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Landscape Painting in Ceramics
Liu Fengxiong's Wandering Colours

Liu Fengxiong's pieces are commended for their plain yet magnificent forms, and for the transformations between subtle and gaudy colours realised in his glazes. Liu is a disciple to tradition, but has broken the mould and forged his own path. He does not rely on the heavy forms of traditional Chinese ceramics and decoration, but uses his repeated experiments with glazing and colour transformations caused during the firing process to master the control of these changes, and the results that they produce. At first glance, his pieces have a gentle, elegant air to them, taking a second look, each piece has a different aura, similar to traditional Chinese ink paintings, similar to the fogs on the edge of the horizon, like the rain slowly gliding down a skylight...

I wondered, out loud, if these pieces, so closely resembling nature are the effortless works of a master? Liu Fengxiong did not reply to this question, but led us to his studio...

As a celebration of the centenary of the Republic of China, ceramics master Liu Fengxiong was invited to create a piece entitled Plum Blossom Blessings Pot. This ceramic teapot takes the national flower, a plum blossom as the form of its mouth, the shape of a bottle gourd for its body (representing good fortune and health), and is decorated in balanced gentle hues of blue, and purple in a pea glaze, representing political, ethnic, and cultural assimilation in Taiwan. Liu Fengxiong's works have long been renowned for their simple forms, possessing gentle beauty through their subtle glaze colouring. As early as 2003, Liu's work was chosen by the American academy awards ceremony as a distinguished gift, while his light green sancai bowl was chosen as a birthday gift on the l05th birthday of Song Meiling (Mme.Chang Kai-shek). His works have been extensively exhibited in Europe, America, Asia, Japan and south east Asian art museums. This year, his piece Plum Blossom Blessings Pot again embodies the spread, and transformation of colour associated with his work, as well as their simple, seemingly effortless beauty. The Los Angeles Overseas Chinese Cultural and Educational Centre, invited Liu to include his works in the exhibition "A dialogue Between Earth and Paper" giving us an opportunity to further glimpse the ideas, creations and. perspective of this artist.

Reaching his L-shaped studio, the long room was orderly divided according to the stages of the creative process, unfired pieces were neatly laid out, as were the other accoutrements of the studio, leading up to the kiln and ending in an exhibition room in which finished pieces were exhibited on a table and on two shelves on either side of the room. Li Fengxiong's work expresses the notion that ceramics is not merely an art of clay and fire, but an art of implementation of knowledge and experience. A characteristic of ceramic art is in the glazing, and the effects on colour that high temperatures and running glazes create: the higher the temperature, the more extreme the changes and the possibility of colour changes are. Theses variations in glaze colour are reliant on the application of the original glaze and the artist's control of the firing process. So, in order to attain these variations in glaze colour, one must not only have a profound technical foundation, but must constantly experiment, record and learn from experience.

Study, creativity and implementation are the three words Li uses to describe his ceramic career. "Ceramics is an art requiring hard work. There are no shortcuts: study, implement, record, then learn from what you achieve. Specialised background knowledge and practice are indispensable. It is like the Chinese saying "Without rules, neither squares nor circles may be made." As we understand it, knowledge and practice are the rules of ceramics." It may look to you like the inspired work of a genius, but I know myself how much work has gone into the creation." It sounds strict, remarking upon a fine piece upon his window sill, Liu remarked "That's my student's work, pretty good, huh?"I thought he would be strict, but when discussing his students, he was forgiving and proud of them.

After studying and creating, the maker also requires patience if they want to produce successful work. In the process of choosing clay, throwing, trimming, drying, bisque firing, glazing and firing, flaws at any stage in the process can undo all of the earlier work. Out of a hundred efforts, often only ten will reach completion, the other ninety can only be discarded; it is impossible to calculate the time and money that such losses will cost. He often loses track of time in the studio, unsure if it is day or night. Smiling, Liu says: "Often, friends will hear of me throwing away pieces, and think it's a shame, saying "I really can't see the flaws on the pieces that you mention, give me one of these ninety pieces!" I asked him if he replies "Of course not, I give the best pieces with the least flaws, I hope my work can be passed on to future generations, not just for your and my viewing pleasure. I hope my works are collected and appreciated. by people 100 years down the line." This remark hit home. Liu truly has a perfectionist approach to ceramics, demanding the best from each and every of his pieces.

Originally, Liu Fengxiong studied civil engineering in Taipei, later pursuing post graduate study in Japan. However, "a series of chances" as he puts it led him towards glass and ceramics, and he entered the National Kyoto Institute of Technology, where he studied ceramics. Next he travelled to the USA, to Illinois Stare University, where he studied for his Masters in ceramics. Liu has gone as far as Africa in his ceramic journey He has also set up a research studio in Mainland China, and his career has already stretched over forty years. He has lived in Japan, the USA, Africa and mainland China; as well as forging a solid technical foundation, experiencing many different cultures has also given him great inspiration. "China has a lengthy ceramic tradition, much of the original knowledge is still extremely well preserved; a systematic means of preserving and passing on ceramic knowledge still exists. In the past, Japan formerly looked to China for inspiration, but now have forged new paths. AlthougJh. investment in operations are lacking in Africa, the aesthetic of the work produced there is very special, with bold and original styles that have influenced my work."

Smiling, he says "Creativity requires constantly assimilating the things around you as well as stimulation. Apart from looking at paintings and sculptures, I am always aware of designs around me. For example, when people go to Las Vegas, they can't help but want to try their luck at gambling, but I just spent my time walking the streets, admiring the wall paintings, the window displays and the embellishment of the hotels, as well as the glass lamps and bottles..." Perhaps his rich experience of various cultures and his constant absorption of the things around him have shaped his creativity, but he does not quite fit this framework, using simple forms decorated with splendid colours in a truly individual style.

If we look at his works from over the years, we may discover that with the passing of time, we do not only see changes in his glaze colourings, the glazes seem to grow more beautiful, there are pieces that are unadorned and simple, some are elaborate and showy; others are almost clear, and others bright and somewhat solemn in appearance. When I commented on his unceasing cre-ative inspiration, he coolly replied "People have to make continuous breakthroughs; I hope that I can continue to make new pieces for people to see. No matter how much I like the pieces, I only ever produce extremely limited num-bers of each piece and every piece is truly individual. If I made larg-er quantities, then it would be manufacturing, not art."

Asking about his most recent ideas, he enthusiastically said to me "Lately, I've been experiment-ing with moss spot green glaze, one of the Chinese copper red glazes, a skill which has been lost for over a century. The remark-able feature of the glaze is there are green spots within the red spots in the glaze, a darker feature among the brightness. This type of glaze transformation is very difficult, I've spent several years researching this, and have con-ducted countless trials. Now I have finally successfully fired pieces decorated with this glaze." "I have also been working on a black Tianmu glaze. Truthfully it is not a true black glaze, but leans to brown or blue black, with vari-ations in colour, and looked at in different lights, different colour variations may occur." Often artists keep shut about the creations they are working on, I was surprised he was so upfront and willing to share the details of his work with us.

He is relaxed about this: "If someone wants to copy my work, then that shows that I possess some power. I'd be happy to see such things." He later added: "Ceramics requires speciality, furthermore, it necessitates hard work and dedication if people wish to pursue it. This is the inheritance of culture, and should not be locked away." This attitude was clearly reflected when he held a teaching position at National Taiwan University of Arts, he does not only love ceramics, it is his life's calling. He also expressed that in the future he hopes to establish a ceramics museum, not only to exhibit his works, but to gather work from far and wide and exhibit it for the public, and also to give those researching ceramics and other art forms an opportunity to see works in the flesh that otherwise they may not come into contact with.

Liu Fengxiong's work fuses earth and fire, science and art, knowledge and practice, tradition and breakthroughs- In the spirit of Chinese ink paintings, "Mountains are not mountains." In his work, blue is not simply blue, purple is not simply purple, and his black glaze has myriad tones. The unique forms and glazes of his works truly reveal individual, pure creativity.

Liu Fengxiong
Biography

1965 Graduated from National Taipei University of Technology in civil engineering
1972 National Kyoto Institute of Technology, Masters in Ceramics
1973Graduate student of Glass and Ceramics, Tokyo Polytechnic
1976 Master of Ceramic Engineering, lllionois University
1977 Associate professor National Tai-wan University of Arts,
1978 Specialist Glaze study, Industrial Research Centre, Kyoto
2003Work chosen for Oscars gift, USA Solo exhibition, Chiba Mitukoshi, Japan
2004 Solo exhibition at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, Taiwan
Received "Outstanding Alumnus Award" from National Taipei University of Technology
204 Visiting professor at Nationa Tai-wan University of Arts
2008 Visiting professor at China Guangsa University of Arts
2010 Professorship at Qinghua University
2011 Designer of Commemorative Art-work for the Centenary of The R.O.C
Chosen for the 41st Japan Ceramics Exhibition, Peacock Glazed Vase