Among the Chinese folk arts, the painted clay crafts are unique in their style. They are beautifully shaped, vivid, lively and lovely. They have become an art that is appealing to both the elite and the unsophisticated.
The history of the painted clay crafts goes back to the Ming Dynasty, more than 600 years ago. Popular themes include mystical and historical figures, animals as well as fruits. The process of making such clay crafts is not very complicated. The artisan will first make a model, then make roughcasts after the model by using a mixture of clay and pulp, which are to be sun-dried, powdered, painted and finally varnished.
Chinese clay crafts usually do not copy the forms of the objects they depict. In shape they resemble them only in a general manner. Often simply but neatly molded, they try to represent only the salient features of familiar animals or popular objects, with more interest in the idea than in the representation itself. Therefore, the method of distortion or deformation is widely employed. For example, the familiar clay tiger is not a blind imitation of the real tiger, but incorporates the characteristic features of tigers, lions and leopards in itself. The body and tail of the tiger would be considerably reduced, and the legs simplified. But the head is sculptured with meticulous care, and the eyes and mouth are greatly exaggerated. Through such proper exaggeration and distortion of the natural form of the tiger, the effect is that you have a vigorous, powerful, colorful and lovely toy tiger. This method is typical of traditional Chinese art which "does not seek a resemblance in form but a resemblance in spirit" of what it represents. In terms of image, the toy tiger is a combination of the real tiger and the imaginary tiger. It has been personified.
In the use of color,Chinese clay crafts do not copy life either. Instead, they try to reflect the artistic reality. They prefer using bright colors and tend to bring the contrast between them into such clear relief that will give a saturation and bouncing visual effect. Chinese clay crafts are often painted in bright red, bright green and yellow. The romantic designs in flowing lines give them a bright, cheerful and lively look and send out the fragrance of country life.
Dai Gandyi & Guo Youmin, Sinminchu Publishing Co.
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