Lo Sai-keung, Louis
J: Can you tell us about your path to becoming an artist?
L: I got the painting bug early and studied under a teacher who lived nearby. I saw how my teacher could effortlessly conjure up a figurine by mixing and moulding plaster, sawdust and water with just a few nimble moves. Monkey see, monkey do and I came up with something that remotely resembles a rhino. I guess you could call it my first ceramic work. This inspirational teacher of mine is none other than the famed ceramic artist, Chan Chung-kong. Following that, I was introduced to oil painting during my secondary school years and studied Chinese ink painting under the master Leung Pak-yu.
Despite a long immersion in painting, I have always been partial to Western sculptures: from gods and heroes in Greek mythology, Renaissance art of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, to works by the contemporary Italian wood sculptor, Bruno Walpoth. I was fascinated by the way their sculptures capture the souls and essence of the figures, so much so that I wanted to try my hand at it. My father, an antique aficionado, secured me an apprenticeship at a gemstone carving shop in the Jade Market on Canton Road. Therein, not only did I acquire the skills of making snuff bottles and gemstone carving, I also got to learn the trade inside and out, such as its process of material sourcing.
Fast forward some years, I was working in the financial sector. One day, my father came home with his latest purchase – a mediocre Shiwan figurine from Cat Street with an exorbitant price tag equivalent to a month of my salary. In a fit of pique, I vowed to make one on my own. But it turned out that I managed to come up with a decent clay figurine of luohan (a disciple of Buddha), but had no clue how to fire it in kiln. For that, I enrolled myself at the Holy Carpenter Prevocational School and soaked up an array of ceramic firing techniques. All my works produced during this period were fired in dragon kilns, a type of ancient Chinese clay oven.
But soon enough, work took over and the artist in me has lain dormant for the next 20 odd years. It was not until I left for New York to study glass arts in 2005, followed by an undergraduate degree in ceramics at Hong Kong Art School, that I turned full-time to my creative endeavours. To my amazement, I realised I never did lose my touch nor passion for ceramics. If anything, my blades were able to deliver cleaner, crispier strokes. Perhaps it is because my love for the arts had always dwelled in my heart!
J: Did the skills and experience acquired at your apprenticeship at the gemstone carving shop transfer over to your ceramic art?
L: While gemstone carving is steeped in tradition, it did introduce me to relief carving techniques which I later applied to my ceramics. The mandarin ducks on The Nuptial Cups are an example of low-relief carving.
Stoneware | 2019
J: How do your early works compare with your current ones, in terms of creative ideas and your states of mind?
L: Playfulness is central to my early Shiwan ceramic works. I lifted my characters from ancient folktales but their postures and gestures were purely products of my imagination. But these days, I want to use ceramics to portray the times we are living in. Take for example Contentment, my sculpture of a bowl of rice topped with barbecue pork, calls to mind the labour and toil of workers in the 1960s and 70s; and Satisfaction, a variant with steamed chicken slices topping, is intended as a tribute to kiln workers.
J: Can you share with us your experience of studying glass art in New York?
L: I chose New York because I wanted to pursue a medium other than ceramics. The US is second to Italy when it comes to the studies of glass art, boasting top-notch establishments such as the Urban Glass Studio and The Studio at The Corning Museum of Glass. There, I had the chance to learn from the masters and benefitted hugely from its focused, hands-on approach. Glass art proves to be a fountain of inspiration for my ceramic work.
J: How would you describe the relationship between glass and ceramic and the differences between the two?
L: Glass and ceramic are very much two sides of the same coin. Ceramic glaze is essentially “liquid glass”. What set them apart are their properties and applications. For example, you blow glass but you throw clay. Differing markedly in their properties, glass is transparent/translucent, multi-coloured and outward-looking, whereas clay is opaque, subtle and subdued. Glass art pieces are forthright and happy in character; ceramic works are imbued with depth and charm that oozes over time. There are many facets to the charm of working with ceramic clay: it involves a simple, short process and is flexible and malleable, meaning you can easily add or subtract as you go and create works of a complex composition. With its antioxidant properties, it ages well with time. I hope I will be able to marry glass and ceramics in my future works – watch this space!
J: Can you tell us a bit more about your collaborations with Singchin Lo, another JCCAC artists?
L: Our first collaboration was on the exhibition, Fashion + Paper, Scissors and Rock, organised by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. In the show, five fashion designers, including Singchin, were respectively matched with a local craftsmen to explore the possibilities of cross-disciplinary creations. Choosing the traditional art of Guangcai (or Canton porcelain, the colourised ceramics from Guangzhou], Singchin got in touch with Joseph, Tso Chi-hung, owner of Yuet Tung China Works, Hong Kong’s first and only surviving hand-painted porcelain factory. He came up the ideas of painting ceramic patterns on his fashion pieces and applying “ceramics on flimsy fabrics” for a mix-and-match effect, so he brought me on board. It was a challenging and fun experience. Last year, Singchin was invited by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council to exhibit at DesignInspire exposition. He conceived the idea of creating a ceramic amplifier based on the classic “longevity” design on Chinese porcelain rice bowls. Again, I came on board to help realise his vision.
Lo Sai-keung, Louis
J: What are your views on the development of ceramic culture in Hong Kong?
L: Ceramic activities in Hong Kong have definitely attracted a bigger crowd in recent years. Sadly, the surge in enthusiasm has been hampered by the lack of supporting facilities. Creativity and innovation are catalysts for cultural development but nothing progresses far without the three cornerstones of knowledge, skills and history. We are deeply concerned about the preservation of Dragon Kiln, a Grade III historic building that has the capability of producing not just everyday potteries but rather superior ceramic artworks. My early works are a testament to this. In fact, Dr. Solomon Bard, Hong Kong’s first and then Executive Secretary of the Antiquities and Monuments Office who served under Sir Edward Youde, was so struck by the kiln’s uniqueness that he had initial plans drawn to turn it into a working museum to serve a dual purpose: to preserve its unique ceramic culture while providing an educational activity centre. The Nangfeng Ancient Kiln in Shiwan, Foshan, the Yingge District in Taipei and Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital in Jiangxi province, have all done their part to conserve ancient kilns – an invaluable vista to the cultural landscape of a city. Hong Kong can take a cue or two from its neighbours.
Porcelain | 2018