Some people and places are brimming with so much creativity that when you meet with them you want to pick up a brush and try painting, even if you don't have any talent. A trip to the Meditation Kiln Art Studio is like that for me. Liou Jiun Lin and Yi Lin Jung are so full of passion and talent that I feel inspired and awed at the same time -painting, calligraphy, pottery, sculpture in clay and stone and even mixed media that they invent based on combinations of these art forms. Mr. Yi is a rather accomplished painter and calligrapher and it's amazing to watch him paint, knowing that he has made his name in art circles almost exclusively through his clay sculpture. A tour of the large studio, and its many different spaces for art, leave you with the impression that great things are being done here. Not to be outdone, their two daughters also carve stone sculpture and paint. Mrs. Liou said that the eldest daughter has even sold some pieces already.
After the tour and interview we sat sipping oolong tea, and I just kept glancing at the ceiling-high stacks of shipping crates, bound for all over Taiwan - amazed at how prolific this family really is.
Mrs. Liou said that she learned to paint at a very early age. "My main style in college was 'pure art', as they called it, which means mostly antique European and Renaissance art." In 1991 she studied with an American artist, Mark Lier. Soon after, she graduated from the Dong Hai Art College. She didn't attend graduate school because she felt that pursuing her own creativity was more important than learning methods and styles developed previously. She was a teacher and a designer for a while. Then she got married and cooperated with her husband, building the Meditation Kiln Art Studio. She says that her part in the studio caters more towards the masses. "I want to create pieces that will reach more homes and make more places beautiful." She said that since her talent for painting is greater, she usually works in relief when it comes to clay. Mrs. Liou has also developed a unique way of painting portraits onto flat clay slabs. She commissions several of these pieces a year and usually uses a photograph to paint them. The Meditation Kiln generates a lot of revenue by selling flat paintings that are then mounted in beautiful wood and silk frames. The pieces are mold pressed with designs of lotuses or other decoration around the edges. Then sutras (teachings of the Buddha) are carved in relief into the center of the piece. After firing, the clay is painted with an acrylic paint, rather than glaze, and mounted into beautiful frames. These pieces are found all over the island, and have won several awards.
Mr. Yi Lin Jung grew up in the mountains right near the ocean. He says there was a brick factory very near to his house and he loved to help make the bricks. "I always had a deep love for the Earth." He says, "As I grew so did my love, I always loved nature, stone, rocks, clay, etc." In school he studied traditional Chinese art, like painting and calligraphy. He then moved on to stone carving. In 1988 he joined other artists in sculpting the largest calligraphic word "Buddha (佛)", the world. He made sculpture for some years until he discovered clay. "Clay is more difficult, but it offers a lot more freedom." After marrying Mrs. Liou, and forming the Meditation Kiln his art really began to evolve. Mr. Yi says that their artwork often balances each other, especially the pieces that they design together. "She prefers and is trained in a more Western style and I'm more Eastern, so it's a nice combination." It is Mr. Yi's deep and centered sculptures that attracted me to the studio in the first place. He has the ability to capture a kind of serenity that makes sense of the studio’s name beyond just marketing; many of his pieces are "meditative."
Mr. Yi takes a month to sculpt each of his pieces. During that time he also busies himself by carving the sutras calligraphically onto the clay slabs, painting calligraphy and otherwise helping with the business. His deeper pieces come more from his soul, he says. The upstairs of the kiln is a huge altar room with seats for meditation. Both Mr. Yi and his wife are devout Buddhists and meditators. Mr. Yi also practices Tai Chi.
Mr Yi's Bodhidharma (Da Mo 达摩) sculptures are very different than what you can find elsewhere in Taiwan. Most of the Bodhidharma sculptures usually depict him in a fiery pose, doing kung fu or just scowling at the distance. Mr. Yi's sculptures all capture a kind of stillness. His most recent piece has won several awards island-wide. It depicts Bodhidharma seated in meditation. His face captures all the wisdom and transcendence missing in other sculptures of the mythical patriarch of Chinese Buddhism. Also, within his beard swirls the image of a bull skull, which symbolizes death and rebirth in some Chinese cultures. Mr. Yi said the bull skull swirling in his beard, over his heart, symbolizes his understanding and conquering of life and death. I understood why so many people have commended this piece. It also resonated with me and left me feeling peaceful.
The Meditation Kiln has artwork for everybody. There are light and humorous pieces, Chinese astrology, buffalos shaped like the island of Taiwan, flowerpots and portraits, as well as deeper pieces for meditation or tea spaces. Their economic and artistic success is a measure of their ingenuity and creativity. They have found a way to capture the eye of the public and help bring beauty and spirit to homes throughout Taiwan.