Ink Play


Lying on a high seat in the south study, this is what I see: a banana tree neatly wrapped in a coat of thatch; a small egret picking through withered grasses; a straw-hatted old man removing dead lotus leaves from the water. My mind wanders beyond this courtyard, past the three rings of pounded earth and wooden poles, past the eleven gates, across the drawbridge, and up, towards the northern peaks, where my friend lives among clouds. He gathers firewood and I watch the chill of early morning frost cover the old silk-floss paper in front of me. The egret flies off. I lodge my aimless thoughts in the criss-crossing of bamboo branches, now protesting against the cold with an occasional snap, and pick up the brush.

Ink is a plaything, my friend used to say. Layer the leaves like stacked lances; arrange them as neatly as bird wings. For the joints, think of a crane about to rise. Work quickly. The falcon swoops when the hare leaps up.

If I could find him now, following footprints obscured by leaves heaped up on bare slopes, I would tell him he was right to leave a place where these words employ useless men painting bamboo for fifty years. I would tell him that I have never achieved one perfectly satisfactory stroke.

The old man pulls his basket of dead leaves out of the water, leaving steams to meet their reflections. They bend and cross like the scribbles of a madman.

The Elephant and The Eagle

Where does the eagle fly beside the elephant? They meet in Macau, where Portuguese priests brushed against Chinese traders, and head west, past the Indian port of Goa (where this multi-tusked elephant must avoid ivory carvers), around the Cape of Good Hope, up towards the Azores (where eagle confronts the namesake of this Archipelago, the goshawk), and straight east to Lisbon.

Length of Woven Silk; Dress by Dries Van Noten Spring 2014; Stitch Work by Chiyu Uemae
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Plate by Liz Quackenbush; Collar by Foxine; Clutch by Julie Lange; Earrings by Eniko; Bracelet by Charlotte; Pillow Case by Cody and Cooper Designs; Earrings by Catherine Ross; Jewelry Roll by Jennifer Carter

The unlikely friendship of the double headed eagle and Asian elephant was born from the union of sacred and secular currents moving through trading relations between Portugal and China. Finished cloth, like this silk damask, formed the backbone of trade because it was the most impressive, conspicuous evidence of what the traders were doing in distant lands. The textiles that traveled from Macau to Lisbon developed a visual language that merged Chinese and European imagery. Chinese decorative elements were well-suited to the ornate style of Portuguese religious ceremonies, and the exotic textiles were proudly displayed in public festivals, weddings, and commemorative events. Elephants and chrysanthemums were welcome in the Garden of Eden.

Silk Damask Textile; Protea Candlestick by David Wiseman; Sophie by Antonio Santin
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Pendant by Nance; Journal Cover by Liz; Earrings by Meghan; Cake Canister by Laura Hewitt; Clutch by Amiel Leather; Necklace by Heidi; Pencil Case by Bloomi Paris; Bracelet by Decoromana

These textiles prove more than the triumph of the Portuguese in Asia, the easy flow of money that follows luxury goods. The journey of the elephant and double headed eagle – one animal described in a Buddhist sutra and the other the crest of the Hapsburg empire – proves the triumph of the image. How else can diplomacy rest between the threads of finely woven cloth?

Memory of Lost Gardens

Suspended shadows, thin stalks toy with clouds and rippling water,
A scented breeze seems to rise off the Ink Pond.
Dew wets red garments, golden powder falls,
Like dusky fragrance, a worn body receives their cool wind.
– Yun Shou-’ping, 1684

Stop and smell the roses. We’ve heard it before, but the idea of being fully immersed in flowers acquires a rich texture of meaning in Chinese painting. When Confucian values held the country in a straight jacket, the garden was the easiest escape. Your other options were drinking or madness. No one was duty bound in front of a chrysanthemum. The boundaries were clear, like the frame of a painting; the purpose of the garden was to delineate space where privacy was possible.

Chrysanthemums by Yun Sou-p’ing (1633-1690); Incense Box in the Shape of Overlapped Chrysanthemums; Prouenza Schouler Fall 2012
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Necklace by Judith Ritchie; Bracelet by Abigail Connell; Ring by Izzie Tale; Bracelet by Florz; Ring by Oleg; Pot of Gold by Syma Small Works; Ring by Artizan Work; Espresso Cup Duo by Light a Fire

For Yun Shou-p’ing, portraits of flowers, like these chrysanthemums, were an escape from the rigid rules of painting that had solidified around landscape. Flowers and birds were considered inferior, and ignored, giving him the chance to paint them as he wanted. And he wanted them to be graphic and colorful, qualities no “serious landscape painter” paid attention to.

Pear Blossoms by Ch’ien Hsuan; Botanical Blueprints by Makoto Murayama; Painting by Claire Basler
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Bracelet by Abataka Artisans; Necklace by rRradionica; Clutch by Rowena Dugdale; Bowl by Shino Takeda; Bowl by Valentina di Serio; Necklace by Marcia Wadsworth; Bag by Notforeat; Necklace by Studio Elenus

A few centuries before Yun Shou-p’ing, Ch’ien Hsuan (ca. 1235) painted pear blossoms to pay tribute to the long-lost court beauty of Song China. The pale leaves leave a subtle, almost faded impression, just as the accompanying poem describes a woman weeping behind a locked gate. Ch’ien believed Chinese art and culture to be locked behind the bars of the Mongol invasion. The lost gardens survive somehow within the confines of Ch’ien’s scrolls and petals.

Pawn Ticket

We were inspired by an old pawn ticket to collect more work that embraced collage and mixed media.

• This Pawn Ticket from the Wo Cheong Pawn Shop in Hong Kong tells its history with layers of faded calligraphy and stamps.

• Yue Minjun’s Diving Figure from his Grassland series of woodcuts features the wide, exaggerated smile that appears in many of his works. Here, he was inspired by the open expanses of Mongolia.

• Wilson Shieh’s Swimmer is an etching with fine lines that echo the gongbi style of Ming dynasty painting.

• Elise Wehle’s Deer Wading Through a River is a photograph transferred onto watercolor paper and sprinkled with paper pieces that give it the quality of dappled light.

• Lewis Folden’s Four Squares is a collage of metallic papers, paint, and pencils.

• Theresa Pfarr’s Untitled mixes paint, charcoal, graphite, and ink to depict a mysterious female figure.

• Janelle Lile’s Distant is a digital collage of diagrams and translucent layers in a blue palette.

• Catalina Viejo’s Letter to my Dreams is a collection of private thoughts, expressed in shape and color, addressed to specific people.

• Stephanie Holznecht’s Seashells has tiny shells set into torn papers, paint, and pieces of string.

• Bill Zindel’s Make Your Own Banjo combines vintage images and neon paint reminds you to stand out from the crowd.

• Kate Schlueter’s Each of Us is an Original III features thick layers of paint, printed paper, and other materials.

Blue Rogue

What happens when blue-and-white porcelain decides to go rogue and explore forms suited to more than fine dining?

• Ai Weiwei’s Field connects pipes made out of porcelain in a grid structure similar to scaffolding or drainage pipes. Curved floral patterns of the early Ming Dynasty meander through the rigid geometry, bringing together tradition with the foundations of urban industry. The two cancel each other out because the structure serves no purpose and the pattern is out of context. Free from the limits of use value, modern and traditional design can meet in a neutral space.

• Yang Jiechang’s Skull recalls the demand for Chinese export porcelain in Europe that started in the fourteenth century. Dutch traders called the blue-and-white dishes kraak porcelain and viewed them as a rare luxury. Chinese exports appear in still life paintings from the Golden Age, sometimes in compositions with a skull. The vanitas reminded the rich recipients that the value of luxury doesn’t last forever.

• The Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2012 Collection paired blue-and-white striped pieces with shoes and tights tattooed in Chinese dragon motifs.

• These Chinese Vase prints allow you to have expensive porcelain without worrying about breaking it.

• Harriet Damave’s Cocktail Ring is made of porcelain with a flower hand-painted using the traditional Dutch Delftware technique.

• Leslie Saar’s Donatello is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle painted to look like fine china.

• Juliet Ames’ Necklace suspends a broken piece of blue china from a silver chain.

• Jenny’s Kim is a ceramic mask painted with loose, blue brushstrokes.

• Jacquie M.’s Navy Blue Print is based on a woodblock print found in an old book.

• Mary Judy’s Utensil Holder keeps all of your kitchen tools together in style with a hand-painted blue tapestry pattern.

Inhale Exhale

Slow down and relax. We’ve put together some items to help you get into a meditative state.

• Wang Zi Won’s Buddhas are made of slick and separated limbs that move in a repetitive motion. Rather than seeing technology and spirituality at odds, Wang visualizes their coexistence. In a way, obsessively checking your phone or whatever social network you’re addicted to is a ritual. Not praying to the minimalist ethos of Apple is unthinkable.

• This Buddha could not be more different. It dates back to late 4th century China, just when Buddhism was starting to pick up there. Once covered in gold, the statue is now worn enough for the bronze to show through. The deliciously speckled effect is reminiscent of Tawaraya Sotatsu’s poem cards, which had loose brushstrokes of ink on gilded paper.

• Ran Hwang’s Empty Me is an eagle and hen made from thousands of white buttons, beads, and pins, held together by thread. She likens the long and repetitive process of making these works to meditation. By taking ordinary objects associated with the hectic and ever-changing world of fashion, she creates an ironic contrast with the final image.

• Jackson Willow’s Zen Garden is made of cherry wood and comes with a bag of sand that you can rake for some healthy distraction.

• This Incense Holder by Mozak na paši has a floral motif imprinted on its warm golden surface.

• This Lamp by Light the Earth is a piece of honeycomb calcite that emits a golden glow when lit.

• WiL Labelle’s Wine Cups is made of wheel thrown stoneware covered in loose spirals and circles.

• Jesse Meyer’s Fish Garden Sculpture is designed to look like there are metal fish swimming among your bushes and flowers.

• These Candles by Rincon del Caracol are made of pure beeswax and are perfect for meditation.


Relax with a cup of dragonwell tea, observe the serpentine forms of steam, and enjoy these selections of dragons in their ancient and contemporary incarnations. 

• Sayaka Ganz’s Fortune is a dynamic dragon made entirely out of recycled plastic objects like forks, knives, and other kitchen tools. Her work gives new life to discarded materials by creating various animals out of recycled plastics and metals, and reflects the Japanese Shinto belief that all objects have their own spirit.

• This Lacquer Box dates back to the Southern Song Dynasty and is carved with dragons so elegant that they seem almost indistinguishable from the wispy clouds. Dragons were thought of as creatures who spent the winter in rivers and flew into the clouds to bring spring showers.

• This Jade Pendant dates back to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty and perfectly illustrates both the strength and serpentine quality of mythological dragon.

• Belle Forge’s Door Knocker is hand-forged from silver in the shape of a dragon’s head.

• Kazem Arshi’s Teapot has a berry-colored glaze dripping over its deep brown unglazed surface.

• Diana Taylor’s Bracelet forms a dragon from an intricate network of linking wires that resemble chain mail.

• Melissa’s Pendant is a sleek interpretation of the ouroboros, the ancient symbol  of infinity depicted by a dragon eating its own tail.

• Julia’s Teapot is made of low-fired raku clay with a dragon for its handle.

• Chris Mueller’s Ouroboros is another example of the timeless symbol cast in the lost wax process.

• Simon Kemp’s Necklace intersects three dragons at their heads, while two of the tails extend to join the chain.

• Nancy Adams’ Teapot has a black dragon carved on its surface and a twisting tail for a handle.

Shanghai Express

We were inspired by Marlene Dietrich’s Shanghai Lily to select a few items that channel Old Hollywood glamour touched by its fascination with the Orient.

• The black feathers and veil framing Marlene Dietrich’s face are the perfect visual complement to the undercurrent of deception in Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express. We watch for cracks in the stiff line readings and theatrical setting. Sternberg heightens the suspense with soft lighting and extravagant costumes that obscure the real faces of the characters.

• This Cheongsam, made during the same year as Shanghai Express, reflects the most popular fashion in China at the time – a fitted silhouette with bell sleeves, high collar, and traditional embroidery.

• In the Carolina Herrera Fall 2013 Collection, dahlia blooms mingled among satin wide-leg pants, tweeds, and fur trims.

• Jason’s Necklace suspends a large dragon-covered bead from a string of sterling silver beads.

• Zen Bao’s Fan has a blossom attached to its surface, painted with silver petals on a teal background.

• This Clock by China Town Addict has a 30s style girl covering its face.

• Jane Ng’s Tea Cups have a pale green glow reminiscent of ancient Chinese celadon.

• This Hair Pin by uniquedkz has a butterfly and peacock feather made of blue stones.

• This Vintage Teapot by Encore Emporium has a rich decorative pattern of magenta magnolias against a turquoise background.

• Becky Cheung’s Tissue Box is made of porcelain with an oriental floral pattern.

• Mona Lindvall’s Bracelet strings together vintage Chinese coins with a speckled green patina.

Mountain Mist

It is generally accepted opinion that in landscapes there are those through which you may travel, those in which you may sightsee, those through which you may wander, and those in which you may live.
– Kuo Hsi (ca. 1000)

• Looking at Wang Wusheng’s photographs of the Huangshan mountain range in China calls attention to all of the qualities that make Xia Gui the most revered painter of the Southern Song. What Xia Gui saw in the thirteenth century bears a remarkable resemblance to the view today. In Mountain Market, he distills the landscape without leaving behind traces of a style or his skill. The trees and rocks dissolve into mist without emphasizing any spots in particular. His humble perspective allowed him to capture nature as it was and even add depth that doesn’t translate in a photograph.

• Kyle Kirkpatrick’s Imagined Landscapes take a different route by carving old books into mountain ranges.

• Yang Yongliang’s A Bowl of Taipei places the landscape of Taipei in a Chinese porcelain bowl.

• Yukihiro Kaneuchi’s Tiny Landscapes in a Coffee Cup recreate coffee stains, just as sixteenth century tea masters would crack their bowls on purpose to make them look worn.

• Holly Carter’s Pendant is made of sterling silver with a texture that resembles a desert landscape.

• Manos’ Tall Ceramic Bottle has a crackling salmon-colored glaze.

• Christopher Parry’s Pencil Case is lined with decorative paper with a golden umbrella pattern.

• Jenny Pulling’s Ring layers a sterling silver mountain range over a copper sky.

• Katrina Newman’s Ring is made using a cuttlefish cast mold to create a rippling surface.

• Brook Johnson’s Tea Set includes a pitcher, teapot, and two cups with a green and white glaze.

Collecting Many Views

When days are long and you wonder what to do, lift up high your tea-bowl; perhaps, through a southern window, a pure breeze will fill your hair.
– Tang Yin

• Yun Shouping’s Mountain Landscape is painted in the manner of Song and Yuan masters, who worked during the golden age of Chinese painting six centuries earlier. Yun’s loose brushwork aspires to the Sung ideal of capturing the essence of a landscape without showing your technique. The Sung critic Tung Yu notes that the painter must concentrate on “collecting many views” into one image rather than copying from nature. The Impressionists executed the same idea, only in color and many centuries later.

• Contemporary photographer Wang Wusheng’s series Celestial Realm suggests that the loose brushwork of ancient Chinese painting isn’t far off from how the landscapes really appear. His images of the Mt. Huangshan mountain range hover between the solid and immaterial. The clouds and mist envelop craggy peaks and pines in a quiet, untouched space that remains just as the Song painters would have seen it. An exhibition of these photographs will open in early March.

• Makoto Azuma’s Suspended Trees expose the roots of the bonsai tradition.

• Shawn McGuire’s Lantern allows light to come through the uneven edges of vertical slits running down the ceramic surface.

• Lucy Snowe’s Winter Landscape captures the first signs of snow in the forests of Oregon.

• Marissa Rojas’ Screen-Printed Shirt has her illustration of a twisting Japanese pine tree.

• Ash and Laurel’s Ring has a pine forest etched into its titanium surface.