Your Artworks Reflect Your Values: Interview with Chen Shihong
Chen Shihong, the curator of Shanghai Shi Shi Hong Culture and Art Museum, Vice President of Shanghai Viewing Stone Collector ’s Association, and inheritor of Shanghai Intangible Cultural Heritage Wooden Pedestal Skills of Viewing Stone. He was born in Panan, Zhejiang. He started learning woodcarving skills since the age of 16 from Zhou Shiyin. In the past 40 years, his artworks of wooden pedestal skills have won more than 90 national awards. His honors are masters of traditional Chinese craftsmanship, Chinese rosewood artist, chief artist of the Chinese viewing stone industry, and Master of Arts and Crafts, in Zhejiang Jinhua etc. His works combine the wooden pedestal and the viewing stone well, making them unique, with outstanding and excellent "Tao" style and "Haipai" creativity. He has held an exhibition of non-relic projects in Putuo District of Shanghai, the Shanghai Big World Intangible Cultural Heritage Stones Art Exhibition, and he also has participated the second Intangible Cultural Heritage Exhibition of “Tiangong Kaiwu”, an “Small Items, Big Pedestal - Wood and Stone”Intangible Cultural Heritage art exhibition in Liu Haisu Art Museum and other exhibitions. His masterpieces include “Asking a Boy under a Pine Tree”, “Falling from Heaven”, “Harmony”, “Wood and Stone Chuan Zun” and so on. His work“Harmony” was collected by Ronald Bew of Deputy Bureau of the United States small and Medium-Sized Enterprise Administration, and Ban Ki-moon of former UN Secretary General, former French Prime Minister of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former German President of Christian Wilhelm Walter Wulff and other world leaders. His other work “Qi Shi Min” was collected by Mr. Li Zhaoxing of former Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, and Gary Faye Locke of former Secretary of Commerce of the United States.
OGP：To see a world in a log, and a life time in a carve. According to the archaeological excavation data, the Chinese woodcarving originated from the Neolithic Age more than 7,000 years ago. The more detailed description is the invention and related works of the famous master craftsman Lu Ban (1*) in the late Spring and Autumn Period. Lu Ban was honored as the master ancestor of the Chinese craftsmen in later generations. In the Qin and Han Dynasties. The techniques of woodcarving art were complete. In particular, the Yin and Yang carving (referring to the relief carving and hollowed-out carving) or the vertical carvings have achieved a high achievement, and the colored woodcarvings. In addition to furniture and architecture, religious statues are also the place where woodcarving artisans show their ingenuity. The Six Dynasties, Sui and Tang Dynasties are all flourishing in Buddhism. Their skills and artistry are also becoming more and more perfect. Many of the wood sculptures that have been preserved today are almost the biggest masterpieces of ancient Chinese art. The ancient wooden sculptures of the Song Dynasty were most admired for their Guanyin statues. It were all in a graceful form and the appearance was peaceful, fully demonstrating the magic of the woodcarving technique at that time. In the Yuan Dynasty, the government attached importance to science and technology and talents. Some skilled craftsmen's family were hereditary. After the middle of the Ming Dynasty, the carving process became an independent art category. Although the sculptors were good at wood carving, they also carved other materials such as Zhu Xi, Yu Cheng, and Bao Tiancheng. In the Qing Dynasty, the court's workshops were “Mu Zuo” or “Guangmu Zuo”, the highly skilled carvings were still unique. They used ivory, rhinoceros horn, rosewood, jia nan wood, ebony and other carvings. Craftsmen often use wood’s natural shapes to create these beautiful works without even any artificial traces. In early Europe, woodcarvings were mainly from the Christian churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are 135 pieces of 16th-century European miniature boxwood carvings in the Royal Ontario Museum whose delicate engraving techniques and production process are still difficult to reproduce. There is significant evidence of advanced woodworking in ancient Egypt. It is more obvious that the tombs and coffins are produced. Such as the accuracy of the mortise and tenon joint and the fineness ornament of the surface art, as well as the special varnish materials used. The literature on the Moste culture, Latano culture, and the ancient Romans provides a wealth of trees information and uses. We are very honored to discuss with Mr. Chen, who is the representative inheritors of the intangible cultural heritage project of "Wooden Pedestal Art of Viewing Stone". What kind of your inspiration has blended together from “viewing stone art” and “woodcarving sculpture” ?
Mr. Chen：The fusion of these two kinds of art is not my originality. As the fourth generation inheritors of the "Wooden Pedestal Art of Viewing Stone". I started to learn woodcarving skills at the age of 16, which is now nearly 40 years. I followed my teacher, who is also my uncle. In the process of learning art, I blended the skills of various woodcarving genres were merged with each other, especially the love of the wooden pedestal, which prompted me to develop a unique style in the Haipai wooden pedestal art. Woodcarving is a type of sculpture, which is called "folk craft" in China. It is a kind of work that is separated from the woodwork which belongs to the “Fine Woodworking” in the classification of the work. Woodcarving materials generally use fine and tough texture, such as zhennan, rosewood, eucalyptus, cedar, ginkgo, agarwood, mahogany, longan and so on. The carving method also has round cutting, relief carving, hollowed-out carving and several techniques. The combination of viewing stone and woodcarving originated from the decorative study of objects in the Qing dynasty. It is an indispensable decorations for the literati and scholars in their desks and bookshelves, which is even more important than the furnitures. Usually, the wooden pedestal of the viewing stone is —— the treasure of classical art: porcelain, jade, gilt-bronze figure, viewing stone, bamboo and wood sculpture, ivory carving and other miscellaneous items that are countless. This is the origin of the wooden pedestal art.
OGP：Art is alive, as well as wood. Many cultures in Asia believe theory that man is an integral part of nature has a tacit understanding and interaction between human and nature. To sculpt a complete work requires a lot of planning and process, which requires unparalleled patience and harshness. Every piece of wood is different, they have their own personality, texture, quality, age, smell, etc. For the craftsmen, this is a subtraction process that removes unwanted parts. If you don't think carefully before carving, it is very difficult to fix and it may even lead to the result of wasted effort or abandoning the work. We read a book that you wrote. It’s name is "Wood and Stone Chuan Zun", which has a deep instructive. You said: " A man's talent is related to his work, but my gift is endurance. The artist, through his works told the world what was inner and what he saw, as well as his cares and cherishes. Therefore, the work is himself. Your artworks reflect your values.”This means your persistence and focus on artistic beliefs, also like tireless exploration and stubborn pursuit of perfection. But it’s not easy to do. Does anyone or something significantly affect your artistic concept?
Mr. Chen: First of all, the most important person is my teacher. I have followed him to learn woodcarving skills since I was a child, and I have been able to lay a solid foundation. In addition, I love reading books. Whether it is historical masterpieces, traditional stories, martial arts novels or comic books, I am obsessed and affect me deeply. The stone culture has infiltrated into Chinese literature art long ago. For example, the Four Classic Novels (2*) are based on stone as an important clue in these book. In the "Water Margin", there is “a meteorite with several mystics words", and 108 outlaws gathered are related to stone; Monkey King In the "Journey to the West" is changed by a magic stone; The earlier book title of "Dream of Red Mansions" is called "The Story of the Stone”; In the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, the warlords fought for imperial powers and Heirloom Seal of the Realm. Therefore, the viewing stone culture and art is an inseparable part of Chinese traditional culture. I believe that with the creative ideas and profound works, only by understanding the traditional culture and historical allusions of China can we have creative ideas and create works with profound meanings.
OGP：What you said is very reasonable. The “Artisan Spirit” we understand is that they only do one thing in their lives and do the best. Although each master's personality is different and has its own strengths, but they can become masters, I think the commonality lies in the "Artisan Spirit.” The craftsmanship passed down from the previous generation, persisted in proficiency and passed on to future generations, is it a craftsman? We think that is not. The core of the artisan spirit must not be ignored, that is —— innovation. In today's society that pursues efficiency and profit, the craftsman spirit is scarce. Because there is a lot of risk in the process, a lot of energy and time are invested, but the return is hard to predict. It has high requirements for the craftsman's psychological quality and morality. Most people can't keep being tempted or disturbed by interests and money, and remember their original intention without shaking. Therefore, we feel that the indispensable spirit of the craftsman is the willpower, and secondly the professional ability. A first-rate craftsman can make a moving work because he has a first-class spirit. All the great things are accumulated by the small ones. If you can do what you love, it is naturally the luckiest. However, it is almost impossible to be pleasant at every point of work. Most of them would turn out to be dull and tedious, and it will be repeated and revised until its finished.But they must work hard to do well. Once Yu Minhong (3*) said: "enjoy life with your heart.” Focus on one thing, worthy of your time. In the stone industry of Shanghai, your work is known as the “the unique woodcarving of Chen’s Dongyang style”. We have seen your drawings and discovered that your works are integrated with the western aesthetic concepts and principle in the traditional Chinese artistic techniques. We are very curious of what type of design would be the theme and direction of your future exploration?
Mr. Chen：In recent years, I have become more creative in the wooden pedestal design than the traditional pedestal. The traditional pedestal is mainly set off and supported. It is engraved with ruyi pattern, cloudy pattern, ganoderma pattern, mountain pattern, and gyratory pattern. The creative pedestal is more used for three-dimensional round carving and high relief, and the carving pattern is more extensive. When I combine the viewing stone and the wood carving, I could make complement each other. Its difficulty lies in breaking the traditional pedestal style and designing the pedestal with stone. Design a wood and stone art that complements both the theme and form. Each stone has the mysterious qualities by nature which makes the shape and color different. Every piece of wooden pedestal cannot be copy and is unique creation. The combination of wood and stone coordinates the artistic style of the overall work. That way each wooden pedestal of the viewing stone displays the greatest degree of personalization. Since last year, I have also explored the integration of western sculpture art into the wooden pedestal. Many stone lovers in foreign countries come here and they hope their favorite viewing stones get a pedestal. In conversations with them, I was influenced by many western cultures and wanted to explore a way for the Haipai art of viewing stone to be recognized by the world.
OGP：Chinese woodcarving is a decorative art, and craftsmen will select precious woods, which will be engraved with the meaning of auspicious, festive, and blessings. However, western woodcarving is more like a installation art. Most of the typical themes of that era were based on religion. In addition to Christian iconography, they were also used for the decoration of altars and religious sites. In the end of the 15th century, woodcuts became popular in Europe and were used in relief printing techniques such as printmaking. The origin of printmaking technology came from China. Like the earliest prints called "Diamond Sutra (4*) " of Tang Dynasty (AD 868), found so far are collected in the British Museum. As for the modern western woodcarvings, it is quite diverse. The artist uses abstract expressionism to express contemporary conflicts and characteristics. Therefore, we believe that the eastern and western of aesthetic understandings are different, just like stone and wood, which are two kinds of substances. Artists try to find the right way —— more good planning and practice to become mutually beneficial. Woodcarving has been used for a wide range of applications since wood is very light, it can be very finely engraved, that way it is suitable for carrying. Unfortunately, woods also is susceptible to decay, insects and fires compared to harder materials such as metal and stone. So woodcarving is an important hidden item in the history of art in the world. Additionally, there is an another obvious problem in the woodcarving process. With the rapid development of modern science and technology, more and more skills are gradually replaced by machines, which has hindered the inheritance and development of woodcarving. What do you think about this problem? Is there any way to protect this unique skill and art for our next generation?
Mr. Chen：In the past two decades, our life has undergone great changes. Traditional woodcarvings are no longer used to decorate modern architecture. Woodcarvings are gradually declining the exquisite skills, ingenious ideas and traditional connotations have lost the environment in which they exist. The young people are hard to immerse in traditional woodcarving art, so there is a phenomenon that practitioners are not skilled and generally lost. The traditional way of inheritance is asymmetrical with the level of economic development of the times. The inheritance of traditional craftsmanship is often from hand to hand and from mouth to mouth. If these is gone, even the superb skills will disappear. In today's fast-paced society, few young people want to learning a wooden skill like the craft masters of the early years who are willing to spend over ten years. The lack of successor or heirs can lead to the decline of craftsmanship. The wooden pedestal of viewing stone is a unique craftsmanship. It is difficult to carry out mechanized work. Currently, the large-scale woodcarving crafts produced in China are stylized, conceptualized and identical in terms of contents or skills. But the wooden pedestal skills of viewing stone is a heterogeneous art that makes each piece of work have individuality, distinctive style and novel theme. The skill is formulated as an irreplaceable act. It is increasingly facing an endangered state of loss because of the depletion of wood resources and the no heirs of crafts. I feel that in order for this skill to continue, it is necessary to establish and cultivate an inheritance system based on young woodcarving craftsmen, which closely integrates on woodcarving and stone culture.
OGP：Yes. China’s development is too fast in the past decade. It lacks a "slow-moving" state of mind. Education is actually a way of continuation of human civilization. Its purpose is to continue and develop human civilization. The success is to start with the most inconspicuous and basic repetitive exercises, in order to lay the most solid basic skills. " Only freedom from vanity can show one’s lofty goal of life; and only peace of mind can help him to achieve something really lasting". The artist and his works are always connected. A good artwork just like its creator has a humility, honesty and solid quality. In day after day, the craftsmen can create an inseparable emotion with their artworks. Especially in the current educational philosophy and ethos of "results" and "utilitarianism", the craftsman spirit is particularly valuable. In 1971, the 27-year-old Akiyama Toshiteru (5*) founded the “Akiyama Woodworking”. Now he is the 75-year-old, and he stills emphasized the avenues of “first-class craftsmen, character is more important than technology.” and “self-conformity”. He summed up 30 rules for the cultivation of first-class talents for the "Artisan Spirit", which condensed etiquette, gratitude, respect, care, modesty, etc. The most important basics of education is to be a good person. Mr. Akiyama said that he spends 95% of his time educating students’ virtue and only 5% teaching skills. There is a saying in “a generation of masters”, seeing the self, then seeing the heavens and the earth, and finally seeing all beings.
Mr. Chen：Fine handmade artworks are precious because it's from “people”. People have feelings, convictions and attitudes. Craftsmen are the best among the variety of variables. We think the world is noisy, but the heart of the craftsman must be quiet and stable. As long as there is art, the soul of the craftsman will not be lonely. The beauty of art works can use crating power to make rhythms, colors, lines, layouts, shapes, etc forms. It’s the structure, balance and form that blends with wood and stone, which combines the Haipai viewing stone and wooden pedestal carving. Woodcarving sets off the beauty of the stone and makes it more artistic. The wooden pedestal skills of viewing stone was named as the Intangible Cultural Heritage Project of Putuo District in March 2018. I became the representative inheritor of the project and I began to establish a protection and inheritance system to carry forward and pass it on.
OGP：“One will be edified being follow the virtuous.”We’re glad to talk back to the viewing stones again. Many of our North American members are collecting “stones”, while our European members are collecting jewelry in associations and studios. Due to geographical and concepts restrictions, they mainly like collecting some ores. "Ores" or "Gems" are a large and complex system, but as a collector, there is all of preference for “stones". The stones of the east are like a decoration in the room, there is a kind of quiet and elegant. But the stone of the west is practical, it is another form of “currency". Their uses are different, but it is undeniable that they are very beautiful. Since you are a master of woodcarving art and a vice president of the Shanghai Viewing Stone Collectors' Association, can you talk about the current development of the viewing stone industry in Asia? Also how can this industry maintain a sustainable future?
Mr. Chen：The Chinese economy is transitioning from the double digit high speed growth to the medium to high speed growth of around 6-7%, and the economic structure has also undergone new changes, and consumption has become the main driving force. Related to this, the art auction market has also experienced a significant decline, and the viewing stone market is inevitably subject to callbacks and downturns. At present, the viewing stone market faces the new challenge. It can be summarized in a few words: the development of high quality resources is exhausted, the entrepreneurs/buyers are careful, and the collectors are increasingly aging. These are undeniable, and it also contains opportunities. It's the most prosperous period in the history of viewing stone culture that is truly integrated into the mainstream society, especially enhancing the force of the cultural industry and new consumption. The industrial chain of viewing stone is not only the collection, processing, configuration, management, but also involves a deep "cultural processing", including appreciation, display, evaluation, research. A stone from the discovery to the performance, the culture is very important. They can complement each other to enhance the value of viewing stone. Deep integration with traditional industries and Internet can create a new development ecology. Nowadays, we are rapidly entering a mobile Internet era, and the shape of the viewing stone market is also undergoing a quiet change.
OGP：The most profound takes the simplest form. We believe that the "value" of five point theories are "rare, strange, ancient, weird, fine.” "Rare" is non-renewable. "Strange" is amazing, but also rare. "Ancient" has a historical background of the characters with a distinct representation and feature of a certain era. "Weird" must to be worthy of academic research. One of the five points can be valuable, there are two points of value accumulation, three points are the treasures, more than three points are rare treasures. This is the regularity of the value system in social economics. The timely introduction of the financial system of collectibles with the current economic situation of China can help the operation of the collection industry to be more standardized and safer. And it is also free from the real estate bubble and lack of resources, that at least the Chinese economy con new height to be upgraded again. What do you think of Chinese art works entering the mainstream market in the west?
Mr. Chen：Art is inseparable from culture. Chinese art is entering the mainstream market in the west, indicating that the west is accepting China's cultural and mind. Because the strong national power can push economic and cultural development. The wooden pedestal of viewing stone is a combination of traditional Chinese viewing stone culture, Haipai culture and Dongyang woodcarving incorporates the core concept of the Haipai wooden pedestal of viewing stone could be create as a artwork. It will be interdependent and intertwined with viewing stone and wood carving. The wooden pedestal of viewing stone is a bridge for the viewing stone to the art that the ingenious design, the choice of materials, the skill of carving art, the layout of elements, the collocation of the stone and wood, and the coordination of proportions are all important for the wooden pedestal art. Consideration, exquisiteness, detail, and appropriateness determine the success or failure of each piece. Collection is inseparable from the word "value", whatever is the east or west. The more valuable art, the more it will be accepted by audiences. The value of viewing stone I think has three points, practical value, artistic value and collection value. The practical value of the wooden pedestal is the most basic role, which is to lift the stone and set off the art theme; The artistic value in the ingenious combination of viewing stone and ingenuity wooden pedestal makes the work become an accept art by audiences; The value of collection is a heritage with expressing the integrity relationship art of wood and stone. With the gradual disappearance of traditional crafts, each piece of handwork is unique, which is the biggest collection value of wooden pedestal of viewing stone.
OGP：Due to the limitations of folk customs, culture and resources in various places, Chinese woodcarving has formed a number of genres with local characteristics and different style in materials and skills. Quanzhou woodcarving, Dongyang woodcarving, Yueqing boxwood carving, Chaozhou gold lacquer wood carving, and Fujian longan woodcarving are called “five major styles” or “China's five major woodcarvings”. Until now these genres still have a huge influence in China. In 2008, woodcarving was approved by the State Council to be included in the second batch of national intangible cultural heritage. Before that on May 20, 2006, Dongyang Woodcarving had been approved by the State Council to be included in the first batch of national intangible cultural heritage. Its also known as the “Treasure of the Country”, and is one of the most outstanding folk crafts of the Chinese nation. The Dongyang, Zhejiang is the "hometown of carving”. Dongyang woodcarving has a unique and complete engraving technique, including relief, round carving, double-sided carving, yin carving and color wood carving. The relief is the essence of Dongyang woodcarving art, and it is also one of the unique forms of Dongyang woodcarving. Its multi-level relief, scatter perspective composition, and the preservation of the flat decoration have formed its own distinctive features. Because of the light color, the natural texture of the logs is preserved, the style is elegant, and the craftsmanship is exquisite, also called "white woodcarving”. According to the wooden sculptures of Buddha statues excavated in the Tower of Dongyang Nan Temper in the Northern Song Dynasty (961). It has been more than a thousand years and can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty. Dongyang woodcarvings always shows the elegant characteristic and luxurious style. These artistic features seem obvious in your work, so do you have any plans for the future?
Mr. Chen：Let me start with the development plan. In the first step, I envisioned a non-legacy cultural linkage in the surrounding communities and campuses to let the citizens and students understand the culture of non-legacy; The second step is to cooperate with the cultural centers and art galleries of various districts to organize the promotion activities of intangible cultural heritage projects; In the third step, I hope to establish and nurture a team of inheritance system on young woodcarving craftsmen. Through the cultivation young artist and the new generation to inherit our Chinese traditional art and culture; In the fourth step, I hope to cooperate with universities in various districts of Shanghai to compile a project textbook that combines easy to understand theory and case with aesthetic knowledge and artistic aesthetics, then sets up technical elective courses and off campus practical courses to make this cultural inherited and carried forward in society. My hope is to strive to rank this skill as a national-level intangible cultural heritage, promote China's traditional culture, and introduce the skills to some famous art galleries and museums.
OGP：A valuable object must undergo time to be honed in order to show unique charm and light. Although the handworks are slow, each of the woodcarving artists has given the wood a "new soul" and a "second vitality”. Sticking to one thing is determined and not affected by any change. Only by insisting on you can find the right direction step by step. Focus on the pursuit of the thing itself, not the benefits it brings. We always believe that Rome wasn't built in a day. Persistence is the key to success. Please continue to follow collectors of OGP, OhGoodParty.comand Shanghai Viewing Stone Collectors’ Association .
1* Lu Ban (c. 507–444 BC) was a Chinese carpenter, engineer and inventor during the Zhou Dynasty. He was born in the state of Lu, possibly at Dunhuang. He was also referred to as Gongshu Ban or Pan. The great demand for his work supposedly compelled him to invent or improve a number of carpenter's tools—the saw, the square, the planer, the drill, the shovel, and an ink marking tool—to complete his many projects more quickly.
2* In sinology, the Classic Chinese Novels are two sets of the four best-known traditional Chinese novels. The Four Classic Novels include “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, “Journey to the West”, “Water Margin”, and “Dream of the Red Chamber”. These are among the world's longest and oldest novels, and they are the most read, studied and adapted works of pre-modern Chinese fiction.
3* Yu Minhong , or Michael Yu (1962 - ) is the founder and president of New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc., and a member of the central committee of China Democratic League. As the owner of one of the largest private educational services, Yu is known as the "richest teacher in China", and "Godfather of English Training". On Hurun Report's China Rich List 2015, with an estimated wealth of $1.1 billion.
4* The Diamond Sutra is a Buddhist Sutra from the 'Perfection of Wisdom' genre. Translated into a variety of languages over a broad geographic range, the Diamond Sutra is one of the most influential Mahayana sutras in East Asia. A copy of the Tang-dynasty Chinese version of the Diamond Sūtra was found among the Dunhuang manuscripts in 1907 by Daoist monk Wang Yuanlu on June 25, 1900, and sold to Aurel Stein. They are dated back to 11 May 868. It is, in the words of the British Library, "the earliest complete survival of a dated printed book."
5* Akiyama Toshiteru (1943 - ), a furniture craftsman and Akiyama Woodworking Group Representative. He was born in 1943 in Nara prefecture, Japan, Mr. Akiyama established Akiyama Woodworking in 1971. In 2010, he founded the Akiyama School and sat as the chairman of its board of directors. At the 2013 National Crafts Olympics in Japan, competitors from the Akiyama school made a clean sweep of the medals in the furniture-making division. Akiyama Woodworking’s made to order furniture is used in the imperial guest house, the Diet building, the Imperial Household Agency, and famous hotels. Known for its unique way of training journeymen, the school focuses on the human aspects of the craft rather than the technical. People from all over Japan, China, Russia, and other countries visit the school to learn about how to train talent. The school has also been the subject of special reports by TV programs and magazines.
* By OGP Editors / Chen Shihong Provides File Photos
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