Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Qing Dynasty

One of my favourite presents that I brought home from China was a little hat for my grand daughter Ava that I purchased in the Muslim market in Xian. I was in this wonderful little shop full of interesting antiques and most especially old clothing. There were a number of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) hats that I couldn't decide on. Trevor had gone down the alley and we were separated when a nasty fight broke out. I saw a blue and black jacket in the midst of it and I thought it was him. I saw someone getting thrashed with a cane and blood was flying everywhere. As I moved towards the fight I looked over the commotion to see Trevor telling me to get the hell outta there. He was not in it but he could read the electricity in the air and we needed to get out. I think a shoplifter had been caught and the merchants were dealing out their kind of justice. No fine, no ticket but a beating that could have killed the poor bugger. I told Trevor I had to go back to the store for a hat. We went back after the alley settled down. After buying the hat i walked out into the dark of the evening to see this pagoda shaped temple lit up. It was the perfect reference for the hat I had just purchased. Art referencing life at it's best.
Home with Sheila with her hand in a splint from a year of production throwing while I globe trotted around the world- Utah, Italy and China.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

China Influence

Now that I'm home every one's asking how the experience in China will change my work. I think it's going to take quite awhile to absorb all that I saw and all the variety of techniques that I tried. What I can say right from the get go is that the clay influenced my work more than anything. The kind of clay you use dictates the outcome more than anything. I started off using the Jingdezhen porcelain and tried applying a deflocculated slip poured on plaster bats as a type of loose sprig decoration. This was semi successful and I dropped it since i didn't feel it suited me. I have no pictures of that work which shows my interest in it! I then went to a Tian Boa stoneware that had a very nasty personality and didn't agree to altering or handle attachments both of which I'm fond of doing. I got a few decent pots from that clay but was still unsatisfied. We than took a side trip to Yixing and nothing would do but me come back and make some hand built Yixing influenced teapots. I enjoyed the hand building since the studio was starting to get cold.
A bicycle trip past a saggar maker got us interested in saggar clay so i made some rather large buckets and baskets from that clay. It was full of all kinds of aggregate such as rocks, ground up bisque and pieces of glass the size of your thumb. I quite enjoyed this clay except that it's colour was like oatmeal cookies in the kiln.
A trip to the decal factory got me interested in engobe decals so my last few weeks had me back to porcelain and cutting it up and adding gnar-gnar and decals. I think these pots were a successful play of pretty against nasty. I like to call them pretty nasty pots.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Boxers or Briefs???

I made my fair share of "so-what" pots while I was in Jingdezhen and I just put this basket in the pile near the gate with some other peoples not so good pots. The gate keeper chose to sit on the handle. He must have had a bad case of rectal itch as the handle was pretty well loaded up with gnar-gnar.
Here is Trevor and I chowing down on a delicous bread shell that we loaded up with 8 lamb kabobs each. Bobby Free proclaimed this to be the best meal we ate in China. It was spicy, hot, tasty and cheap. We paid 8 Yuan each or the equivalent of $1.04. Too cold that night to wash it down with a 26 cent beer.
When I got home Sheila insisted that I shave off my beard and then she tore my shirt and pants off. This is at least was my fantasy and the picture you see is hers.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The North Pole

I left the fake Santa's in the 798 Art District of Bejing to begin my looooooooong trip to my home in the real North Pole. I was greated with a super size package of bum wipe by Sheila. I guess she knows who is really full of shit. I was welcomed home to a dead battery in the car and a major snow storm. This is my real life and it feels good to be home. We have a good supply of wood, so the house is warm, there is lots of wine and groceries, so life is good. I had a chance yesterday to look at my blog for the first time since I left for China. The Great Firewall of China kept me from seeing your comments and looking at the blog except in preview mode. For all of you that wrote notes to me thanx a bunch. They are sweet, considerate and I wish I could have read them while in China. I would have replied to y'all but now there are just too many to tackle. My life now will be boring to most so the blog is on hold until something else comes along. I owe a bunch to John Neely for taking me to China kicking and screaming. It has been one hellava ride and a life changing experience. If you ever need a presenter on "what we have to be thankful for" I'm your man.
Thank you all for sharing this amazing time with me.
All the best,

Saturday, December 15, 2007

100 Days,100 Posts!

Our last day of this 100 day adventure is spent in Bejing. Highlights for me would include the Silk Market where rip-offs abound. North Face, Ralph Lauren, La Coste, Timberland and you name it are there in quantity but maybe not in quality. My roommate Trevor saw the bargaining for a better price as blood sport. He came away with some pretty great down hiking jackets for the price of a beer and a bump at Detroit airport. The young women that grab your arms and call ya honey are clever little hawkers that get a adrenalin rush from the bait and switch of the market place. After two Advils and a breath of air we headed for the 798 art district. This is a very nice little area of artists studios and galleries. Looking in the parking lots there is money somewhere in China- Masserati, Rolls, Beamer, Jag, Audi etc. The galleries were fantastic and that somewhere could be Toronto, London , New York or Beamsville. I had to take a picture of the wee pink gallery with the dead flowers for my wife Sheila. Dead flowers absolutely drive her crazy. She would likely be found there weeding and cleaning up the garden. Off for the long trip home over 6000 miles away on the other side of the world. I'll clean up and summarize the adventure tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Welcome to Geezerdom

We went to the Great Wall today and upon arrival John presented me with a ticket for the cable car to take a trip up to the peak of the wall and said "Welcome to Geezerdom!" I'm glad to have gotten the ticket as it was a long hike up to the wall and it was cold, icey and slippery. Even some of the steps along the wall are over 2 feet high so it is no easy journey. I didn't need a repeat performance of Yellow Mtn. The wall was built for defense and it is an incredible display of human labour. In places millions of people lost their lives building this 10,000 mile display of strength.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chen Lu

This little pottery village in the mountains had to be all time favourite spot in my 3 ½ months here. The kilns were terraced and while walking the streets you were really walking over a kiln and the kiln entrances were like doors to houses. I often wasn’t able to distinguish between a house and kiln. Nobody could possibly just arrive at this village by happenstance. We were lucky that our fearless leader Li Chao is able to get us there and make the connections in the first place. At one time it was a real going concern for pottery production but they literally ran out of fuel. The kilns were fired by coal and the coal was getting further and further away from the site of the potteries. Fuel and finished pottery had to be shipped in and out of this mountainous village.

The 8th Wonder of the World

The part I have loved most about the West Virginia University program for Study Abroad in China is that they have given us an itinerary to see places and meet people that most tourists wouldn’t get a chance to. I guess though if you travel all the way to China you just have to say you’ve seen the big sites. We went to see the Terra Cotta warriors that to me were rather disappointing in that you had to look at them from quite a distance. They were housed under this enormous hockey rink like structure and you peered at them from too far away to really see the differences in their faces. I purchased a book about the history of the warriors and was lucky enough to get it signed by one of the old farmers that helped discover the burial site while digging a well. It does blow ones mind that these emperors had such huge egos.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch

It is time to move out of our apartment and hit the road for travels throughout China. I checked everything twice to see if I had everything I absolutely need. I can’t go anywhere without my spectacles and I just might need some money from my wallet. I bought these two Chinese working hats and now I have to see if I can get them home. The trip to Xi an was a long grueling one with a start on a 5 hour bus ride in a 14 passenger van. That would be ok except we all had 3 months worth of luggage and collected gifts. We than got on the hard sleeper train that had us 6 to a cubicle that had bunks 3 high on each side. The younger ones got stuck with the upper births. This required acrobatic maneuvers to get yourself into bed. This was 20 hours of being packed together like sardines. The food on the train didn’t look too healthy so we opted for the noodles in a cardboard box, beer, water, and tangarines. I don’t think John slept all that well as he is a big man for these small spaces and he was about a foot away from a guy that sleeps like a well oiled lumber truck. While we’re were standing in the aisles he caught some shut eye.

Handmade Brushes

On our last day at Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute we had a brush maker come and do a demo. Once again this was a wonderful display of hand skills. He combed the hair with a lovely bone comb and then after he shaped the brush he rubbed the back of the hairs in ash. I’m not sure of the reason but I think to give it a hard surface kind of like a thin coating of cement. He made a huge assortment of brushes for different ceramic applications, water mops, slip decoration, over and under glaze painting. I think like potters though he has found there is more a market for his decorative brushes than his brushes that are intended for use. This is kind of like my “there is more money to be made in the living room than in the kitchen” theory.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Walking into people's lives

Baixu's family were actors in the theatre business and we were taken to the actors quarters which was very interesting. The living quarters were downstairs surrounding the communal kitchens. The rehearsal area was upstairs which lead to the stage where they once performed. The bamboo sticks you see are the clothes lines to hang clothes for drying. The beautiful hand carved windows are like the ones I bought at the sherd market. The one aerial view you can see the old man in his bedroom apartment and you can see the disrepair of the communal kitchen living room. What a lovely picture of Biaxu and her old family friend one of the actors of old. We were offered tea and mandarin oranges from almost every home we visited. I felt uncomfortable walking into people's lives like that!

Olde Town

Today we had the unique and rare opportunity to visit an old part of Jingdezhen that has been surrounded by but yet untouched by development. A young woman that works for the Pottery Workshop Xiong baixu spent her childhood there and is a welcome visitor by the residents and old people of the community. Baixu pronounced Buy Shoe is a relative success story. From these humble surroundings a young woman gets a great job working for millionaire Caroline Chen as the foreign translator and ambassador of the Pottery Workshop. At 19 years of age Baixu takes ballet lessons, speaks English very well and is studying Japanese. We were taken right into the homes and kitchens of these Chinese people living in the old traditional ways. My camera could not possibly create the low light, cold feeling and yet hospital surroundings we stood in awe of. I have more pictures to show than I can get on one blog so the next one or two may be more pictures than blah, blah, blah.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Life on the Streets

The streets here are relentless in terms of activity, hustle and bustle. Everyone is in business selling something or the other. I had been meaning to take a picture of the wires hanging down at the entrance of Food Alley. Can you imagine the fit the electrical inspector would have at the sight of this.
Here is a nice display of eggs and fish laid out in the alley for sale. I stood beside this old man on the trike selling a few of his potted flowers. he had a set of teeth I'd have loved to photograph. The front two looked like they were made from a straight piece of bone and then the surrounding 4 were all gold.
You're always able to buy sweet potatoes or corn or some kind of munchie from a street vendor.
I did like the looks of these hand made insoles. For 26 cents I got a nice bit of comfort for my Australian Blundies.