care, inventiveness, imagination, humor and contemplation.

Richard Shaw, Fairfax, California

For me, the underlying connection between my work and Yixing is in the effort to reflect the natural world through a malleable material (clay). Take for example an autumn leaf. The color of the leaf is the leaf, it is not a leaf shape that wears a colored skin; it is surface and object as one. In Yixing works, I see objects where the subject matter is highly driven by the natural world. The surface decoration of a Yixing pot is the clay; it does not wear a decorative skin. There is a humble-ness and honesty in the material. Like the natural leaf, the clay pot is what it is.

For as long as I can remember, my work has been about the integration of surface and object. Although I am not interested in the strict imitation of nature, I am driven by the desire to represent (in clay) what I see in the natural world, I strive for that seamless marriage of surface decoration and object Yixing has the ability to connect us to the natural world through a clay object. My hope is that my work has a similar connection with the viewer.

Michael Sherrill, Hendersonville, North Carolina

In the late 1970s I was asked to do a small commission designing a non-traditional teapot and cup set After many hours of research in the library on various teapot forms, I found pictorial material on Yixing ware. My immediate response was I had discovered my sculptural experiences had an affinity to the art of Yixing.

The Yixing artists implied the use of improbable materials in designing their teapot forms, such as tree trunks, disfigured tree branches, fruits and rocks. The execution of these objects was simply exquisite, both in design and craftsmanship. To me, Yixing artists became an encouragement and a high goal of achievement to aspire to- I do not create or copy their art. My aesthetic is mainly with the present industrial society’s materials where I replicate Styrofoam, plastic, stone, glass, paper, cardboard, wood and all sorts of metal. Where Yixing artists seek tranquility, order and peace, my work shows action, disorder, a hurried appearance and garish colors.

Victor Spinski, Newark, Delaware

An important aspect of all my sculptural work, teapots included, is the way forms relate and flow together. I am constantly combining and simplifying to enhance movemenl/rhythm/unity. My teapots are informed by historical examples: Yixing teapots, Inuit carvings, pre-Colombian ceramics, African sculpture and Japanese netsuke carvings. I admire the concise vocabulary of these pieces, their use of everyday life as subject matter, their compact format and their straightforward but unique way of relating figurative elements. In much of this work, the traditions of sculpture and function come together in a way that transcends ordinary ornamentation.

I have gradually come to realize the extent to which the vitality and rhythms of the natural world (as encompassed in its myriad and sometimes surprising forms and life cycles) influence my sense of form and how those forms relate in space. While it is not my desire to mimic that world, I welcome its influence. The act of gathering materials from prairie, ranch and woodland has deepened my understanding of natural cycles and enriched my connection to the art-making process.

Richard Swanson, Helena, Montana

When looking at a Yixing teapot we might see a tree trunk, a dragon or a bundle of bamboo, but we simultaneously see the teapot. In some of my work, you may see an animal or human form, while at the same time seeing the vessel. It is this hybridization of sculpture and vessel which I find interesting.

Yixing teapots also led me to other aspects of the scholar arts. This includes “strange” rocks and root art, which share the same philosophical foundations. My abstract shapes, made by twisting, twirling, tearing and spiraling chunks of clay, are in harmony with the scholars’ attitude toward nature art. These allow for unexpected forms to appear, lending themselves to a wider range of possibilities that empowers the viewer to bring forth the imagery.

Marvin Sweet, Merrimac, Massachusetts

All my life I have looked at Yixing ware. My parents collected ceramics and had many fine American and Japanese examples. They had a keen interest in Yixing and small red clay Tokoname teapots because my fathers side of the family has been involved in ceramics, in Tokoname, Japan, for centuries. In 1987 I visited Tokoname and saw assembly-line ceramic ware produced in family businesses and met with studio potters in the family- Of particular interest was the group that was still producing Yixing-inspired ware. Today, my Japanese relatives only make tea-pots. I am certain it rubbed off as a “ceramic gene” popped and I listened.

The fine craftsmanship, balanced form, intimate surfaces and natural references of Yixing ware inspire my work. While Yixing ware is monochro-matic, using the clay body as its canvas, my work is deliberately colorful and contains contemporary narratives. I pursue beauty unabashedly humor held in check and forms and glazes obsessively. Upon close inspection my surfaces contain a surprise. For me, it is all in the details.

Joan Takayama-Ogawa, Pasadena, California

Yixing teapots are a fusion of elements in balance: function, reverence for nature, playfulness in the use of organic imagery, exquisite craftsmanship and refined detail. There is nobleness in their simplicity, The Yixing approach to depicting natural forms has been one of many influences on my work as a ceramic artist.

I work exclusively in porcelain and use the vessel format as a springboard for personal expression. What intrigues me in making teapots is combining the parts of the teapot – vessel, spout, lid and handle – into an aesthetically pleasing whole that says something beyond tea. Organic forms, the complexity of nature and the artistry in the natural world inspire my work. Ripe fruit and vegetables, bursting with sweetness and nutrition, are images understood universally as valuable.

The necessity to eat connects all people on the planet Organic life faithfully reproducing from seed to fruit to seed to fruit acts as a metaphor for human growth and evolution. Ripeness. The temporary nature of life. The elegance of the cycle of life. I try to infuse my work with internal energy. The pieces suggest the harvest of nature’s bounty.

Claudia Tarantino, San Anselmo, California

Yixing wares move me because they are understated, intimate, enduring and beautiful. The constraint and concision with which they connect to nature and the meditative aspects of tea drinking give the feeling of a complete thought expressed through an object. My own work revolves around the idea of the teapot as a focus for thoughtful meditation, on self, on nature and on the greater world.

Susan Thayer, Portland, Oregon

I enjoy the challenge of finding innovative solutions to the centuries-old problems regarding functional ceramics. I am inspired by the fact that, despite thousands of years of pottery making, we can still leave our studios today having created something new. I believe that function can at times be persuaded to follow sculptural form, thus creating an interesting dialogue between utility and sculpture. The juxtaposition of biologic and industrial elements makes my work simultaneously familiar and disparate.

I enjoy looking at the Yixing-style pots for their witty, creative solutions to the teapot form, and the careful attention paid to details and overall craftsmanship. Not all of my work is directly influenced by the Yixing style, but I enjoy working with the teapot form and regard Yixing and Yixing-influenced pottery to be some of the most interesting, creative and playful pieces produced throughout the history of ceramics. I welcome its influence in my own work.

Eric Van Eimeren, Helena, Montana

Although my work is not a direct derivation of the Ylxing tradition, I have been greatly influenced by many Yixing sensibilities. My connection to this ceramic tradition stems primarily from the way I combine narration and the teapot form, which has been a long.

standing Yixing innovation. I also admire and borrow aesthetic considerations from the Yixing tradition, such as an unglazed clay surface, trompe l’oeil imagery and compositional strategies.

Jason Walker, Bellingham, Washington

I first saw a Yixing teapot when I was a student at KCAI at the Nelson-Atkins Museum collection in Kansas City. It is a beauty and still my favorite. I was amazed by its density and the confidence of its composition. It seemed so complete and unattainable … some foreign marvel both in time and culture. I just admired it, but could see nothing of myself in it That was a long time ago. Having always been intrigued with the status and elegance of teapots, this form always held my interest. Years later, after having made teapots of all sorts and forms, I was questioning the point of it all and asked myself why I was making teapots, just for the sensual pleasure of it? What does this form really mean to me anyway?

I remembered as a child eating breakfast with that cereal box in front of me and being mesmerized by all the visual and written information it contained. Still half dreaming, this box held a focus for me and absorbed my thoughts like a world in itself; an absorbent focus surrounding a pleasant function. I realized that a teapot could do the same thing and of course had done it all along. Yixing ware is a very good example of an object for use and contemplation. The work I did thereafter was much more introspective. I just wanted to try and make something that meant something to me personally to tell a story. The Yixing pots were making sense to me. Their stories are in relief. Mine were just an illusion, but both carry an idea and story outside of itself.

Beyond the obvious visual influence of Yixing ware that appears in my work, I strive to capture the emotional Yixing aesthetic of Qt, which is translated “heart of a child. In creating a narrative teapot I embark upon a journey through my childhood library, revisiting old friends and reexamining lessons and the simple truths they have taught me.

Using the teapot as subject, a spout imitates the graceful bend of a willow branch and a handle gives the illusion of magically growing out of a ceramic surface. These images begin to set the stage for a narrative teapot, casting off traditional rules (functional) of Yixing ware for a more whimsical interpretation.

I have a huge passion not only for Yixing ware but for all Chinese ceramics and culture. I have more of an emotional response to Yixing ware, so I have had a hard time conveying it into words. I am more of a visual communicator.

Red Weldon-Sandlin, Decatur, Georgia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*