The Artist, Ah Xian

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Ah xian practice:
he collaborated with a number of bemused but accomplished local artisans. Using their technical skills he created casts of family and friends using traditional Chinese methods. In 1996 and again in 1998 he returned to China, travelling to Jingdezhen — famous for kilns which for centuries produced fine porcelain objects and vessels for the Chinese imperial courts — to learn traditional techniques. Working with master potters, he learnt the processes of molding from life, decorating, glazing and firing The artist, Ah Xian, combines traditional Chinese decorative arts with the western portraiture tradition of sculpted busts, and in the "flesh" they are breathtakingly beautiful. "If I had not come to Australia I would not have had the idea. It was only after a few years in Australia that I had a better perspective on China." Ah Xian's China China series of porcelain busts was begun in 1998. His works in this exhibition were produced in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, in collaboration with artisans from various studio-kilns around the city. Jingdezhen was the center of China's porcelain production in the early Ming, continuing into the Qing period when export wares to Europe became important for trade. In Ming times, Jingdezhen was reported to have three hundred kiln complexes, each with certain firing specializations. The techniques, styles, designs and glazes one sees in Ah Xian's busts are also evident in the selection of traditional works that are mainly from Jingdezhen. For example, the ubiquitous dragon design and underglaze cobalt blue glaze are just some of the commonalities between the traditional and contemporary works in this exhibition. Ah Xian's sculptures in porcelain and more recently in lacquer and cloisonné represent Chinese artistic traditions, but technical and stylistic mastery are only one aspect of this exhibition. China Refigured also explores ideas of Chineseness or Chinese identity. In Ah Xian's work, casts of the human body are a background upon which he projects traditional Chinese decorative designs such as dragons, birds and flowers, and landscapes. By making these designs resemble tattoos, Ah Xian makes a statement about the indelibility of one's cultural background, all the more prominent in his work since his residence in Australia for the last twelve years. These sculptures by Ah Xian establish a series of multilayered oppositions. The most overt is the tension between the sculptural form of the bust and the painted surface designs, which the artist likens to the oppositions of West and East. The bust is part of a Western portraiture tradition dating back to the busts of ancient Roman times and the designs are derived from Chinese decorative traditions, unique to China and in some cases to the studio-kilns at Jingdezhen. Such an opposition can also be seen as the relationship between the personal (since many of the busts are of Ah Xian's family, including his wife, brother, and father) and the political (a statement about the artist's own Chinese heritage articulated outside China). Ah Xian was born in 1960 in Beijing and migrated to Sydney twelve years ago. He has held solo exhibitions in Asia, Australia, and Europe. This was his first exhibition in the United States. With their eyes wide shut, sculptor Ah Xian's figures and busts seem to peer into the remote recesses of their own souls, mute and mysterious. On second glance, the artist permits us to see what they see. Across their uniquely cast bodies and faces ... are twenty-first-century dreams of diaspora, displacement and cultural remembrance. A lotus blooms on a woman's cheek, across a man's brow a landscape looms.' This work suggests that one's culture is inscribed upon the body and is inescapable - a statement on the residual influence of Chinese culture on the artist' - Melissa Chiu, 'China from afar: the art of Ah Xian in Ah Xian Sculpture , exhibition catalogue, Heidelburg 2007 in Current. he was creating delicate...
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