Bai creates masterpieces inspired by trivial, everyday events
Despite the Italian opera and the sound of water boiling in a teapot in the background, ceramic artist Bai Ming has an aura of quietness as he sits in his Beijing studio in front of a tea set. He’s surrounded by his porcelain works, which range from elegant and thin vases to small and exquisite teacups.
Bai’s quietness finds its way into his ceramic works — the pots, plates and cups.
“Porcelain for me is not a pile of clay. It means the relationship between people, time and material, which leads me to quietness,” he says.
He adds that after decades of devoting his time to ceramic art, he has learned clay can express itself via an artist’s hands.
The 51-year-old is known for his ceramic works with abstract patterns inspired by nature, such as green vines, rippling water and stones.
He is one of the few Chinese ceramic artists who has held large shows in museums, within and outside China.
In 2014, the Cernuschi Museum in France staged a Bai solo show, which comprised his ceramics, oil and ink paintings, and sculptures.
Bai is obsessed with abstract art, which he says is a kind of cultural instinct because the Chinese first made ceramics with abstract art thousands of years ago.
Bai was born in Yugan in Jiangxi province, a town near Jingdezhen, which is celebrated as the hometown of Chinese porcelain.
As a boy, he found playing with clay and making vases, cups and pots was “interesting and magical”.
“I didn’t take it seriously then, he says.
In fact, Bai was first eager to be recognized as an oil painter after he graduated from the ceramics department of the then Central Academy of Arts and Crafts, which is now the art college of Tsinghua University. He is now director of the ceramic department there.
“I was crazy about Western art in the 1980s. I read everything available on it,” Bai says.
But the artist says he was destined to become a ceramics artist due to his personality. When he is working, Bai focuses on tiny changes in his environment. The falling of leaves or the boiling of water make him think. Besides, he is very sensitive to the changes in clay, specially when tooling, glazing and firing.
“I feel the passage of time when creating my works, sometimes it is days, sometimes half a year,” he says.
Each porcelain work Bai creates is an expression of his emotions or a reflection on life and time.
“I need only trivial things to inspire me,” he says.
Bai says he once bought a book by a French poet at a flea market in Paris. And he enjoyed staring at the book for hours although he did not know the language.
But things like the handwriting on the front page and the obvious coffee stains on it intrigued him, which resulted in him creating a work to explore time and life.
Tea and music run through Bai’s daily life.
The first thing he does after he wakes up every morning is to make a pot of tea and let opera or symphony music fill his house.
He says his love of drinking tea is sparked by producing teacups, pots and plates.
Meanwhile, Zhou Chang - jiang, an oil painter and a longtime friend of the artist, says Bai and his porcelain works are an integrated whole. He says he can see Bai in his works. Zhou says Bai is the kind of gifted artist you cannot produce by training.
Bai says he has a natural fondness for traditional Chinese culture. He adds that he will never stop being innovative when transforming this traditional beauty into modern art.
Bai, who also produces porcelain sculptures and installations and paints on plates, now uses 3-D printing to innovate.
“The process of producing a porcelain work involves knowing yourself and the world,” he says.
A retrospective show on Bai will be held at the Beijing Minsheng Art Museum in April.
Porcelain works by Bai Ming.
Ceramic artist Bai Ming in his Beijing studio. Bai is known for his ceramic works with abstract patterns inspired by nature.