Visiting Liuli Museum was the best part of my trip to Shanghai. Liuligongfang is Taiwan’s only contemporary glass studio devoted to artistic Chinese glassware. To Loretta Hui-shan Yang and Chang Yi, Liuli Gongfang’s founders, Liuli means many things. It is the “Liuli” from the Liuli ear cup found in the Western Han tomb of Emperor Liu Sheng. It is the ”Liuli” from the words of “Like Scattered Clouds, the Fragility of Liuli” by Tang poet Bai Juyi. It is the “Liuli” from the scripture of the Medicine Buddha that states, “May the moment come when I attain enlightenment, the body, even the soul become as Liuli. Pure, transparent, flawless”. To Liuligongfang, Liuli is more than a material, more than a creative medium; it is a state of being, a form of life (Liuli’s website).
The history and creation of Liuligongfang was a strange twist of fate. Prior to 1987 Loretta Hui-shan Yang and Chang Yi were prominent figures in the Taiwanese film industry, Yi as a movie director and Yang as an actress. In the last project of their collaborative film career, the two brought in a collection of glass as set props, and they soon realized the collection held pieces from all over the world, except for China. Thus they were inspired to revive the ancient art form of Liuli and established the Liuligongfan in Tamshui, Taiwan in 1987. The creation of this glass studio reintroduced the process of pate-de-verre to China, and glass as an art form in general. Loretta Hui-shan Yang and Chang Yi are now widely recognized as pioneers of the Chinese Studio Glass movement.
It’s hard to describe in words my feelings when I saw the contemporary glass masterpieces in Liuli Museum, so the narration below is from Liuli Museum’s website.
Gallé was perhaps the most innovative and outstanding glass artists of the Art Nouveau period. His naturalistic designs combined with innovative techniques made him one of the pioneering glass makers of the late 19th, early 20th century. Taking his inspiration from nature and plants along with a heavy Japanese design influence, it is no wonder the French have been known to describe his work as “poetry in glass.”
A hand entwined with seaweed rises from the depths of the sea. A base as blue as the sea, a hand the color of flesh. Known for his vases, what inspired Galle to make this piece?
Galle greatly admired L’Homme et la Mer (Man and the Sea) by the poet Charles Baudelaire:
Free man! the sea is to thee ever dear!
The sea is thy mirror, thou regardest thy soul
In its mighteous waves that unendingly roll,
And thy spirit is yet not a chasm less drear.
Over 30 cm tall, this hand was Galle’s interpretation of Baudelaire’s poem. A sculpture created for solely ornamental purposes was common in sculpture and painting – this was the first time in history glass was presented without a functional purpose but as art.
An enthusiast of poetry, Galle inscribed his glass with the words of Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck. Etched in glass, fired in a kiln, these pieces were labeled “speaking glass”.
Cameo Vase Series
Francois Decorchemont, a potter and painter at the outset of his career, became fascinated with the idea of developing and utilizing a thin translucent glass material in his work. It was in essence the revival and an adaptation of a long forgotten Egyptian glass-making process using colored crystal powdered glass, metallic oxides and an adhesive paste – Pate-de-verre
Married in 1963, Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova are also good partners for forty years. They stand at the pinnacle of contemporary Czech Liuli and educators of Liuli art.
Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova are the first artists to explore the relationships between Liuli and light. And with their discoveries, the couple created possibilities. Departing the change in form, they allowed people to walk directly into the clear forms to explore alternate planes. The pyramidal shape’s simple three lines appear multiplied when viewed through different angles. Three Vs, three inverted Vs, sometimes they all disappeared but one–the original V on the original plane. External changes created internal variance and in turn, created thought-provoking dialogue.
Toots Zynsky is known for her distinctive “filet de verre” technique that fuses threads of glass to achieve unmatched explorations of color. Although her work is constantly evolving, Zynsky consistently experiments with color and form; in her early vessels, Zynsky fused glass with barbed wire and later, nets of glass with blown forms. Through the invention of her “filet de verre” technique Zynsky began melding layers of glass threads inside a kiln to achieve unique manipulations of color—a process that involved teams of people pulling thread but was simplified by her co-invention of a thread-pulling machine, which uses electronic software to create glass thread in a manner comparable to glass optical fiber.
Zynsky explores and pushes glass to its potential through cold-working, blowing, flash melting, casting and grinding. Zynsky calls her distinctive brand of technique filet-de-verre. Using heat-formed glass threads, she creates vessels of extraordinary color. In 1984, she traveled to Ghana, West Africa, to work on a special project recording traditional music. Her experiences there shaped her use of color and composition for many years afterward. Zynsky’s vessels are vibrant, graceful, beautiful with ease, bursting forth with color, brilliant, scintillating and perfectly formed.
“My relationship to society and nature on a physical plane is transferred to the vertical and horizontal of my mind. Through this process I work. Here are the bridges I construct at various levels, on several paths, to cross the many parallel meanings of life” ─ Jay Musler.
Jay Musler theatrically recreates the silhouette of the city as a miniature within a large bowl. It is as if we as humans have been placed in a sphere of the universe looking out at this world, this city and the people surrounding us. Musler’s work readdresses human value and significance. Light appears to shine from within the city through meticulous sandblasting and painting. The effect creates a city of glass that is realistic yet illusory, bright yet shadowed, beautiful yet earnest.
Steven Weinberg’s “boat” takes advantage of the transparent qualities of crystal Liuli. From the execution of angles to highly polished surfaces, he achieves the effect of a boat crashing gracefully through the waves. Weinberg also accurately captures the effect of bubbles created by a boat cutting through water. Led by light, we float into a crystalline world of glass and water.
Paul Stankard – Tea Rose Bouquet Banded Cube
Paul J. Stankard is an internationally acclaimed artist-in-glass and is considered a living master in the art of flameworking. He is known for his small-scale botanical themes encapsulated in clear glass.
Strands of colored glass tubes as fine as hair are melted and shaped into flowers, seeds, leaves and bees and then inlaid within transparent glass; each object is a miniature suspension of life. Someone once described Paul Stankard’s work as “poetry within glass”.
The name Koyhei Fujita is synonymous with “Liuli box” – and not just any box. A delicate and ornate Japanese Liuli Jewel box.
He’s best known for his glass boxes with complicated surface decorations. Inspired by traditional Japanese maki-e laquerware, he treats his glass with gold foil, engraving and inlay. Each box is created by mold-blown glass; the result is Japanese tradition at its best. This is why he represents modern Japanese Liuli art of the past fifty years and why he will continue to do so forever.
Kyohei Fujita has inadvertently extended the glory of Japan’s Pinan Period through his work. Through the ashes of time and glory, he expresses a boundless aura. What is treasured inside that box is an ever-expanding ray of hope born from the ultimate beauty of life.
Within the realm of contemporary glass art, Fujita’s efforts are particularly moving because of his attachment to historical sentiment. A person must first recognize their past and treasure their future in order to lead a fulfilled existence.
Let craft be craft – nothing more, nothing less.
Tatsuta is a region in Japan’s Nara region. It is also the name Kyohei Fujita gave to this Liuli box patterned in what is reminiscent of colorful fallen leaves. Fujita named this piece as homage to the complexities of Japanese culture. “Liuli never lies. It reveals the acute abilities of the artist.”—— Fujita
Five colored dance
At first glance Five-colored Dance appears gentle but upon further inspection, it exudes a sharp Liuli coolness. This fine piece of contemporary Liuli art in the shape of a traditional Japanese-styled box is a personal gift from Kyohei Fujita to LIULI CHINA Museum founder Loretta Hui-shan Yang. A Fujita box is synonymous with Japan. Through Liuli, Kyohei Fujita has given Japan an invaluable lesson is the decorative arts.
At 19, Chang Yi became a well-known short story writer twice with a story of his voted as the Best Short Story of the Year. After graduation from the “Shih Hsin University”, he began his career as a film director. The film “Kuei-Mei, A Woman” which he directed won him the Best Director Prize of both the Golden Horse Film Award and the Asian Pacific Film Festival Award. The grand finale to his film-making career, the film “My Love”, was cited by the Variety International Filmguide as one of the ten masterpieces of a century (1895–1995) of film-making in Taiwan.
In 1987, Chang decided to blaze a new trail in the Chinese art of Liuli, a definition for beautiful glass in ancient Chinese, by founding the first-ever Liuli Art Studio in Taiwan–Liuligongfang. With this unique Liuli workshop, he has opened up new possibilities for this traditional Chinese artistic handicraft and led the way in a new direction. In his artistic designs, he not only lays stress on the fundamental concepts of creation in contemporary art but also incorporates and embodies strong sentiments of the national heritage of China, including ancient totemism that inheres in peculiar Chinese ethical codes and concepts of the universe. In his designs, they can be seen a deep love for the Chinese nation.
A realm of Zen within fire
A fire burns from within,
Sweat dances across flickering flame,
Life illuminated by willpower.
A flower born from fire,
Loretta Hui-shan Yang
Loretta Hui-shan Yang was a household name in Taiwan in the 1970s as a result of her renowned acting career and her later films “The Young Runaway” and “Kuei-Mei, A Woman”, and for two consecutive years won the highest accolades in the Taiwanese film industry for a female leading actress when she was presented with Golden Horse Awards. For another work “ Jade Love ”, she was awarded a best actress prize at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival. At the juncture she was the leading actress in the contemporary Taiwanese cinematic world.
In 1987 when she was at the pinnacle of her career she left the film world and devoting herself to modern Chinese glass, established her first glass studio and is mastering the unique technique of cire-perdue glass art creations. Over fifteen years, she is working in a Chinese artistic style, has fully fulfilled and maintained her stated intention of exploring, experimenting and creating glass art works.
Yang has used her individual artistic gifts and her acute powers of observation to create sculptured works in glass which are richly imbued with a traditional Chinese artistic vocabulary and human philosophy, enabling herself to take her place on the most influential Chinese glass artist of this time.
Since 1998, multiple casting has been the primary technique used in Loretta Hui-shan Yang’s work. Through various treatments and temperatures, it emerges an alternate realm of translucency and precision. Yang breathes life into Buddhist figures that appear to exist in an ethereal yet concrete state, an expression of her inner countenance. It has also opened a new door to the understanding and interpretation of Buddhist scripture.
Yang said on ‘Formless, but Not Without Form’: There are many concepts within Buddhist scripture that cannot be fully expressed through traditional Buddhist art. Take this passage from the Diamond Sutra, “all of the existent, conditioned dharma is like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows.” Penetrating the life with clear mind and the great wisdom to be in void to all with benevolence is one constant theme in Buddhist thought that has always moved me.
The series was first shown in 1998 at The Victoria and Albert Museum. Throughout the years and from both physical and technical standpoints, the series has consistently brought forth new ideas and is recognized as Yang’s significant style.
The Buddhist art created by Loretta Yang and liuligongfang has become an important branch of contemporary Taiwanese art. Crystal is among the seven treasures mentioned in Buddhist scriptures, and it is said in Bhaisaja-guru-vaidurya-phabha-raja, “When I will attain buddhahood in my next-life, may my body become crystal-like, transparent throughout.” Therefore, crystal sculpture is an art both transparent and contemporary, And conveys religious message in its own way.