浴火結晶,樂陶然

釉發奇蹟的孫超
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2019 / 8月

文‧李珊瑋 圖‧孫超


用窯火淬煉出無可預期的奇蹟,孫超做到了。1987年「國家文藝獎」得主,2018年獲頒國家工藝成就獎,用生命為結晶釉做註解,蜚聲國際。由具體形器到大幅瓷版畫,一甲子間,創作無數。2000年時,一趟旅法行程,讓孫超幡然頓悟,以全新理念的生花妙手,創作出瑰麗無雙的藝術結晶。以瓷土為畫紙,釉藥為色料,噴槍為畫筆,窯火為發色劑,用返璞歸真的意念,止於至善。

高齡90的孫超,始終保持熱忱的創作力,不斷求新求變,追求卓越。開創「結晶釉」陶瓷,是國內第一人。集結30年用釉心得之精髓,出版《窯火中的創作》,詳實解說釉藥配方和燒製流程,無私提供後進者捷徑,恢宏胸懷,堪為傳承典範。


 

浴火重生寫傳奇

「火,改寫了我一生的命運。」1929年出生在江蘇徐州的孫超,是寶貝長孫,家境優渥。沒想到一場戰火,翻轉人生。

八歲那年,與家人失散,靠著乞討,流浪了兩年多,由江蘇跑到安徽合肥。寒風刺骨下,瑟縮在荒蕪的小廟裡,緊咬著牙,鎮夜打顫。「我的耳朵特別薄,就是那時候凍壞的。」

嚴謹家教,養成孫超根深蒂固的自律。「我始終保持身上唯一的衣裳是整潔的。」忍受歲月的煎熬,也不能違背奶奶的教誨。「一個人,要對自己負起責任。」妻子魏彤珈婚後,也十分訝異孫超可以因為奶奶一句話,近乎自我苛求的奉守終身。

直到11歲,孫超才在乞討間,被鄉紳收留。正在飯館裡用餐的養父,憐憫眉清目秀的孫超,把他帶回家中。「我最大的遺憾,是沒有讀書的機會。」戰火平息後,雖然滄海桑田,故鄉早已不復昔日風貌。但是宛若洄游的鮭魚,孫超用生命的直覺,獨自摸索,找到外婆家。

求知若渴,轉換跑道

跟隨青年軍來台,進入裝甲兵服役,戰火再一次淬煉著孫超。歷經漫天烽火的823砲戰之後,開始在碉堡裡,隨手塗鴉。「我的素描是靠青年戰士報練出來的。」

退伍後,憑著自學的繪畫功力,以36歲高齡,如願進入當時的「國立藝專」,學習雕塑。畢業後一年,進入國立故宮博物院器物處工作。

「當時沒有人有燒窯的經驗。」負責保管陶瓷和玉器的孫超,為了要用科學數據,精準判斷寶物的年代、產地、真偽,開始對多變的釉彩,產生濃厚的興趣。「我就捧著化學課本研究,一有空就跑鶯歌,到處去請教。」那種不弄清楚絕不罷休的個性,明明知道有危險性,還是不斷地做實驗。

「轟的一聲,火就竄出來了,我的眉毛和頭髮都燒焦了。」孫超撫著銀白的長壽眉笑著說。「還好沒有傷到眼睛。」

「燒窯是一門獨門技術。」孫超體悟到陶釉最關鍵的環節,就在於火候。「陶瓷藝術就是火的藝術。」固守在窯爐旁,研究窯內氣氛,看著火焰的色澤由玫瑰紅、大紅、深紅,到高溫下的晶白剔透,磨出「爐火純青」。因為長時間專注地近距離看著窯火的變化,導致幾度一氧化碳中毒,差點救不回來。「我好多次都大難不死啊!」

窯火萬化結晶釉

「愛是貢獻,不是占有。」因為埋首研究,窮的連自己都快養不活的孫超,年近50,才敢走入婚姻。

「結婚的時候,因為內子是台大助教,又身兼數職,收入比我要高很多,說好女主外,男主內。」但是結婚不到兩天,他就被禁足,不准進廚房。第一任妻子關鄭女士,督促孫超要把時間用在研究上。從故宮退休後,孫超開啟了陶藝生涯。

「我一到這兒,就覺得非常適合。」偏遠的三芝鄉,杳無人煙,寧靜而幽遠,田心窯在此落腳。「這裡每棵樹都是我親手種的。」胼手胝足,移土填窪,孫超親力親為,打造陶藝家的世外桃源。「那時候真是身無分文。」為了生計,白天做菩薩像,晚上研究陶瓷,焚膏繼晷,尋求突破。

「我嘗試用單一原料氧化鐵來做,結果成功了。」對釉色感應敏銳的天賦,完美啟動,水到渠成。孫超指著一件圓型瓷盤說,由乳黃到黃,由黑到紅,不同的呈色,都是鐵的變化。「其實奧妙就在於化學作用。」由三角座標配釉法入門,一次又一次精密地調配比例。「很像藥劑師在配藥,要用微量天秤,錙銖必較。」

田心窯入門牆上一幅抽象陶板畫,是加入銅、錳、鈷等不同的原料後,因為溫度、時間、材質的交錯,像是魔法師的調色盤,藍、綠、粉、黑隨心所欲,無限繽紛。「其實題材很簡單,倒過來看,就是由我家望出去的大屯山和庭園。」孫超像個童心未泯的孩子,開心地沉醉其間。

每一件作品都是心血的結晶,珍愛地望著第一次燒製成功的結晶釉瓶,像是初生的寶貝。「當時有人出價6萬元,我都不捨得賣。」晶亮剔透的瓶身,繁花似錦,隨著曲線,奔放舒展,雖然歷經歲月的淘洗,依舊鮮活迷人。

「這是我由法國回來後,做的第一件大陶板。」跳動的釉彩,像是注入了生命力,美學強度,早已跨越東西文化,雋永地就像一瓶愈陳愈香的佳釀。「陶土最有趣的,就是能隨心塑形。」意念轉換後,跳脫了形器的侷限。那種開闊延展的暢快,自由揮灑的藝術空間,令孫超歡愉入迷。

恢宏潑墨,自在揮灑

陶瓷創作不僅是美學藝術,更是精密工藝。「要能自在灑脫,又要一絲不苟。」孫超由中國傳統彩陶、黑陶入手,到多元嘗試結晶釉,走出自我的炫麗風格。

「我的心愈來愈大,既有的窯爐滿足不了我。」孫超充分發揮工程師理性的特質,自己畫設計稿,請人製作。工作室裡的電窯,「由尺寸高度到搖轉角度,都要精密計算;每一個線圈的排列,都是他設計的。」細膩的程度,連魏彤珈也嘆為觀止。

「我其實是讓窯爐替我創作。」在搖晃間,讓釉藥流動自如,施展魔法。「有的地方噴的厚,有的地方噴的薄,出來的效果就會不同。」孫超深深了解釉藥的敏感性,掌握差以毫釐,失之千里的精密度。

「釉是很奇妙的,會隨著你的想法去流動。」運用相隨心轉的法門,在濃淡自如間,如雲彩般幻化,產生無限張力。潑畫山水的流暢灑脫,浴火重生的意外之美,就是讓孫超衷心迷戀,愛慕無悔的魅力。

「上釉過程是非常耗費體力的,中間不能停頓。」握著沉重的噴槍,在噴釉檯前,經常要站立一到兩個小時,所有的畫面都要一氣呵成。在一片灰白渾沌間,所有的藍圖,全都存放在孫超的腦海中,用透視的鷹眼,精準的揮灑。

晶釉畫最奇妙有趣的地方,就在於看似同樣的條件,但只要在最細微的地方,有些許無法用人力掌控的差異,就會產生截然不同的結果。那種無法預期的窯變,每每讓人難以捉摸,可能是驚喜,也可能是敗筆。「我是完美主義者,不滿意就敲掉。」即使是細如髮絲的瑕疵,也逃不出他銳利的目光。

「他的作品可以遠觀,也可以微觀。」金工藝術家魏彤珈總能用欣賞的目光,擷取孫超作品的美。當妻子把廢棄結晶釉中的美麗晶體,巧心切割,製成精緻的作品時,連孫超都驚嘆,「怎麼失敗的東西,到妳手裡,竟然變得那麼美。」

溫婉細心的魏彤珈,總是用欣賞崇敬的目光看著孫超,用滿滿的愛,接納他的一切。「我現在很幸福。」走出十多年的喪妻之痛,孫超和第二任妻子魏彤珈心靈契合,伉儷情深。

放棄理想會讓靈魂起皺紋

「不要糾結在錯的事情裡,要向前看,把錯誤當成教訓。」影響孫超一生。不向命運低頭,不向挫敗妥協,總能找到生命的出口。

高齡90依然精神矍鑠的孫超認為,年齡只是一種心理狀況。害怕、失望、不自信,才是使人衰老的真正原因。「年齡會讓皮膚起皺紋,但是放棄理想,會讓靈魂起皺紋。」

2018年獲得國家工藝成就獎,「我的人生中,只有努力兩個字」。當年15歲的孫超連自己的姓都不會寫;憑藉著不斷地努力,中年之後開創璀璨人生。

孫超用釉畫為人生藝術寫註腳,溫潤間,閃耀著人文的光芒,飄散著耐人尋味的詩意。「每個時代,都有獨特的代表性。」宛若大漠星空的穹蒼系列,開闊的心靈視野,彷彿回到人類誕生的原點。

窯爐像母親的子宮,釉藥就像精卵的結合,在爐火的淬煉中,創作出無可預期的奇蹟,傳遞出人類的情感,和真善美的意境。這是孫超的快樂人生,也是結晶釉的傳世永恆。

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Enraptured by the Art of Fire

Crystalline Glaze Master Sun Chao

Lee Shan Wei /photos courtesy of Sun Chao /tr. by Bruce Humes

Creating unforeseeable, fantastical works of art via kiln firing—this is Sun Chao’s great accomplishment. Recipient of a National Award for Arts in 1987 and a National Craft Achievement Award in 2018, he has devoted his life to perfecting the art of “crystalline glaze,” and thereby established his reputation worldwide. From conventional ware to large painted porcelain panels, he has generated countless works over a period of 60 years. But it was during a trip to France in 2000 that he experienced an epiphany that led him to adopt a sublime methodology, based upon a completely new concept, that inspired him to create objets d’art of unparalleled beauty.

Even at the advanced age of 90 years, Sun Chao maintains a passionate creative ability, constantly seeking innovation and change in the pursuit of excellence. He is the first Taiwan-based artisan to pioneer “crystalline glaze” ceramics. He put down on paper his experience accumulated during three decades of using crystalline glazes for the publication of his book Born by Fire (2011). It explains the formula for such glazes and the firing process in detail, selflessly providing a shortcut for those who wish to follow in his footsteps, and setting an example for generosity of spirit in transmitting his techniques.


The fires of war

“Fire rewrote the destiny of my entire life,” asserts Sun. As a treasured elder grandson born 1929 into a well-to-do family based in Xuzhou in mainland China’s Jiangsu Province, he could not have foreseen that his privileged existence would be turned upside down by war.

When just eight years old, he was separated from his family and survived by begging. Two years of wandering took him from ­Jiangsu to He­fei in An­hui Province.

His earlier strict upbringing had nurtured a deep-rooted sense of self-discipline. “I always kept my only set of clothing clean and tidy,” he recounts. He withstood the torments of that time, unwilling to contravene the teachings of his paternal grandmother. “Each person must take responsibility for himself.”

It was not until he reached 11 years of age, while still begging for a living, that Sun Chao was taken in and raised by a country gentleman. His adoptive father, who happened to be dining in a restaurant, felt pity for the boy with delicate features, and took him home. “My biggest regret is that I had no chance to study,” says Sun.

From soldier to artist

Having retreated to Taiwan as a soldier with the Chinese Youth Army in 1949, Sun was reassigned to an armored unit. He was once again tempered in battle when mainland forces showered the island of Kin­men with shells during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis from August to September 1958. Meanwhile, in his bunker Sun casually began trying his hand at drawing. “My sketching skills were honed by copying pictures from Youth Warrior Daily.”

After returning to civilian life, thanks to his self-taught grounding in painting—and despite being 36 years old already—his hopes were fulfilled when he was accepted at the National Taiwan Academy of Arts, where he studied sculpture. One year after graduation, he began working at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

“At that time, no one there had any experience of firing pottery in a kiln,” he recounts. Tasked with the conservation of porcelain and jade articles, in order to employ scientific data to accurately assess the era and location of their origins, as well as the authenticity of these treasures, Sun acquired a strong interest in the many variations in glazes. Although aware of the potential dangers, he continued experimenting with firing methods.

“One day there was a bang and flames came shooting out from the kiln. My eyebrows and hair were singed,” says Sun, smiling as he strokes his bushy silver eyebrows. “Luckily, my eyes weren’t injured.”

“Firing is a technology apart.” Sun Chao came to realize that the most critical element for the glaze when firing pottery is heat control. “The art of ceramics is the art of fire,” he asserts. Due to his long-term efforts to closely observe changes inside the kiln, he suffered carbon monoxide poisoning several times. “I had many close brushes with death!” he says.   

Secrets of glaze lie in the firing

“Love is about giving, not possessing,” observes Sun. Obsessed with his research and so poor that he could hardly support himself, Sun didn’t contemplate marriage until he neared 50.

“When we got married, Guan ­Zheng was an assistant professor at National Taiwan University and had several part-time jobs on the side as well, so her income was much higher than mine. We agreed she’d handle business outside, while I managed the household,” he quips. But just two days into their marriage, his bride banned him from setting foot in the kitchen; she urged him to devote his energies to research instead. After he retired from his post at the museum, Sun commenced his career in the ceramic arts.

“As soon as we arrived here, I felt it was very suitable,” says Sun. Here in San­zhi, then a sparsely populated, tranquil and secluded township, Sun set up his Tian­xin Kiln. “At the time, I was frankly penniless.” In order to earn a living, he made statues of bod­hi­sat­tvas by day, and researched ceramics at night, burning the midnight oil in search of a breakthrough.

“I tried using a single raw material—iron oxide—and it was a success.” Gifted with an extraordinary sensitivity towards glaze coloring, Sun’s perfect beginning had paid off smoothly. “In fact, the mystery lies in the ­chemistry.” Each work of art represents the crystallization of painstaking care, and Sun looks adoringly at the first piece he successfully fired with crystalline glaze as if it were a newborn baby. The crystal patterns in the glossy, translucent glaze suggest brightly blossoming flowers that follow the curved shape of the vase. Though somewhat faded due to the passing years, the work retains a fresh and captivating air.

“This is the first large porcelain painting I created after I returned from France,” he says, turning to another work. The shimmering glaze, as if injected with life itself, possesses an aesthetic force that transcends the cultures of East and West, like a liqueur that grows more fragrant with aging.

Applying glaze like free-flowing ink

Ceramic creation is not just a matter of aesthetics, it is also about precision craftsmanship. “You must be capable of a style that is free and easy, yet also meticulous.” Sun Chao first tried his hand at traditional Chinese pottery, both colored and black, and then experimented with crystalline glaze until he came up with his own dazzling style.

“My ambitions grew ever bolder, and the kilns available at the time no longer satisfied me,” admits Sun. He gave full play to one of his special qualities—the rational thought process of an engineer—and drafted his own designs, which he then commissioned others to realize. 

“In fact, I actually allow the kiln to create in my stead.” He tilts the kiln, letting the glaze flow as it will, in order to cast its own spell. “I spray a thick coating in some places, and thinner in others. This creates different effects.” Sun is profoundly sensitive to the composition of the glaze, and a master of the precision required in a medium where  the slightest imbalance will result in failure.

“Glaze is a remarkable thing. It flows according to your thoughts.” He applies a uniquely spontaneous methodology that generates boundless artistic tension amidst a harmonious mix of pale and strong tints and cloud-like effects.

“The glazing process is very labor-intensive and must not be interrupted.” Heavy spray gun in hand, one must remain in place for one to two hours before the stand, and all the decorations must be completed in one session. Amid this grey chaos, all the blueprints are concealed within Sun’s mind; he relies on his eagle-­sharp vision to apply each coat precisely.

The most wondrous thing about crystalline glazes is that even when all conditions appear identical, there are subtle differences that cannot be controlled, and they may lead to utterly different results. Those unpredictable variations inside the kiln, often elusive, can trigger delight or failure.

“His works can be viewed from a distance or up close.” The appreciative eyes of metalworking artist Wei Tong-jia, Sun’s second wife, can always find the beauty in his works. When she nimbly extracted the beautiful crystals out of the finished glaze of pieces he had smashed due to imperfections and integrated them into her own delicate works, Sun Chao was frankly amazed. “How come my own failed works, when placed into your hands, become so lovely?”

Easy-going yet detail-oriented Wei Tong-jia always regards Sun with eyes full of admiring reverence, and accepts everything about him with bountiful love. “I am very content now,” Sun says. After more than a decade that he spent painfully mourning the loss of his first wife, Sun and Wei are in harmony with each other, and very much in love. 

Abandoning ideals wrinkles the soul

“Don’t become entangled in errors of the past. Look ahead, and treat mistakes as a lesson to be learnt.” This advice from family elders has influenced Sun’s entire life. One must not bow to fate or allow failure to compromise one’s ideals; a way out can always be found.

Sun Chao, still hale and hearty at 90, believes that age is merely a state of mind. Fear, disappointment, and lack of self-confidence are the real reasons for aging. “Age wrinkles the skin, but abandoning one’s ideals wrinkles the soul.”

Last year, he won a National Craft Achievement Award. Sun Chao uses glaze paintings to annotate the art of living, and amidst the humanistic glow of his work drifts an air of thought-provoking poetry. “Every era has its own form of representation,” he says. As expressed in his “Sky” series, which features vast star-filled vistas like the desert sky at night, the broad vision of the mind appears to return to the genesis of mankind.

The kiln resembles a womb in which the fusion of sperm and egg is tempered by fire, engendering an unforeseeable miracle that conveys human emotion and poetic imagery of truth, goodness and beauty. This is the joyful life of Sun Chao, and it is also the eternal life of crystalline glaze.

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