Great Artisans and Era of Lacquer
Source:Artintern Author:Ruan Jiewang Date: 2016-07-11 Size:
Human beings are diligently exploring the magnificent and extensive nature for their lifetime……


Human beings are diligently exploring the magnificent and extensive nature for their lifetime. Since ancient times, artisans of lacquer art have always worked hands to infiltrate their pious creation essence into the fantastic beauty of lacquer. Simple objects reflect their poetic mood, and their creation connects with the shared feeling of nature. Meanwhile, their skills are perfectly practiced to show the illusory charm of lacquer. Therefore, personalities and traits of great artisans lay the foundations of the soul of their creation realm, as the saying which describes the ingenuity of creation in The Book of Songs goes: "As knife and file make smooth the bone, so jade is wrought by chisel and stone."Thus it can be seen that perfection has always been the ultimate belief of Chinese artisans and ingenuity to pursue the creation from ancient times to the present.

The word "Qi (lacquer)", created by Chinese ancestors, consists of Ren (people), Mu (wood) and Shui (water). China is the first nation to discover and use lacquer-painted ornaments and wares in human history. In ancient times, Emperor Shun made food containers with lacquer, and Emperor Yu made sacrificial utensils with lacquer. Moreover, lacquer was used to paint palace, to make melodious lyre as well as showing the nobleness of emperors. It is thus clear that lacquer has been significantly used from ancient times.

Chinese lacquer culture first appeared in the Neolithic Age. From Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties to the Warring States Period, lacquer art was growing more mature and bearing the charm of Chu culture. With a wide range of uses, it was used not only in daily life but also in sacrifice rites. Usually painted with red and black lacquer, carved lacquer art had been appeared in Shang Dynasty. The Han Dynasty is the golden age of lacquer art with various kinds of lacquer wares, including diet household utensils, make- up appliances, furniture, etc. At that time, lacquered sacrificial vessels appeared to replace bronze wares. Red or ocherous patterns were painted on black lacquer to show the ancient lacquer language which is full of magic changes and flowing souls. In the ancient lacquer languages, gods and human beings coexisted harmoniously, which presented a mysterious and splendid world of China's long history of culture and art. In the Wei, Jin and the Northern and Southern Dynasties, lacquer wares were combined with paintings to break the limitation of flat painting, thus appearing new skills of iridescence which is more live and stereoscopic. Till the Sui, Tang and the Five Dynasties, the creation of artisans of lacquer wares were improved and more perfect, which promoted the development of handicrafts, thus producing exquisite handicrafts, such as dry-lacquered Buddha statues, lacquer-painted mosaics with gold and silver and carved lacquer wares.

During the two Song Dynasties, lacquer wares were popularized. Special agencies were set up by government to manage and make lacquer wares for imperial use, and lacquer wares for civil use were also put into market. The extremely exquisite and natural carved lacquer is the achievement of lacquer wares in Yuan Dynasty. Due to the great attention and love of the court, the development of lacquer wares reached a peak in Ming Dynasty. Under the supervision of imperial household, lacquer wares made in imperial workshops were becoming more and more gorgeous and exquisite. During the Wanli Period (1573—1620), "heap color carved lacquer" was promoted on the basis of removing colors when carving lacquer wares.

Lacquer wares presented a new appearance with a wide range of shapes and sizes, especially the emerging of large-sized lacquer furniture. From small-sized boxes which were used to contain cosmetics to large-sized thrones, lacquer wares were almost used in all aspects of life. Imbued with creation essence of artisans of all the dynasties, these precious heritages of lacquer art cover the elaborate management of great artisans in terms of personality cultivation and cultural inheritance.

We should respect and extend the spirit of creation, and revive the DNA of lacquer element. Besides, we should also explore the ontology language of lacquer to transfer the contemporary art language. Artisans should work hand in hand to relocate the precious value of human nature, and make it receive deserved respects and pass on from generation to generation.

I.The brief history of bodiless lacquer wares in Fuzhou

Lacquer wares in Fuzhou initiated in the Southern Song Dynasty. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong, Shen Shao'an, a lacquer artisan of Fuzhou, discovered the long-lost skill of "dry lacquer" in Sui and Tang Dynasties when he was repairing the worn-out plaque of a temple. As an intelligent artisan with a sincere heart, Shen Shao'an devoted himself to studying and adopting fine linen and silk to build mold which is thin but with strong quality. The unique bodiless lacquer wares were successfully developed with his hands and wisdom. Moreover, the skill of lacquer-painted thin materials with colors, developed by the descendants of the Shen family, made the ancient lacquer wares more gorgeous and bright, which not only revitalized lacquer wares in Fuzhou but also promoted the development of the industry. Deeply favored by people all around the world, the unique bodiless lacquer wares of the Shen family won numerous awards in international expositions, which made Fuzhou a famous center of lacquer wares. The family of Shen Shao'an played an indispensable role in the glorious development of bodiless lacquer wares of Fuzhou in modern China, which was the result of painstaking studies and persistent efforts of great artisans from the Shen family. Therefore, the noble spiritual realm of their ingenuity and wisdom deserves our respects.  

After the founding of new China, China needed to develop its economy to promote all the other industries. Therefore, Lanji, ran by the Shen family,was renamed as "Joint State-Private Company of Fuzhou Bodiless Lacquer Wares". They also established the First and the Second Factory of Bodiless Lacquer Wares, and founded Fuzhou Research Institute of Arts and Crafts and Fuzhou Arts and Design School. All these behaviors had promoted the development of bodiless lacquer wares industry as a whole industrial chain in Fuzhou. Thus, the family inheritance of bodiless lacquer wares ended, and the industry of bodiless lacquer wares in Fuzhou began its development of nationalization.

In 1954, in order to further protect and develop the traditional lacquer- painted skills of bodiless lacquer wares, a research group of lacquer wares was established by the Cultural Bureau of Fujian Province. The group consisted of ten famous artisans in the industry, such as Li Zhiqing and Gao Xiuquan, who were specialized in the creation, design, research and development of new crafts, new materials and new skills.

II. Great artisan of lacquer art

Shen Fuwen is a revolutionary pioneer of art in the older generation. In 1935, he learned under the tutelage of Matsuda Quanroku,a famous master of lacquer art, to study lacquer art in Japan. During his study, he found China's long-lost manuscript of lacquer-painted skills. With the manuscript, he studied and explored dozens of long-lost skills of ancient lacquer art. In 1953, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute was established, and Mr. Shen was appointed as Dean of Applied Arts Department, and President of Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts. In 1984, his lacquer painting Heap-lacquered Goldfish won an award in the sixth national exhibition of fine arts. It is the first time that lacquer painting was regarded as an independent kind of painting to participate in the national exhibition with Chinese painting, oil painting, printmaking and sculpture. Shen Fuwen dedicated himself to constructing the skill system of Chinese lacquer art, which promotes the teaching of lacquer art in China's art academies. In addition, he wrote books to advance his theory which advocates the combination of theory and practice, teaching and production. He made efforts to cultivate students with both design ideas and practical abilities, which resulting in a large number of successors of modern lacquer art. Mr. Shen Fuwen is not only a spreader of Chinese lacquer art, but also a founder and educator of the art development of modern lacquer painting. He laid the foundation of profound accumulation and development to Chinese lacquer art, thus he can be regarded as a great master for other artisans to learn from.

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[Editor] 张艳