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Cultivator of Taiwan’s Modern Ceramic Art

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

Known as the father of Taiwan’s ceramic art, Pao-Jia Lin (1915 - 1991) devoted his life to discovering new territories for Taiwan’s ceramic industry.

He elevated ceramic art and forged a new path through the once barren land. As an artist, Pao-Jia Lin continued to innovate with traditional elementd, combining the monochromatic glazes of celadons from the Song Dynasty with the copper red glazes from the Yuan dynasty to create a unique color and introduce modern elements into ceramic art. At the same time, he held true to his humble and down-to-earth values, enabling the general public to access the spirit and beauty presented in his artworks.

Pao-Jia Lin was born into a family of respected scholars. With the weight of his family’s expectation on his shoulders, he went to Japan to study medicine after graduating from middle school. It seemed as if he was on the path to a bright future worthy of anyone’s envy. Deep within his heart, however, was a strong urge to create art, which would later change the course of his life forever...

The story goes like this: One day, Pao-Jia, who was still a medical student then, saw his classmate’s father making pottery. In his own words, “...this elderly man possessed the grace of a gentleman. He sat cross-legged as he molded the clay with his hands. The sheer focus in his eyes shook me to the very core...” Since then, Pao-Jia’s life had been closely intertwined with ceramic art. After a year in medical school, Pao-Jia gave up his medical study and threw himself into the world of ceramics. He transferred to the Department of Ceramics of Kyoto Craft High School. His willingness to venture into the unknown helped him gain a foothold in the field of ceramic art in Taiwan.

After graduation, he enrolled in Kyoto City Ceramic Research Center to continue his pursuit. During that time, he frequently visited the Komatsu Southern Town Pottery Studio in Kanazawa, Ishikawa as an apprentice. In 1939, he returned to Taiwan and started his own business, bring his own cutting edge expertise and technique to both the ceramic industry and the modern ceramic community in Taiwan, the latter of which only begin to develop in the 1970s.

Over the next 50 years until his passing, Pao-Jia had been the most influential ceramic expert who had contributed the most to the development of ceramic art in Taiwan. To realize his ideals and beliefs, Pao-Jia worked hard in the field of ceramic production and ceramic art, and his efforts yielded remarkable results. Professor Song Long-Fei, whose study focuses on the modern ceramic art, once described Pao-Jia Lin as “a pioneer in Taiwan’s ceramic industry and a farmer who cultivated the environment for ceramic art to develop in.”

Reconnecting to the Land and Values of Taiwan

After finishing his study in ceramics in Japan, Pao-Jia returned to Taiwan. In his hometown Shengang, Taichung, he established a ceramic studio specialized in manufacturing ceramic items for everyday usage, wall tiles, and squat toilets. In 1945, the studio was destroyed by attacks in the WWII. Pao-Jia, however, continued to study the art of pottery, the underlying mechanism and applications of glazes, and methods to improve the clay body. What he put most of his focus on, though, was ways to incorporate Taiwan’s local materials and values into ceramic art.

In his classes, Pao-Jia often said to his students, “People have souls, and a land has its spirit,” which demonstrates the core value of ceramic art - the artists must care deeply about the land and their everyday life. Only then will they be able to express the true essence of the art form.

To connect the human heart to the land, Pao-Jia traveled around Taiwan in search of the right clay after returning from his study in Japan. Everywhere he went, he would bend down to collect clay with his own hands and took pictures to record his journey. His footsteps covered almost the entire island. He did so out of his love for the land, but also as a form of pilgrimage. Every year, he spent nearly eight months on searching for the right clay and seeking the right stones. The other four months he spent on creating artworks. This demonstrates another belief Pao-Jia held regarding ceramic art - the perfect artwork comes from the artist’s recognition of the local soil and stones.

Cradle of Legacy

For Pao-Jia Lin, ceramic art is an art form that deals with fire and soil. He started with shaping the right clay into the right shape. After firing it in a kiln, he would open the door to check on the end result. There was nothing more satisfying and motivating to him than seeing the finished artwork matching what he had pictured in his mind. Nonetheless, Pao-Jia believed that he owed his success to the environment he was reared in and the support, enrichment, and influence from the people around him. Thus, in addition to his personal goal as an artist, Pao-Jia also wished to help pass down the traditions of ceramic art in Taiwan. In 1970, on top of his work in the ceramic industry, he started teaching courses on ceramic production as well as courses on clay and glazes.

In 1974, Pao-Jia Lin established Tao Lin Pottery Classroom, which overcame the challenges posed by insufficient information and expertise in Taiwan at the time. With Japanese systematic teaching materials as the basis, the courses provided students with practical and theoretical trainings, making it a cradle for future Taiwanese ceramic artists.

To encourage students in creating art, he held joint exhibitions showcasing works by both the instructors and the students. To Pao-Jia, the process before and after an artwork is displayed, during which the artist goes through a series of trials and errors and self-exploration, is an experience that enables the artist to create more sophisticated artworks. In 1978, therefore, Pao-Jia held the first ever joint exhibition of instructors and students, thus creating a momentum to accelerate the development of ceramic art in Taiwan. Up until the classroom’s closing in January, 2010, there had been countless exhibitions held under the brand Tao Lin, enabling many students to become independent artists able to stand on their own feet. Tao Lin’s contribution to the education of ceramic art is undeniable. In 1986, therefore, it was awarded the Heritage Award by the Ministry of Education.

Innovating upon Traditions

Pao-Jia Lin’s early artworks mainly featured the iron and copper glazes traditionally used in ancient China. The iron glazes he used include celadon glazes, which are low in iron and can produce various different colors, and tenmoku glazes, which contained a higher level of iron. As for copper glazes, he made use of Turkish blue (Persian blue), copper green, and copper red glazes. He had made various traditional containers such as mortars, plates, pots, and bowls. The serene colors of his artworks earned him the approval and praises of the global community. His works had been selected for international ceramic exhibitions in Faenza, Italy and France.

During the middle stage of his career, Pao-Jia incorporated monochromatic glazes such as blue and white glaze and underglaze copper red into ornaments including iron red overglaze, gold gilding, and elements of multiple colors. Traditional glazes and paints were applied to a clay body covered in white engobe, creating a rustic style after a glost firing process. Then decoration was added on top of the glazed surface and fixed in a second firing. The end result is an artwork combining both the elegance of chromatic glazes and the vibrancy of colored decorations. Thus emerged a new school of thoughts in ceramic art called Neoclassicism.

“I was born from soil, and I shall turn to soil,” said Pao-Jia. “Ceramic art can be likened to a concerto of soil and fire. The artist is both the conductor and the performer. A clear artistic vision is required in order to convey the artist’s personal style, without which the artwork will be soulless.” Pao-Jia’s artworks possess the gravitas of traditional ceramic art. In addition to their dignified grace, though, his works also radiate the free spirit and energy of modern artworks.

During the last stage of his life, after his solo exhibition featuring his caledon series in 1989, Pao-Jia started using various caledons he loved and snowflake crackle green glazes as backdrops for his creation. With monochromatic glazes such as copper red, cobalt blue, peacock green, titania white, and vanadium yellow glaze, he made use of different tools to paint or spray decorations on top of the backdrop glaze. Afterwards, the ceramic was fired in the same temperature, under the same weather condition. The end result is a ceramic adorned with colored glazes featuring modern patterns and even elements of abstract expressionism.

During Pao-Jia’s lifetime, he had spent more than sixty years in creating ceramic art. Although he was widely respected and was known as the father of Taiwan’s ceramic art, on his name cards he still titled himself a potter even at the last stage of his life. This shows how humble he was as an ceramic artist.

That said, the father of ceramic art and potter were both but titles to Pao-Jia Lin. They were inconsequential. What he cared about the most was not how he was known to the world, but his love for the land of Taiwan and what he had done to forge new path for Taiwan’s ceramic art. What he looked forward to was for ceramic artists after him to follow in his footsteps - to pass down the legacy of ceramic art, and to gain a foothold on the global stage to create a better tomorrow for generations of artists to come.

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