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Zhang Ge Mins: Blue & White Porcelain Teapots With A Twist

Zhang Ge Min is no ordinary celadon porcelain artist. Instead of immersing himself in the perfection of antique inspired and kilning techniques, this new generation Taiwanese ceramic artist has his eyes on creativity. Teaming up soft-to-the-touch porcelain with rough and rustic pottery, Zhang makes a statement of chic modernity. In his pursuit of the ultimate in design innovation, he has crafted a world of blue and white, with a difference.

"Melon" - the sophistication within

Zhang's creations are well received in Japan; his melon (literally "Ah Gua") series startled Japanese tea lovers when it was first launched the vivacious rendition of the Hami melons was a source of great delight and pleasant surprises among tea connoisseurs. What appears to be simple and unadorned turns out to be brim-ming with "inner beauty" һ the velvety white & blue porcelain is ingeniously embedded underneath the rough day surface. This can only be described as a stroke of genius, peppered with refined thinking and bold execution - a rare sight in the ceramic world. Zhang has these words for his own creations: "What's in a teapot? Well, it's up to you to decide."

The handle design of the melon series is unique, to say the least. Zhang picks twigs and branches of precious trees species, such as Dragon Juniper and Zheng Bai as the raw material. He then trims and tones the branches and twigs. The results are one-of-a-kind handles which are sophisticated, well-crafted and carefully matched. They are truly objects of delight. Collectors are spoilt for choices and personal indulgences - the colour of the handles can be customized to the collector's request. One can also choose to have the teapots with or without colours, glazed or unglazed. Besides wooden handles, Zhang also exerts his exquisite touch on the lids or covers- he began with insets of small pebbles, but has since replaced them with wood sculpting. According to the ceramic artist, the selection of tea utensils and tea vessels is a sound one, as Taiwanese are known tea drinkers. To Zhang, launching his works into practical reality remains his creative direction.

Celadon is a very versatile raw material, according to Zhang. It can be used for different styles and making expressive statements. The whitish-blue appearance conjures up a relaxed mood, without the weightiness brought about by more traditional pieces. In addition, the high expansion rate means that the special effects in terms of point, line and plane could emerge as pleasant surprises.

"F4" of the Ceramic Art

Zhang was born in 1973. He began studying ceramics in his university days. With professional training and his artistic passion, Zhang has developed his unique ideas towards celadon design. He has long been searching for new paths, instead of following the traditional approach of making antique-looking pieces. The preference for velvety celadon, however, does not bar him from exploring other approaches - for instance, he attempts to incorporate the boldness and roughness of pottery into his works. It is this constant urge for novel approach that makes Zhang one of the most promising in the new generation a ceramic artists.

Zhang was nicknamed the "F4 of ceramic art fraternity", thanks to his good looks. He looks especially friendly and refreshing in a pristine white jacket, with an infectious youthfulness and creative aura. His workshop-cum-residence located along Jinsan Street sports a post-modernist architectural design. Rows of unfinished celadon pieces, with understated elegance, yet enormous charm, give out extra warmth to the environment. Zhang, his works and personality alike, are simply irresistible.

Zhang describes what he is doing as challenging creativity. "Being ambitious, I have always wanted to excel. When opportunity knocks, I have chosen a path where craft, sculpting and design merge." Zhang insists on using mixed media, mingling celadon with natural elements such as clay, twigs and pebbles to raise the level of interest.

Zhang is deeply influenced by the spirit behind Bauhaus. He prefers the natural characteristics of primary materials to add interest and texture to his works. In a conceptual framework that is geometric, mechanistic and frill-free, he throws in organic elements to enhance the feeling of easiness and wellbeing. The intimate sense of warmth and comfort wins the heart of youngsters and sophisticated collectors alike. The modular parts of the Chinese style teapots may be different in characteristics, giving them the uniqueness embraced by owners of blue & white pots. He may be one of many ceramic artists, but Zhang definitely wants to be different. He is a unique perspective constantly pursuing. During the start-up period, he went through what most young artists have experienced - shortage of funds, uncertainty about his work, and a lack of market understanding. It was trial and error until one day, it dawned on him how important image is. "It is really frightening if you cannot identify your own works amongst those of the others," Zhang said. Since then, Zhang has strived to create a uniqueness in his ceramic designs, not only in the exploration for diversified combination of different media, but also in enhancing product impression and strengthening brand image and position.

To Zhang, technical excellence is just the beginning. It takes more than perfect rendition to stand out from the crowd - and instant identification of his creative style is always the aim. For that extra mileage, he works hard to open up new horizons, identify his own strengths, and find out what makes his works special.

When he graduated from university, he took on projects regardless of personal preference, to earn enough for daily necessities. At one point, he was in dire need. Zhang smiled and said, he was lucky enough to have met a lot of kind souls along the way. Mr Xu Weibin and his wife Mrs Cao Shimei from Jinshan were among them. They used affordable materials to create impactful works. This amazed Zhang and inspired him in his creativity. He ventured into mixed media, and the combination of celadon and ceramic arts. Since then, there was no return, and nothing to stop him on his path. Having built up a following of admirers, he makes each step forward with confidence. Hardships of the early days help bring about his strength and resilience. As it goes, his pursuit of uniqueness has been successful.

Besides being a ceramic artist, Zhang has also identified himself as an industrial artist and designer. Finding beauty in the clash of different materials, he puts functionality and stability first.

The design must be attractive enough to capture consumers' attention and create a favourable first impression. Meanwhile, it must provide comfort and convenience. Zhang confessed that he paid much attention to market trends and consumer preference -this, to him, is the only way to further and widen his path of ceramic creation. In his opinion, the art market in Taiwan is not conducive to young artists. It is important to build upon something solid, for a creative life to grow.

His blue & white melon series is a popular and premium gift item among Japanese. As he makes inroads into the international market, Zhang reiterates the importance of branding and cultural uniqueness. The stimulating environment for celadon creations in Taiwan, coupled with the personalized and innovative design concepts of individual artists, will popularize and reenergize the blue & white creations. The "brand" of Zhang Ge Min has become a guarantee of creative innovationһimpressive and remarkable, his works are poised to be a success story in the international arena.