'I am looking for life…Like ashes are very good materials for glazes. But the glaze on a pot is only a coat; the beauty that’s behind is the clay body, like a soul in a person. Sometimes the person who makes the pot is also a contributing factor. And the fire too. If you have an electric kiln it only radiates fire; it is not live fire. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, what comes out..is artificial. The kiln is like a womb, like a mother.' (Quoted in Judy Thompson Ross, Down to Earth. Canadian Potters at Work, 12-15).
When Wayne Ngan arrived in Vancouver from his native China at the age of thirteen, he was encouraged to go on to the Vancouver School of Art. Although Ngan was especially interested in painting, he enrolled in the least expensive studio course, pottery. Graduating with honours, Ngan set up his own pottery and sculpture studio, began to teach, and gave pottery workshops. Later, he settled on Hornby Island, off the west coast of British Columbia. This move signalled a turning point in Ngan’s development as a craftsman, since it established his dedicated commitment to ceramics and initiated the process of integrating his craft with his environment. Within this stimulating island environment, Ngan renewed his interest in his Oriental heritage, and began experimenting with raku pottery, salt glazes and Chinese brush techniques.
Preferring the spontaneity and directness of ancient Oriental pottery, Ngan studied in China and Japan and was particularly impressed by the pure forms and etched decorative surfaces of China’s Song dynasty and Korea’s El dynasty. On his return to Hornby Island, he adapted these pottery styles and techniques to his own ceramic vessels.
Pottery is at once the simplest and the most difficult of all the arts. It is the simplest because it is the most abstract.
[T]he art is so fundamental, so bound up with the elementary needs of civilization, that a national ethos must find its expression in this medium.
Pottery is pure art; it is art freed from any imitative intention … pottery is plastic art in its most abstract essence.
-Herbert Read, The Meaning of Art (1931)
Many potters state that one of their first memories of working with clay was as a youngster. Wayne Ngan is no exception. The celebrated artist remembers that as a child he dug clay with his own hands creating objects to amuse him while his mother worked in the rice paddies. At the age of fourteen, he immigrated to Vancouver with his grandfather. Some years later he briefly studied at the Vancouver College of Art before leaving the city to build a home and studio on Hornby Island in 1967. Over the years he traveled to China and Japan studying ancient ceramics and the secrets of wood firing kilns. Back in his studio he repeatedly threw the shapes he admired until he had perfected them. His goal then, as now, is to create pure shapes with minimal decoration based on those from the Sung Dynasty and the Yi of Korea that are alive.
‘Working with clay is, I think, part of my nature. It is easy, the most flexible medium I can imagine. Through clay I can touch all four basic elements: earth, water, fire and all, and bring those four elements back to life.’
Het staartje van de academie, o ja, pottenbakken, weggezet als naarstige bezigheid van de dames die ook iets artistiek willen. Inderdaad een vrouwelijke kentrek: aarde en vuur verenigen maar vaak tot het utilitaire herleid omdat het resultaat eerder de keuken en het huiselijke zou oproepen dan het artistieke. Te weinig vertrouwd met het direkte contact van handen en aarde spreekt voor het mannelijke element in de expressie deze kunstvorm een vrouwelijke taal en net daardoor ontstaat het onverdiende wantrouwen.
Ook de tijd vang je in de met vuur gestolde klei. Het ogenblik duurt duizend jaar en langer.
Rond de leegte de ronding zonder begin of einde, een vuren vorm van tederheid.