He didn’t ask us to meet him at his home on the hill, but it was clear that such a journey was necessary when working with Qiyi. The wonders that he creates are to be touched with both hands and lips in order to be appreciated. Similarly, one must be in Qiyi’s proximity in order to understand his introverted personality. Our choice was made. We packed our bags and made the journey.
We were first introduced to Qiyi a couple of years ago when he and his wife published a photobook. It featured their year-long journey around China sleeping, eating, and doing laundry in their car. They had one aim: to visit all the artisans possible—looking at and learning from the skill of their hands.
Hands. These are Qiyi’s tools. He built his home, with his hands. He grows his own rice, tea, and other foodstuffs, with his hands.
His handwork is an expression of himself. Rather than using text or decorations, he communicates with raw materials, his own clays, by shaping them by hand and colouring them with his various baking techniques.
He works in his workshop everyday, yet amazingly in both his sculptures and works there is never any hint of repetition. He never reproduces the same series of pieces, but rather changes the way he works season by season. An individualist, he doesn’t live to achieve the perfection of a single piece but to produce in his pieces a better reflection of his intimate self.
He has chosen to live in the countryside, east of the city of Jingdezhen, the ancient district renown for porcelain production. Here, using the same raw materials and in the same physical location, artisans have been reproducing and improving on the same outstanding production techniques for 1,700 years. The Jungdezhen subsoil is extremely rich in old pottery; since ancient times continuing till modern day, ceramicists have buried defective pieces in the soil, leaving a legacy for the centuries to come.
Qiyi has built his home several dozen kilometers away from the city centre. On the edge of a field, it straddles a clearing of cultivated rice and a typical Southern forest. His house is built with a mixture of brick and wood. His potter laboratory and ovens are housed in brick, and his living spaces are crafted with self-carved wood.
We stayed in a veranda that was suspended like a tiny bridge between the farmland and the forest. There we drank tea that he grew in his fields using pottery made by his hands. It took days to understand his personal, introverted world. But soon it became clear that in this isolated environment he had poured his identity in to his work—his house, his fields, and his craft. They are his personality purely distilled.
Vivian and I wandered among his works picking and choosing, and we found ourselves with our hands full of clays and stonewares. Initially, we didn’t notice how emotional our choices were. We chose very different pieces for ourselves, yet they, like ourselves, were complementary.
Once we returned from our long journey, we began using our pieces. They carried with them the original energy that Qiyi poured into them. They gave off a raw but human energy that blended raw materials with emotion. The ability to create this energy is the unique touch of a great artisan. Art that combines daily use and a thousands year old culture has been made available. It required a long journey, the climbing of great hills, and the endurance of southern heat, but one is rewarded with art made to last forever.