Written by: Zheng Xiang Ru Photos provided by: Chun Ping Teaware
Sometimes it is the simple lines of a small fish, carefree and unrestrained on the lid of a teacup; sometimes it is magnificent mountain and water scenery painted on the surface of a cup in five color ink; sometimes it is the graceful and flowing calligraphy on a teapot: As tea tasters enjoy their tea, all of these add a traditional artistic flavor.
And such are the tea utensils created by Li Lian Chun. Drawing primary on subject matter from traditional Chinese painting, he combines the gracefulness of traditional methods with a fine detail based in modern techniques. It is as though each artistic creation has been brought to life, bringing a new chapter to the history of Taiwanese teaware development.
Former head of the Chinese Art of Tea Craft Union Li Lian Chun believes that when appreciating a piece of teaware, it is most important to observe whether it's shape is flowing. Second most important is that the painting is meticulous and fine. Third is that the glaze is suitably applied.
The shape have refers to a piece of teaware's form and structure. It is a key factor in determining the beauty of a piece. Even a small cup is capable of transmitting aesthetic feeling. If the outline of the body is smooth and flowing and the proportions are perfect, it can inspire pleasant feelings.
In order to ensure that a piece of teaware is ideally shaped, Li Lian Chun may spend days carefully observing the shape of the unfired piece. Too much or too little require modifications, Cai Xiao Fang, founder of the Xiao Fang kiln, once said that few porcelain makers place as much importance on shape as he and Li Lian Chun.
The painting refers to the design on the outside of the teaware. If color is applied appropriately, brush strokes are fine and smooth, and the proportions fit the unique shape of the item - a rough and awkward piece of teaware can be transformed into a living work of art. Li Lian Chun collaborates with artists from the National Taiwan Normal University, who all have over 20 years of experience with ceramic painting and calligraphy.
From mountain and water scenery to humanistic calligraphic expression, the poetic charm of all types of scenery comes to life on this teaware. The artists painstakingly works one stroke at a time, requiring extraordinary skill and focus. One person can paint at most four or five pieces of teaware at a time.
Glaze refers to the glazing effect used to make the visual appearance of the item more outstanding. Li Lian Chun gives the gong fu tea cups a very slight, shadowy blue color in order to make the tea liquor appear more beautiful and more real. This also improves the porcelain's luster, appearance of moisture, and feeling of quality. He chooses the most resplendent glazes for traditional Chinese culture.
After the glaze is applied, the clear and colorful ink patterns vie with the color of the glaze for attention, creating a charming contrast. Through the techniques of painting, filling, washing, blowing, and driping the depth effect of the mixed glazed colors emerges. This combination of three types of porcelain with teaware is able to perfectly mix the advantages of traditional Chinese arc with modern techniques.
Li Lian Chun was attracted to the arts from a young age. After class, he spent more time in art galleries and calligraphy exhibitions appreciating works of art than at home. That helped provide him with strong aesthetic sensibilities.
After leaving the army, he followed his classmate to Yingge and worked to sell the teaware painted by his classmate. During this time, Li Lian Chun discovered the market potential for high-quality porcelain teaware. By the fourth year, a difference of opinion inspired Li Lian Chun to strike out on his own, forging a business developing teaware.
Li Lian Chun did everything himself, including the teaware design, development, firing, and sales. He began studying the kiln process after founding his business. He modestly says that his skill is simply the result of years of experience. However this ability must have come at the cost of destroying the contents of numerous kilns. Especially with low air pressure, a moment of carelessness and the result of 10 to 20 minutes' difference in firing, will be completely different. The cost of a single kiln load is quite high, and so, Li Lian Chun still has a hard time sleeping the night before firing.
Since he began creating teaware, Li Lian Chun has continued to work with artists and painters whose artistic philosophy matches his own, a philosophy which includes both tradition and innovation.
Because young artists today are almost solely focused on innovation, he continues to work with older artists. He jokingly says that, including himself, everyone is over 50 years old; and who knows how much longer they will be able to go on. Items damaged in the firing process, even if the damage is only a small blemish, such as a tiny crack or discoloration, are all thrown in a bag in Li Lian Chun's warehouse and will absolutely never be sold.
At the beginning of each year, he throws out quite a few of these bags. Only through rarity can the highest quality be maintained, so he only sells top grade merchandise and never sells at a discount. The market will never contain flawed Chun Ping teaware, so the prices remain stable and the products are praised as the "Louis Vuitton of teaware." The brand is quite famous in Japan and Korea and is also the first choice for many people in Mainland China and Taiwan when presenting teaware as a gift. Even Taiwan's famous Lalu hotel sets out his teaware in its display of top quality products, proving that its reputation is not undeserved.
One can see the hard work and serious effort chat Li Lian Chun puts into his teaware, the extraordinary aesthetic quality they posses, and the attitude that slow, deliberate work produces the finest of products. Although they are sold at a high price, they clearly possess even greater value.
While using Li Lianchun's teaware to savor your tea, take a moment to use your fingertips and eyes to carefully appreciate their extraordinary charm.