Colour by Wong May Lee
25/8 - 7/10/2023
Wong May Lee is a Hong Kong ceramicist, who studied ceramic art in various countries including the UK, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia. Her works have been displayed in several Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial Exhibitions. Wong is dedicated to promoting ceramic education. She served as an instructor at different institutions and founded her own ceramic studio. Her works are created with a wide range of firing methods. She especially keens on working with celadon and purple clay, and also exploring the techniques of wood firing and raku firing.
Titled “Colour by Wong May Lee”, this exhibition presents 70 of Wong’s ceramics, showcasing the techniques such as wood firing, raku firing, salt firing, and smoke firing. She revitalises Chinese ceramic art with traditional glaze, bringing happiness to audiences by works with dazzling colours.
Colour by Wong May Lee
Wong May Lee’s remarkable achievement lies in her ability to revitalise traditional Chinese ceramics, and to combine such traditional firing techniques with non-Chinese ones.
Green was the first colour that emerged in Chinese ceramic glaze. Green celadon was primary used between the Shang and the Ming Dynasties (1600 BC – 1644 AD) in daily ware production. Among these, ceramics from the Longquan kiln during the Song Dynasty (960 -1279) reached its peak in terms of both quality and quantity. While all the glazes were stunning, “plum green” was the most favoured by the imperial court and had continued its popularity till present day. Wong has successfully recreated this transcendent “plum green” glaze.
Paralleling the advancement of the firing process, the development of painting on ceramics can also be observed on Cizhou ware of the Song Dynasty. Prior to that, potteries with only one glaze existed. But in order to write and paint on potteries, it was necessary to apply at least two different glaze colours. Potters from the Cizhou kiln, a northern folk kiln, could use a combination of three colours of glaze; mainly black, white, and brown to produce simple humble decorations on ceramics. Such styles are demonstrated in the works of Wong May Lee.
Purple clay tea wares from the Yixing kiln are the all-time favourite of tea lovers. Although Yixing never became an official kiln for the imperial court, its products were exclusively used by the literati of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 – 1912) who left their names, poems and paintings on the Yixing tea wares. Wong represents the modern literati and inherited the art that integrates the expertise of the literati and folk craftsmen.
Red glaze has always been difficult to achieve. Copper red under a transparent glaze called “underglaze red” is even harder to master. Only the craftsmen of Jingdezhen kiln were able to produce such fine works. Wong triumphantly handled the challenging technique of underglaze red and applied the vivid red colour from the past to her works.
Other than concentrating on ceramics produced in famous Chinese kilns, Wong also focuses on wood firing techniques, exploring magical colours created by wood ashes on glaze. She is also enthusiastic on the study of Raku firing ceramics which was originated in Japan. Raku firing is characterised by shortening firing time and taking out an art piece from the kiln swiftly, often giving rise to unpredicted colourful results.
With years of effort, Wong revitalises Chinese ceramic art with traditional glaze colours. Longquan celadon comprises blue and green colours where blue represents a clear blue sky and green symbolises prosperous returns; both giving hope for happiness.
Cizhou ware is always glazed white and black or white and brown which are distinctly contrasting colours. As they correspond to the traditional Chinese yin and yang belief system, these opposing colours are considered naturally appealing to one’s eyes.
As for Yixing purple clay ware, the colour was always favoured by Chinese emperors. As purple personifies a sage materialising in folklore, it is also considered an auspicious colour for commoners.
Wood firing and raku firing create works with dazzling colours. These vibrant colours of flame always invigorate the audience.
Chinese aesthetic advocates that art must be beautiful and there is beauty when an artwork brings joy to both the artist and the audience. Wong brings happiness to the audience by her outstanding ceramics with a variety of joyful colours. This is undoubtedly a rare achievement in the contemporary Hong Kong art scene.
YEUNG Chun Tong
Director, Sun Museum
Editor: TSOI Yuet Ka, Katherine
2023, paperback, Chinese/English, 103 pages, 20 x 26 cm
A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue featuring 70 sets of ceramic works by Wong May Lee and her collection of 14 sets of ancient Chinese kiln finds.