Professor He Zhen hai - Liuzhou, China

He Zhen hai uses a strong combination of wood and ceramic in his large-scale public artworks.

His concepts are driven by memories of architectural elements in his homeland of southern China where the soil is red and the structures are of massive hewn wood.

He Zhen hai uses ceramics as the pure material of Chinese traditional arts adapts them into modern simplified combinations with wood.

He is an associate professor in the arts department of Guangxi Arts College and has exhibited in Shanghai, Beijing and many other Chinese cities.

Text of Professor He's Slide Lecture, July 12, 2003

Ceramic Art in Han Dynasty in Guangxi Province

The English word "china" means porcelain, and ceramics represent China.

This is because China such such an age-old ceramics tradition. Over a long trail of ceramic history, our ancestors created splendid colored pottery in the Neolithic Age. These were followed by pottery figurines in Qin and Han Dynasty,

Tri-colored glazed pottery in Tang Dynasty,

Celadon wares in Song Dynasty,

Blue and White Porcelain in Yuan Dynasty

And purple sandware in Ming and Qing Dynasty.

These splendid ceramic art achievements influenced generations of artists all over the world.
Located near the southwest border of China, Guangxi Province has a miraculous natural environment, a long history, a diverse regional culture, and profound traditional ethnic art resources

(map). Hang Dynasty pottery comes from the most southern part of the Province and displays regional characteristics. Different from ceramic artworks in Central Plains in Middle China, it is unique with its simple, vigorous shape, fully reflecting a unique regional ceramic vocabulary.

The local feudal society was stimulated into a golden economic period after Emperor Qin Shi Huang united the south as the Five Ridges. Very productive forces were brought in from the Central Plains in Han Dynasty. At that time, all types of functional pottery and ceramic craftworks continued to appear, reflecting a prosperity of industry in Guangxi. Ceramic sculptures illustrated the life of a southern water village, all rendered with lively realistic form. These reveal economic and political living conditions in the feudal manors of the East Han Dynasty.

Examples include figurines of gladiators, pavilions and fortresses.

This square ceramic fortress has an imposing ancient structure with six towers which reach to the sky. The entrance at the front tower has a guard. Fretwork and straight lattice windows decorate all sides. These create visual interest on the large surfaces.

Other artworks from the same period include homes and barns, pig sties and mangers, poultry and livestock.

This ceramic barn is hanging in the air with four inverted cones supporting the whole structure . The form is tall, straight and imposing. The penetrating, slim fences at the gate are pile-supported constructions typical in the southwest of Guangxi.

Han Dynasty ceramists also made stoves, lamps and wells.

Here is a ceramic stove of red terracotta. There are two woks on the stove, a square smoke tunnel at the back wall, a man husking rice on the right, a dog at his back and a lizard crawling in from the above.

This ceramic lamp with a crouching tiger base is casual and natural in form.
A cylinder shaped lamp is on the back of the tiger, and the handle is modelled from the tiger's raised back and the base of the dish. It combines both art and function.

Now for a few words about Professor He's "Door Bolt Structure Series."

This series of large sculptures is strongly connected with He Zhenhai's life. Village dwelling was an important part of his art experience and development as a human being. He still goes out frequently to explore ancient architecture. The ancient local architecture in Anhui - distinctive wooden structures of the minority population in Guangxi - include wooden pavilions, drum pavilions and the wind-rain bridge of Dong people. All of these include the special characteristics of Chinese traditional wood structures - doors, the doorbolt, a knocker, door nail, door fence, windows and baffles.

From 1994 to 1996, Professor He spent more than two years making a series of door bolts and wood pieces for his solo exhibition, "Critical Point Door Bolt Series" at Guangxi Art College.

Wood and ceramics are fundamental to art forms throughout Chinese history. From 1998 to 1999, he used ceramics and wood as his basic art materials, integrating their characteristic textures.

Says Professor He, "In contemporary art creation, I believe the most modern forms are born from the most traditional. Thus, I followed a modern idea of deconstructing tradition to arrive at modernity, creating door bolts with a variety of materials."

From 1998 to 2000, He Zhenhai participated in international and national academic expositions using all types of materials to create a variety of innovative contemporary door bolt sculptures, such as "Bond of Friendship," made in 1998 for the Changchun International Sculpture Invitational. The materials are red granite, white marble and iron. Changchun city government now owns this work.

In 2001, this white marble work, "Sun Gate," won the Prize of Excellence in the Hebei International Sculpture Exposition. It is now in the collection of Shijiazhuang city government in Hebei province.

To create "Fortune, Longevity, Gate, Numbers 1 and 2," traditional door bolt symbols are presented with golden nails in a red painted door paired with a black wood door.

He Zenhai's Technical Notes
Cincinnati Sister Cities Association successfully organized Clay, Color and Fire workshop, an international artistic collaborative. Artists from seven countries and regions met at the ceramics dept of UC to participate in a ceramics project where the ceramics were made on-site. I encountered an unfamiliar work environment and ceramic materials, which had different character traits, all of which had to be learned and understood from scratch; mastered; and used. This practical process presented many challenges and pressures of creating ceramics for this project for me.

We were presented with many types of clay and slip colors. The workshop was filed with light and it was replete with facilities and equipment. The artists were provided with an excellent working environment. With a good selection of clay and slip, I initially became acquainted with their character and performances as follows:

  1. The variety of clay had a shrinkage rate of about 10-12%
  2. A variety of slip which as red, black, blue, green etc. and the oxidative materials. The working relationship and incompatibility between materials.
  3. Slip is used on half dried half wet clay. No slip is used after the clay is totally dry. (This method is exactly the opposite. In China, slip is used only after the clay is totally dried.)
  4. Firing temperature of clay and slip is around 1200 degrees C.

After understanding their performances, I selected number 124 clay, whose color is most closely similar to yellow dirt and whose surface is speckled, which conforms to the design of my project. Before carving the work piece, I did the following experiments:

  1. Collected #124 clay. Length 18.5 cm; Width 7 cm; thickness 7 cm.
  2. Added half a Coke paper cup full of grout (he calls it flame retardant sand)
  3. Mixed and kneaded clay and grout into 1.6 cm Thickness x 5 cm Wide x 10 cm long sample.
  4. Otained slip: yellow and brown at 1:1 ratio mixture until totally mixed. dark brown and red slip at 1:1: ratio mixture.

Test 1: Painted different samples that were half dry and half wet with these slips. After they were dried, fired in small kiln using #7 cone at 1200 deg. C slowly. After 8 hours, samples were obtained and the colors did not come out as expected. They turned out gray and dark compared to the project design. I wanted to use the slip to achieve a simple and antique styled product. Although the colors were not satisfactory, the sample's hardness was quite good because it contained grout. It was flat and did not warp. The surface was right, meeting my requirements for the surface.

Test 2: I continued with a second test, using red diluted clay to make a slip. I used red clay to make dark and light slips. I brushed on half dry and half wet clay sample. After it dried, I fired it again in the small kiln at the same temperature and used the same #7 cone. After 8 hours, collected the sample for comparison. The dark slip made with diluted clay turned darker red. The lighter color diluted clay mud turned into yellowish red. Also the surface of the ceramic came through this slip. This experiment using diluted clay to make slip made me ask what would happen if I used #124 clay to make slip and blended with the red diluted clay mud? Perhaps these to under the high temperature firing would produce the color of slip that I want. Based on the other two experiments, I found there is a difference between the slip provided and the slip I made with diluted clay. The first is very good in covering the surface. The latter lighter slip under high temperature when in contact with the hardened clay changes color. Also allows the nature of the clay to seep through (speckled surface.) Based on this particular reaction, it allowed me to grasp the nature and relationship of the clay mud and the hardened clay.

Test 3: I did a 3rd test, using 124 clay and used 124 clay and red clay to make clay mud at 3:2 ratio. Mixed two until thoroughly blended. Made thick (dark) and thin (light) clay mud. Brushed each on different sample ceramics that were half dry half wet. After drying, put in small kiln and fired at same temperature using same #7 cone. After 8 hours, collected samples for comparison. Dark clay mud turned into dirt yellow, color was good and had that "dirt" flavor. Lighter clay mud turned into light dirt yellow. It has less "dirt" flavor. I preferred the first sample, which met my requirements for color and surface texture.

I used the "relief carving" method in forming the design on surface of the work piece to exemplify the simple stylized drawings and geometric shapes of the Guangxi provincial, national minority art. It must meet the design of the work piece and be seen on a round
column. Under light, the steps and concave and convex surfaces with be more accentuated. When looking at the column from a distance, the carvings of the column can still be recognizable and draw the viewer to come closer.

After a week of experimentation, I have reached an initial understanding of the reaction between clay and grout and the special results of clay mud used as slip. I used this new found technique and applied it to my clay project, thus becoming the core beneath the carving and surface treatment of the clay.

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