Chinese-Australian artist, Ah Xian (born LIU Jixian, Beijing, 1960), designed this porcelain body-cast in 1999 for his 'China, China' series. Made in Jingdezhen, Jiangzi province, the series consists of around 40 busts in porcelain as well as more recent examples in cast bronze, carved lacquer, inlay and cloisonné. For Ah Xian, the works are a medium on which to project traditional motifs, such as dragons, bamboo plants, lotus flowers and lily pads. They also enable him to experiment with Chinese artistic techniques. Titled 'Bust 39', this example features a phoenix and peony design, carved in low-relief and finished with a yingqing (shadowy blue) glaze. It is cast from a girl from Jingdezhen whom Ah Xian met while making the series.
Ah Xian migrated to Australia in 1990, following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and a year as a visiting artist at the Tasmanian School of Art. It was through this separation from his homeland that he began to reconsider his heritage and develop a new perspective on traditional Chinese craft. 'Once I decided to leave China,' says Ah Xian, 'the country of my birth, where I grew up and was educated and which I both deeply loved and hated at the same time, my soul began a journey to pursue and explore something called 'Freedom'.' [Ah Xian, 'Self-Exile of the Soul', TAASA Review, vol. 8, no. 1, 1999, p. 8)
Receiving an Australia Council grant in 1999, Ah Xian collaborated with teachers and artisans at studio-kilns in Jingdezhen and produced the 'China, China' series. This city has been the centre of Chinese porcelain production since the Ming dynasty (1368-1643) when it supported around 300 kiln centres, each with a different firing specialty. Its history and expertise appealed to Ah Xian who drew upon its traditional designs, styles and glazes for his series.
Ah Xian is interested in Chinese designs and techniques as vehicles of ideas, meaning and emotion. The tattoo-like motifs signify the permanence of cultural heritage, and by covering the figures' mouths, refer to China's intolerance of free speech. The works convey many other personal and symbolic meanings. For this series, Ah Xian learned about ancient artistic techniques, many of which have been passed down through the centuries from master to student. Through study and experimentation, he developed ways to apply them in a contemporary context, determined to emphasise their ongoing relevance to modern Chinese art.