Chinese porcelain was one of the first truly global luxury products. The earliest dateable pieces were made as offerings to the gods, and in years following became high-status objects. In an age of mass production, meet an actor-turned-artist who is breathing new life into this ancient art form.
White is colour at its most complete and pure. It’s the colour of fresh fallen snow and synonymous with new beginnings. Some say white opens the way for the creation of anything the mind can conceive.
Taiwanese artist Heinrich Wang is a perfectionist so it’s only natural that he works with white porcelain. “White porcelain can’t hide any flaws. I want to create unique styles with it to express the poise and gracefulness of Chinese porcelain,” Wang reflected while we visited his flagship store NewChi (meaning “new, positive energy”) in Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei.
His determined pursuit for excellence has taken him on an elaborate journey — experimenting with colour, seeking out kilns to produce his work, and years of countless failures to finally emerge with one-of-a-kind pieces. Anything that was easy had already been done. His desire was to forge a new creative path.
Paramount was the process of formulating a pristine white — as precious as jade. This involved kilning about 10 tons of 20 different kinds of clay until he realized his ideal white.
Birthed from this white clay is Wang’s renowned collection, Lighter than White, showcased at La Triennale di Milano, Italy in 2012. It’s an interpretation of traditional Chinese culture and philosophy in a modern context. Wang’s unique style transcends global style boundaries and embraces both the confidence of a new century and the spirit of an ancient civilization. His works are equally inspired by Chinese folklore and philosophy, while also imbued with ideas of inner peace, enlightenment and self-improvement.
“Making porcelain on the one hand is the practice of aesthetics, and on the other hand is exploring life,” said Wang. “Each piece made for NewChi must be a contemporary classic.”
Wang is devoted to rendering everyday objects into porcelain. Defying gravity, Wang’s creations include whimsical tea cups which mimic the femininity of a ballerina on tiptoe, pencil holders in the guise of gourds and rectangular teapots with suspended handles. With their unusual angles and edges, his tea sets shatter convention, while exuding an aura of the East.
“Everyone told me it would be impossible to create such complex shapes and angles out of porcelain,” said Wang. One can still recognize the handsome actor and movie director, with his dark suit and black hair tied back in a ponytail, who once made his mark in Taiwanese Cinema. His pilgrimage from making movies to firing clay is rooted in his heart’s desire to use his hands to create a meaningful legacy of Chinese culture. Wang’s passion has always been to revive ancient Chinese arts, an opportunity he felt was missing in the film industry.
He graduated from the Film Department of Shih Hsin University in Taipei in the 1980s and became well-known in the entertainment industry in Taiwan, working in advertising, photography and fashion design. He was even nominated for a Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival Award, the highest film award in Taiwan.
At age 32, Wang took an extraordinary turn in his life. Always fascinated by the idea of manufacturing something with his own hands, his eyes were drawn to a glass paperweight on his father’s desk. He imagined how fulfilling it would be if he could design glass items in a Chinese style. Yearning materialized into a passion and he temporarily departed from his family to study the art of glass making at the College of Art and Design in Detroit, Michigan. In 1988, he bought a factory and established New Shop, the first glass workshop in Taiwan. Heinrich took over design, supervision of the manufacturing process, and sharing his skills with others.
Six years later Wang founded Tittot, an art glass company. In order to distinguish his art glass from the European glass crafts, he chose lost-wax casting as a new method of producing designs. Wang admired the solemn and masculine bronze appearance of this traditional craft. His art glass soon received accolades and Tittot is now publically traded in Taiwan.
It was then that he turned his attentions to porcelain. He began envisioning everyday objects like tableware and vases as works of art. He further saw this as an opportunity to invest in an industry that had lost its cultural value and was now mainly manufacturing imitations of antiques.
“In the past, when people thought of porcelain, they thought of it as the finest representation of Chinese culture. However, in the last two or three hundred years, modern porcelain art has not made any further breakthroughs,” mused Wang.
He hopes that through his porcelain, a new generation will reconnect with their Chinese cultural heritage. Elements such as the aesthetics of Zen, the rhythms of Feng Shui and the yin-yang balance of Tai Chi all inspire NewChi designs.
“Persistence is for a lifetime. Just like making movies, if you don’t persist to the last moment, you will definitely regret it, because after the opportunity to change it is passed, nothing about it can be remedied,” said Wang. “Making porcelain is the same. We often face difficulties. At that time, we must make up our mind, be firm, and never compromise.”
Wang is already moving on to his next challenge. In his signature ethos, he is attempting to do something radical: combine glass and porcelain in ways no one ever has.