Anyway, all the excitement has brought back many fond memories. So I thought I would post the article I wrote for the Helpmann magazine and some photos from my trip in 2008:
Jingdezhen Pottery Workshop Residency
Ancient Kiln Site. L-R: Sarah Rothe, Prue Gramp, Erin Lykos, Peter Johnson
In September and October 2008 Peter Johnson, Prue Gramp, Sarah Rothe and I travelled to Jingdezhen (China’s Porcelain Capital) to take part in the Helpmann Academy’s six-week residency program. This opportunity is offered biannually and is open to recent visual art graduates and lecturers from the Helpmann Academy partner schools. As an emerging ceramic artist nearing the end of my two year career development associateship in JamFactory’s ceramic studio, I felt this was a fantastic opportunity to further my skills and gain knowledge and inspiration for my future art practice. I was also fortunate in receiving financial assistance from Arts SA towards airfares and expenses.
Jingdezhen is an amazing place to visit for anyone, but for a potter it is a dream. It is considered a small town, with a population of 1.5 million, and has been devoted to pottery for about 1700 years!
The Jingdezhen Pottery Workshop was established in 2005 by Caroline Cheng on the site of an old National Porcelain Company, The Sculpture Factory. Internationally respected potter Takeshi Yasuda is the Workshop Director and has over 30 years experience in ceramics.
The Experimental Workshop is surrounded by hundreds of independent artists and craftsmen with every kind of ceramic skill; clay producers, throwers, sculptors, mould makers, jigger jolly workers, stamp makers, blue and white decorators, overglaze decorators, glaze and colour shops, decal makers, underglaze transfer makers, kiln firing workshops and brush makers. I could never have imagined such a place existed.
Women printing in an underglaze transfer factory. (OH&S was not a huge concern.)
When I first arrived I was stunned by the amount of ceramic practice. Pottery is a way of life in Jingdezhen. The first week was spent visiting many ceramic supply shops, factories and tool shops. We collected many materials and products not available in Australia. At first it was hard to know where to start, because the possibilities seemed to be endless. I realised Jingdezhen is a place you could easily visit more than once.
The local ceramists work differently to the way we create in Australia. In Jingdezhen each person does only one part of the ceramic process. Due to this intense practice and generations of passed down knowledge, the local artisans have become exceptional at what they do. The Sculpture Factory is a big community with each studio doing a part of the process. Many international artists work with the ceramists in Jingdezhen to produce pieces that could not be made anywhere else.
Our group participated in over-glaze enamel workshops and under-glaze blue and white workshops. Jingdezhen is famous for blue and white decoration. The decorator’s skill and mastery of the brush is something to aspire to. Prue, Sarah and I arranged ongoing calligraphy classes with a local master. These classes were fantastic in teaching us how to use the brush, some basic Mandarin and history about their written language.
We were kept very busy visiting fascinating places such as the Large Pot Factory where the craftsmen produce hand thrown pots measuring up to 8 metres in height. There are many historic sites to visit such as the ancient dragon kiln, where craftsmen still use ancient techniques. For example, the wheel throwers still use a stick to spin the pottery wheel. We also climbed Yellow Mountain and watched a traditional Chinese opera.
Wheel thrower using ancient techniques
Before arriving at the residency I was looking forward to meeting local artists and masters, not realising the fantastic opportunity I would have to also meet other international ceramists. We met ceramists from England, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, England, India, Canada, America, Israel and fellow Australians. It was a great opportunity to discuss ideas, swap techniques and talk about ceramics.
Every Friday night, the Pottery Workshop invites a resident artist to present a lecture. These free lectures are very well attending by local students who are eager to learn and gain insight into ceramic practise outside of China. Sarah Rothe and I delivered a combined lecture about the JamFactory and our own art practices. At the end of the lecture there was a time for questions. The students were very enthusiastic and many of the questions were interesting and surprising.
Students painting in the town of Yaoli
We were fortunate to be in Jingdezhen for their International Ceramic Fair. Our group from Adelaide was invited to present work in a Porcelain Jewellery exhibition. It was exciting to be included in the event. A four day ceramic market was held in the court yard of the Pottery Workshop. There were fun activities such as a wheel throwing competition and live music.
My six weeks in Jingdezhen was a truly fantastic experience. I learnt so much about ceramic production and Chinese culture. I took with me an abundance of information, techniques, materials and inspiration which I will use throughout my ceramic career. The people I met were fantastic. I would thoroughly recommend this experience for any artist, especially ceramists. I would like to thank the Helpmann Academy and Arts SA for this fantastic opportunity!
Yellow Mountain - such a beautiful place. We climbed 7km of steep stairs.