Article: Su Yingchun Photos: Chen Mingcong
In recent years, there has been a surge in the popularity of Tian-mu and celadon in ceramic art circles, with more and more ceramists firing such wares. Among the makers working in this style, Weng Nianshu's Tian Qing Mu ceramics combine Tian-mu and celadon techniques, creating a totally new style of ceramic work. His work shines brightly upon our eyes, leaving a truly deep impression on us, in turn kindling our curiosity to Weng Nianshu's creative concepts. Let us go to his studio and lift the mystical veil from Tian Qing Mu ceramics …
Half an hour into the journey to Weng Nianshu's studio in Tucheng, Taipei County, heavy dark clouds began to bruise the sky and a thunderstorm suddenly began. After the rain ceased, as the sky cleared, I pondered whether this weather was indeed representative of the meeting of Tianmu and celadon ceramics? A gloomy grey sky set off by the radiance of lightning bolts, and the clear blue sky that returned after the rain seemed so similar to Weng Nianshu's Tian Qing Mu ceramic series, combining two very different glazes to ingeniously create unexpected, gorgeous results.
Teaware certainly constitutes the majority of the work in Weng Nianshu's studio and as we began to talk, it became clear that he is highly knowledgeable about tea. This is the reason Weng Nianshu pours all of his heart into the creation of his teaware; after all, only those who understand tea can comprehend the requirements and applications that a tea lover will ask of his teaware. Creativity and new designs aside, practicality and function are the most important considerations in the creation of his teaware. Therefore creating cups that fit comfortably with the mouth and pots from which the water flows smoothly represent the foundations of Weng Nianshu's tea ware.
Glaze colour changes are Weng Nianshu's principal creative direction. Working in Tian Qing Mu ceramics, suitable combinations of Tianmu and celadon glaze colours are necessary. During the firing, the representative traits of both glaze types must be allowed to develop, not only must they not clash with each other, but they must also be mutually complementary, adding a further element to the decoration of teaware. Upon asking Weng Nianshu why he chose to combine Tianmu and celadon ceramics, he very simply replied that originally it was because he really like both of these glaze styles, furthermore these glazes were optimum for tea brewing on gongfu tea tray, so he started to glaze the inside of his cups with celadon, and the outside with Tianmu. With its high iron content, Tianmu glaze can help to soften the water, while the celadon provides a fine canvas through which to display the lustre of the brewed tea. Not only beautiful, these wares also accommodate the practical requirements of tea lovers.
During the interview, Weng Nianshu took out his Tian Qing Mu small teacup in order to demonstrate that, from the initial forming through throwing to the finished item, every Tian Qing Mu piece requires five days of work. Celadon and Tianmu glazes must be applied separately, followed by three firings. This is a complicated process with a high loss rate and Weng Nianshu has faced many creative struggles: it took three years for him to arrive at a successful piece after he first began his research.
Even before the inception of the Xian Qing Mu series, Wen Nianshu had already begun using glazes from natural sources to decorate his work. Aside from their non-toxic, natural and environmentally friendly nature, natural glazes generally have good tolerance to variations in firing temperatures: differences between firings are notable, as the glazes develop differing layers, and overall effects. Weng Nianshu says that when firing his Tian Qing Mu series, the Tianmu firing comes first, followed by the celadon because the Tianmu uses natural glazes, so after a second bisque firing, the pieces are ready for celadon glazing and a higher temperature glaze firing. Although Weng Nianshu has a good grasp of the process of this method of glazing and firing, in comparison with other work, the loss rate is quite high. Nevertheless, Tian Qing Mu ceramics is like a child that he nurtures, experimenting with different methods that lead towards increasingly stable results.
Weng Nianshu goes a step further, by saying that apart from glaze colour combinations of Tianmu and celadon, he has also focussed on further developing creativity forms of his pieces. Looking at a recent example such as Taiji teapot, textured lines effectively separate the two glazes, in turn forming the taiji (yin/yan) icon on the teapot body, making the meeting of these two glazes even more ingenious. Furthermore, Weng Nianshu cleverly combines expert seal cutting with incised and relief carving techniques in order to display the glazes in their best light, further developing the sense of transformation in these pieces.
After our conversation, Weng Nianshu took out a piece from his recent low temperature, long fired series of Tian Qing Mu ceramics, the glaze gave off a particularly warm, inviting aura. Believing that old wood fired kilns would have not been fired to temperatures as high as modern kilns, and that potters would have relied upon long firing times to allow glazes to mature upon the clay bodies, Mr Weng intends to follow this firing style to create warm, gentle glaze hues. In the future, he intends to fire his Tian Qing Mu work in wood fired kilns, further developing these warm and heavily saturated glaze effects.
"If we have dreams, we must realise them." These words ring true of Weng Nianshu's creative ceramic process: after he had a brainwave to combine Tianmu and celadon glazes, the research process was arduous with many a hill to surmount, but he persevered until he succeeded in creating fine Tian Qing Mu wares. As a ceramic artist, Weng Nianshu has the courage to challenge himself, while sticking to his individual path; his Tian Qing Mu series was born of this spirit, by looking at these pieces, we can see the artist s creative process with our own eyes.
Weng Nianshu was born in Miaoli county, Taiwan in 1964, graduated from Hualian provincial college. During his studies, he was infatuated with literary and artistic creation, winning many prizes for novel, poetry and prose writing.
1986 Drafted for military service, he studied metal and stone seal cutting, carving around three hundred seals
1991 Moved to Tucheng, Taipei County, taught in Guangfu elementary school
2001 Attended ceramics classes at the community college attached to Nansharr middle school, started creating ceramics
200g Started wood firing
2004 Established his own ceramic studio and became a council member of Chinese Ceramics Association of Taiwan
2004 March solo ceramic exhibition in Tianyuan teahouse, Taoyuan city
2004 August Chinese Ceramics Association of Taiwan members' exhibition
2005 March, encountered natural glazes in Liugui, Gaoxiong County and began further research June, used natural glaze to imitate the silver oil drip glaze Tianmu bowls of the Song dynasty Chinese Cizhou kiln
2005 March, encountered natural glazes in Liugui, Gaoxiong County and began further research June, used natural glaze to imitate the Silver oil drip glaze Tianmu bowls of the Song dynasty Chinese Cizhou kiln
August used natural glaze to imitate the white mouth purple foot celadon of Southern Song inperial kilns,
August Chinese Ceramics Association of Taiwan menmbers' exhibition
October joint exhibition at Taipei International Trade Centre: Ceramics Become Elegant Utensils
2006 July Chinese Ceramics Association of Taiwan members' exhibition
2007 May Tucheng City Office Ceramics in the Universe exhibition
2007 August Used natural glaze to imitate Rabbit fur cups from the Jian Kiln
2007 Augus Chinese Ceramics Association of Taiwan members' exhibition
2008 August Chinese Ceramics Association of Taiwan members' exhibition
2010 January Finished firing Tian Qing Mu ware