A trio of pebbles: Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware, part 2


These massive, lustrous pebbles dominate the final section of the current Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware exhibit at the Asian Art Museum. They are displayed in an adjoining gallery, alongside other contemporary works inspired by the mother-of-pearl concept.

The three giant pebbles by Hwang Samyong (b.1960) are made from lacquer and mother-of-pearl applied to fibreglass. This involves slicing the mother-of-pearl into very thin strips, a technique used on some of the more traditional pieces in the main exhibit.

Each pebble is a different colour, depending on the material used. The dark pebble (2014) uses black-pearl oyster shell from the Philippines and Indonesia. The green pebble (2015) uses native Korean abalone shell. The white pebble (2016) uses white-pearl oyster shell from Tahiti. The artist works from photographs of real pebbles, magnified up to 100 times.

I love how materials lifted from one type of natural object (seashells) are manipulated to recreate another type of natural object (pebbles), and one that you might also find on the seashore, suggested here by the mirrored surface on which the pebbles have come to rest.

Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
29 April to 23 October 2016

Above: Hwang Samyong, Pebble (P1409), 2014; Pebble (P1501), 2015; Pebble (P1602), 2016. Mother-of-pearl and lacquer on fibreglass. Length of longest pebble: 90cm. Crosspoint Cultural Foundation, Korea. Seen at Asian Art Museum, San Francisco in 2016. Photo: SF.

Japanese porcelain at the Legion of Honor

japanisches palais dresden

On a visit to the Legion of Honor museum in Lincoln Park, I discovered that objects in the porcelain galleries had come from the Japanese Palace (or Japanisches Palais) created by Augustus the Strong. This piqued my interest because he is a figure who looms larger than life in Edmund de Waal’s The White Road, discussed in my last books post.

The Japanese Palace is a magnificent building in Dresden (pictured above) that was repurposed in the early 18th century to house Augustus’ porcelain collection, including Chinese, Japanese and Meissen porcelain. Artists working at Meissen made use of the Asian porcelain, either to copy the designs exactly, or to create new designs more loosely inspired by the originals.

The Legion of Honor shows the eastern and western pieces alongside each other, including several bewitching Kakiemon dishes from Japan. Kakiemon ware was produced in kilns at Arita, near the port of Imari. It was decorated using a particular overglaze technique (painting over the glaze in low-fired colours), in colours such as blue, red and green. The lobed shapes of the Legion of Honor dishes are characteristic: shapes such as hexagons and octagons were often used, perhaps because warping is less apparent than on a circular design.

Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA
Permanent collection (Gallery 9B)

Above: Japanisches Palais, Dresden, Germany. Image: Von X-Weinzar – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2166535.

Below: Kakiemon saucer dish from Arita, Japan, ca. 1700. Porcelain. Photo: SF.
Below: Kakiemon dish from Arita, Japan, late 1600s. Porcelain. Photo: SF.
Below: Kakiemon dish from Arita, Japan, ca. 1690-1700. Porcelain. Photo: SF.

Chinese chicks for Easter

an lin chicks

These lively chicks are the work of An Lin (b. 1930), an artist from Chengdu, Sichuan Province. She studied at the Sichuan Art Academy and is a member of the Chinese Artists’ Association. This is a shuiyin print – a woodcut printed in water-soluble ink.

I saw this print one year ago at the Ashmolean Museum, where it was included in their exhibition Michael Sullivan: A Life of Art and Friendship. Michael Sullivan received this work as a gift from the artist in Hangzhou in 1980.

I love how the delicate shading on the little birds conveys a sense of their lightness and fluffiness. The contrast between the pale tops of their heads and the much darker backdrop makes the image all the more vivid, and hints at their vulnerability. Still, the image has a very dynamic quality. You can imagine their quick movements and soft sounds – especially the characterful trio in the upper-left section, who seem to be interacting in a most human fashion.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Permanent collection

This work is currently in the research collection but can be viewed online.

Above: An Lin, Chicks, 1980. Colour woodcut print on paper. Height 27.8cm; width 32.5 cm. Ashmolean Museum. Image: Ashmolean Museum, at http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/object/LI2022.423.

The blue of the sea: a Kimura Yoshiro vase

pic blue vase

I wanted to highlight this beautiful blue vase, which I came across on a summer visit to the British Museum. The museum acquired it only this year and it is a contemporary piece by Kimura Yoshiro (b.1946), a ceramicist based in Hiroshima.

Kimura apparently favours the colour blue because he fell in love with the blue of the Aegean Sea on a visit, and then sought to recreate that colour in his work.

In fact, the intensity of the blue glaze, applied in subtle gradations of colour, took me back to my visit to Ascott, and the Rothschilds’ ancient Tang dynasty grain jar – that piece was in a deeper midnight blue with the glaze layers more clearly differentiated, but again there seemed to be a latent sea theme.

This vase is currently positioned on the way up the North Stairs, so do take a moment to enjoy it and refresh your eyes.

British Museum, London
Permanent collection

Above: Kimura Yoshiro, porcelain vase with hekiyu blue glaze, 2014. British Museum. Height 38.2cm; width 47.7cm. Image: British Museum, at http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx

Some information on Kimura is from the website JapanesePottery.com.

Ju Ming arch at the Ashmolean

ashmo sculpture

The Ashmolean last year acquired a monumental sculpture by Taiwanese artist Ju Ming (b.1938).  I tried to photograph it a month or two back but the habitual greyness of the Oxford winter was not in my favour.  This week, however, the brilliant sunshine lit up the façade of the museum, creating a pleasing contrast between the very dark, organic surfaces of the piece, and the white and golden neo-classical masonry behind.

The sculpture, Taichi Arch, is made of bronze and belongs to a series on taichi, inspired by the physical and mental aspects of this ancient martial art.  The arch is an abstract form of tuishou, pushing hands, a two-person training routine in taichi.  In its current setting, it is a focal point of the forecourt, very much inviting the curious visitor to take a tour around it, and investigate the more secluded space within.

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Permanent collection

Above: Ju Ming, Taichi Arch, 2000 3/8. Bronze. Ashmolean Museum. Donated by Juming Culture & Education Foundation in honour of Michael Sullivan. Photo: STF.

Chinese and Japanese ceramics at the Allen Gallery


A friendly reader has asked me to cover more art outside London, which seems a very fair request.  My Art Fund handbook yielded an intriguing entry for the Allen Gallery in Hampshire, with holdings of “English, Continental and Far Eastern pottery, porcelain and tiles”.  Alongside works by Bernard Leach, I found this stoneware vase by Shōji Hamada.  The photo is far from adequate but I find the lustre of the glaze and use of contrasting colours very appealing.  Hamada and Leach met in Japan in 1918, and travelled to St Ives in 1920.  They became the first artist potters in the modern sense, taking inspiration from early English slipware and Far Eastern wares.  The box bears the inscription “Vase for flowers, persimmon with a splash of blue”, and Hamada’s personal seal in red.  The gallery also features an enjoyable display of Chinese export porcelain, including bowls, dishes, teapots and vases.

The Allen Gallery, Alton, Hampshire
Permanent display

Above: Vase. Shōji Hamada. ca. 1955-1965. Stoneware, with iron glaze and blue-green splashed decoration on the neck; not marked. Allen Gallery. Image: ST Fairbairn.