Lacquerware needs two legs to walk: The wisdom of master Gan Erke


19 September 2023

Lacquer master, Gan Erke

Gan Erke and Li Zhiwei talk about the inheritance and development of Chinese lacquerware.

Li Zhiwei: Mr. Gan, you are the representative inheritor of Huizhou lacquerware painting skills, a national intangible cultural heritage project. I came to your workshop today. First of all, I want to hear from you. The lacquerware workshop of the national intangible cultural heritage, what kind of style is it?

Gan Erke: There should be many forms of lacquerware workshops, some are family workshops; some are a small production line with all kinds of equipment; and some are relatively large-scale. My workshop is a small, family-based workshop. There are also many people from outside to learn. A large-scale workshop is good for intangible cultural heritage inheritance, which is consistent with the government’s promotion. However, the size of the workshop is not a major criterion for considering the workshop. The government has introduced policies to protect intangible cultural heritage, to protect those scarce and endangered and dying skills, or skill that have been marginalized, which needs to be protected.

Rhinoceros lacquerware and Huizhou lacquerware were also very good in the past. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, and even before that, there was a great level of scale and skill. Huang Cheng’s “Xiushilu” (髹饰录)shows that Huizhou lacquerware was very famous in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Huizhou lacquerware was still in a state of decline fifteen years ago. At this time, someone was needed to make lacquerware and restore it. In the 1980s, Huangshan (黄山)Tunxi (屯溪)Lacquerware Craft Factory had about 100 people working, and at most there were more than 150 people, and the output value was good. Under the current situation, our country does not lack many people making lacquerware, nor does it lack many products and many types of lacquerware. What is lacking is different types of high-quality lacquerware, and the awareness of high-quality goods. If you want to make lacquerware for food, you can do whatever you want, as long as you can sell it. But the situation in China is not like this. We need the emergence of high-quality lacquerware, really good lacquerware and good skills. I did this at that time, and my workshop now makes high-quality goods.

In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, lacquerware craft factories were successively established across the country. Shanghai Export Company, Yangzhou, Fuzhou, Shanxi, and almost every province and city in Beijing had their foreign trade offices. At that time, the company established this craft factory mainly for export exchange. At that time, foreign economies were blocked, and many things were neither exported nor imported. The country needs foreign exchange, and the export of arts and crafts is not within the scope of restrictions. Therefore, craft factories or institutes have been established in various provinces, and we are the same in Tunxi.

This phenomenon is a good one. At that time, it did a lot of beneficial things for the government, and also made good things for the development of lacquerware. For example, folk artists were scattered among the people, but now they are combined to form large-scale production, which is very good for the development of the lacquerware industry. However, doing so will destroy the individual quality and craftsmanship of lacquerware. It’s like a needle with a sharp point, but one end is good and the other is bad. The establishment of craft factories is beneficial to the development of lacquerware, but it has a bad effect on the obliteration and assimilation of certain skills. In terms of lacquerware art, it should be “a hundred schools of thought contend” and “a hundred schools of thought contend for beauty”. Every place and everyone should have individuality and characteristics. The beauty of lacquerware is to show it through these countless personalities and characteristics. Its beauty presents. It is good for the whole industry to say that a hundred flowers bloom together, because good things are always learned and imitated.

But the export of things is the same. At that time, the export of bone stone inlays, mother-of-pearl, red, and engraved lacquerware dismantled the previous fine lacquerware craftsmanship to make it suitable for mass consumption, and it was a production model such as batch export. In this way, some craftsmen’s skills are marginalized, and of course some skills are also brought into full play, both have advantages and disadvantages. Tunxi Lacquerware Craft Factory is the best leader in Anhui Province. There are lacquerware factories in other places including Hefei (合肥) and Jinzhai (金寨), but Tunxi Lacquerware Factory is the best. Our export products include engraved lacquer, bone stone inlay and gold painting.

Rhino skin lacquer box with world cover was collected in the British Museum in 2017 (Gan Erke)

Li Zhiwei: Is there any comparison between the previous Tunxi Lacquerware Factory and your workshop?

Gan Erke: We should talk about the pros and cons of each. We used to have a lot of workers in the original factory, and the division of labor: there are carpenters who make fetal bones, lacquer, gilding, engraving, inlaying, packaging, and gilding. What comes over is basically the assembly line. There are some high-quality goods produced in the factory, but not many, because we paid attention to the working hours at that time. It took several workers to make this work, ten or fifteen workers, how many pieces must be made in a month, and the required working hours were completed. Only then will the salary be paid, otherwise the salary will be deducted.

Red and gold spotted rhinoceros lacquered plum vase 2013 by Gan Erke

Lacquerware has been made under official guidance since ancient times. Folk lacquerware is called “lacquered wood work”, and lacquered wood work and lacquerware are two different things. Strictly speaking, lacquerware has both functionality and artistry, as well as high aesthetics. Lacquer woodwork is a combination of lacquerwork and carpentry, which is relatively folk. If lacquerware becomes a category by itself, completely separated from life as a display collection, it should be a niche. Japan Liu Zongyue advocates folk art, Liu Zongyue’s advocacy of folk art is basically consistent with the production of handicraft factories. The development of lacquerware should rely on various lacquer artists. They have different responsibilities, divisions of labor and historical missions. Some are suitable for mass production and can make money to generate economic benefits. What they make can be made by referring to the good things of the ancients. If there is no good craftsmanship, patterns and standards, his works can’t reach the height and standard. So who is going to set this standard? People have set it before, and now there is still a need for this standard, otherwise, everyone will become a cloud of fog, do not know where to start. Just say “I am good”.

Lacquerware needs two legs to walk, one leg is to make high-quality goods, and the other leg can be made for the public.

In fact, good things (artifacts) needless to say, really good things, where to put things, let things speak for themselves, then the really good things here are actually spiritual things, which are both practical and practical. It is also ornamental, collectible and artistic, and has high value, but it cannot be popularized. It and popularization are two different concepts. Lacquerware needs two legs to walk, one leg is to make high-quality goods, and the other leg can be made for the public. Not everyone can do high-quality goods here. If it suits you, you can do it. If you want to do it, you can do it. This kind of work belongs to the minority, because it is difficult, and it can’t be done with a little effort. , You have to sell it when it’s finished. If there’s a market, you still have to survive. To survive, you must have something that fits the market. There are also many people who want to make a good work, but it’s actually difficult to survive, and they give up in the end.

The establishment and growth of a workshop cannot be achieved overnight. In fact, my workshop was built by myself almost 19 years ago, and then two people worked on it. This situation lasted for three years. Later, three people were doing it, five people were doing it, and seven people gradually became popular. After seven or eight years, there are only six to seven people working in the workshop. Later, the original venue became smaller, so we changed to another place. When the place got bigger, people were needed, so it became ten or fifteen people. I think the growth of the workshop is a process of steady development. It is not just what I plan. It should be based on the actual situation, meet the needs of the market, and the regularity of its own development. a controllability. Everyone has the same personality and can get along well. After they come in, it’s not only enough to get a salary, but also to ask for a meal. Let them know that doing this is a very beneficial thing.

I made lacquerware out of love.

If you want to make money, don’t come here. Because making lacquerware is not profitable. It is very meaningful to make lacquerware offerings. It turned out that I went to sea to open a shop, and I also had my own income. I made lacquerware out of love. There is a kind of spiritual support, but at the same time, there is financial support for opening a shop. Only then can I make lacquerware and maintain it in the early stage of lacquerware. When he first started doing it, did he have a market? First, he had to solve the problem of survival, and many people had a hard time. The first one of the workshop is to survive, the second is to seek development, and then to make high-quality goods and do what you think in your heart. The ratio of staff in my workshop is good, and the craft of lacquerware is quite special.

Why has the craft of rhinoceros lacquer been lost for a long time in history? Only a few people are doing it. Because this craft has not been popularized, not many people join in, and even if others want to do it, they don’t know how to do it well. These are very difficult. In this case, I feel that no one is doing it, and I want to do it well, which means a lot. In terms of staffing, I tend to choose people I can trust. First of all, a master in the craft factory, who has a good relationship. After working for a year, my apprentice Zhang Guohua also joined. He used to drive taxis and also run restaurants. I think he (Zhang Guohua) is trying to make ends meet but seeking development. I asked if you could come to make lacquerware. I have a lot of trust in him. He thought it was very meaningful to make lacquerware with me. Later, I asked my elder brother and younger brother, who were also facing layoffs, low income, and living in poverty. I invited them to come, I have several purposes, everyone does it together, brothers together. The second can also increase their income. The third one is that I am willing to share the craftsmen with them. There is no interest, but a relationship of trust. Then cousins, nephews, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnieces, my own family is the main family, and it becomes a very harmonious family inheritance, but this inheritance does not do anything conservative. I would love to share my experience with them. There is no pressure for them to work, they have no worries about food and clothing, they have a stable income, and their work is managed in a humane manner. There is no specific quota of working hours. As long as you do it, it is easier and faster, so that you can learn and progress faster, and then cultivate the craft according to their specialties, and see what they are suitable for them. Because I can do the process of lacquerwork from the beginning to the end, and there are very few people like me in the whole country. Many lacquer workers can’t even do the fetal bone.

Li Zhiwei: How should young people learn and inherit lacquerware craftsmanship?

Gan Erke: I see that the lacquer art students trained in colleges lack these. If a person wants to specialize in lacquer art creation and make achievements, he still has to go back and fill in the basic skills of lacquerware in a solid manner. These things cannot be skipped or ignored. The artistic level is very high, but the bottom is empty, there is no such thing The support, in the end, cannot be raised high. How to build a tall building on the desert, it is no problem to build a tall building only after the desert is hit to the rocky layer. College students lack technical foundation. However, students in folk workshops lack the aura and creative inspiration of school children. They follow their master and do what they do, and their vision is not wide. This is another shortcoming. In addition, it is a good practice for folk artists and inheritors to become teachers in colleges and universities, but college students are not as steady and quiet as apprentices in folk workshops. He has a tendency to be ambitious in colleges. If you do it, it is art. How can you talk about art if you have not learned the “art and craft” skills? If the craftsmanship is not done well, how high can art go? I can’t do things that are very regular. I made some simple changes, and I can only say something that he can understand, “What am I expressing?” In fact, many people don’t understand. If lacquerware develops like this, there will be problems. .

I often have master students and undergraduate students who want to come here to learn right after graduation. This was unimaginable in the past. Many people think that if a master student graduates, their parents spend so much money on crafts, then it is a loss. If you want to learn lacquerware well, you can’t just do it in two or three months. Learning and doing is a life-long thing. You may not be able to learn well after graduating in three to five years, but some people don’t need three to five years. Can do well, these people can do well, not because he is a genius, in fact, he has paid attention to craftsmanship very early, has talent, and he has a lot of craftsmanship as support.

For example, my lacquerware is a precedent. I used to do woodworking and worked in a craft factory for ten years. I was only exposed to lacquerware when I was in a craft factory, but I was not a professional lacquerware. I have seen it, and then I will do it again. I am no longer ignorant of lacquer. At that time, I was making wooden molds and carpentry in the Tunxi Log Club. That was a very precise carpenter, foundry casting. For example, if I want to pour something out today, first of all, the size of the drawing should be compared with the proportion of what he made. First, according to the shrinkage ratio of the molten iron, the mold needs to be split and sanded, which must be taken into account. It will be good for me to make lacquerware for three years in the future. Drawing and hand-made will lay a solid support for lacquer making. If there is no such skill back then, I didn’t dare to go to the sea. The factory was doing well. How dare I go to the sea? Because I know carpentry and can carve, and when I come out to do it, I can do it very well, better than the factory. It is all kinds of skills that support me in lacquerware. It is an accumulation and thin hair. I have been a carpenter for 10 years, and a craft factory for 10 years. Then I came out to open a shop related to lacquerware. I also made lacquerware and sold it. It just improved my horizons and made many friends. These people are insightful. Their thoughts and opinions enrich me. Yes, I also learned social experience, and I also read a lot of antiques, so I know what is good. These experiences are of great benefit to me in improving the category and style of lacquerware, and they are definitely not out of thin air.

Green and golden spotted rhinoceros leather lacquer pierced ear bottle

It takes some effort for craftsmen to break through the bottleneck. As an inheritance project, Chu-style lacquerware can be done again according to its style, color, and shape. It’s a long way from now, but some old things can still be done today. How they bring these cultural elements to the contemporary market and life requires a change, extracting artistic elements, including color patterns, shapes that can be combined with the contemporary, can be explored and tried. In contrast, Jingzhou (荆州) has been a battleground for military strategists since ancient times, and there are many wars, and there are gaps in culture. However, Huizhou has been very stable since the Tang and Song Dynasties. Huizhou has outstanding people and good feng shui, but the environment is relatively closed. When there were wars in the Central Plains in the past dynasties, famous families had to migrate to safe places, and Huizhou was the first choice.

Since the Tang Dynasty, aristocrats have come to Jixi, and the central plains of Chen, Wang, and Fang have merged with the locals. Although there are conflicts, they are still integrated. Because the place is closed and not affected by the war, it retains the original way of life. Cultural etiquette and even crafts have been well preserved, and local culture has also been well preserved, especially the school of Zhu Xi in the Southern Song Dynasty. Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism rose throughout the country and created some splendid cultures. Since the Tang and Song Dynasties, large households have also preserved their excellent culture. One side of water and soil raises one side of people. I am similar to the Huizhou people. In fact, I do not want to be this kind of person, but the trees that grow out of this side of water and soil are like this. Huangshan pine is Huangshan pine. It is similar to Huangshan pine. The pine trees in Mount Tai, Songshan, and Mount Jiuhua are different, because they grow from specific locations. The pine trees are not high, their roots are deep, and their branches are horizontal. Soil, its roots can only penetrate into the crevices of rocks to absorb nutrients. Our personalities are related to the natural environment. Huizhou people are still relatively quiet, elegant, peaceful, and responsible.

In the past, we advocated “fishing, woodcutters, farming and reading”

At the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, Huizhou’s economy was very good. At that time, the economy of Huizhou merchants accounted for a large proportion of the country’s economy. The economic activities of Huizhou people were all in Jiangsu and Zhejiang, Yangzhou, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and in wealthy areas, the pawn shop in Huizhou, the so-called “no Huizhou can’t make a town”, there must be a bank in the town, there was no bank in the past, you must have something as a mortgage, which can give you part of the money, here you need money to advance. There is also the culture of Huizhou. Every village in Huizhou has private schools and ancestral halls. In each ancestral hall, there will be children who go to study. The money is paid by the gentry in the village and they receive a good education. Therefore, people who are officials in Huizhou do business and study There are many, it is easy to do business after studying, and if you have money, you can train your children to study. There is a couplet that says, “It is better to study well and do business well.” In our view, the first-class good thing is reading. Huizhou people attach great importance to the word “study”. In the past, we advocated “fishing, woodcutters, farming and reading”, Those who chop firewood read while walking down the mountain, and those who herd cattle read on the back of their cattle. There are many subjects. Huizhou is quite special. I was born in this place. My father is also quite educated. The excellent Chinese culture and the principles of life have been taught since childhood. My father was a primary school teacher. He writes well and has strict family rules. Growing up in this environment will not be any worse. “Sitting posture should be correct, and the chair can only do three points.” These small habits of life have been developed since childhood.

Li Zhiwei: Nowadays, when mixing paints for lacquer, everyone says that the color of the old material is better than that of the new material. Although times have improved, why does it seem that we have not made progress in the color mixing of lacquer?

Gan Erke: For example, vermilion is red, and mercury is needed for refining, which contains mercury. The government restricts the refining of vermilion for environmental protection, and some places are still doing it for industrial needs. When the government promotes it, the skills will become better and better. When the government imposed restrictions, a group of artists faced a shrinking market. In the past, Foshan’s silver vermilion was very bright, but today’s ones are thick, and the mercury content on them is still obvious. I think the government has introduced policies to allow qualified production under the condition of protecting the environment. Because of social needs, without good materials, there will be no good works.

The oxidation resistance of any material is inferior to that of silver cinnabar and cinnabar. You can paint with silver cinnabar for a hundred or even a thousand years, but if you use other colors, it is likely to be good for a hundred years. Time It’s hard to tell when it’s long. However, after some lacquer craftsmen use mineral pigments, but the craftsmanship is not in place, and the things cannot be sold at the corresponding price, many craftsmen will give up, because they spent 10,000 yuan and sold it for 7,000 to 8,000 yuan. Money, these paints, and these good things are only dared to be used if the art reaches a certain height and has a high added value. We cannot save on materials, and the raw materials must be very traditional and natural so that it is possible to make good things. He might say, if I do this, the price will not help, and his workshop will face the problem of survival after a long time. Whether it is a workshop or a studio, it is a subject, and it has its specific market. Since it can be established, it has the rationality of existence.

We can learn from Japanese lacquerware, which is not very expensive

How to do it well cannot have a unified model. A unit is determined according to its own situation. He has his market in Pingyao, Shanxi. He makes gifts. Although the gifts must meet the needs of consumers, it does not mean that the quality is not good because the price is cheap. It must be high quality and low price. We can learn from Japanese lacquerware, which is not very expensive, but blindly pleasing the market, but you will sacrifice the due value of lacquerware and lose the due value of lacquerware. After you go to cater to the market, you can make it suitable for two hundred yuan. However, the working hours, materials, cost and sales profit must be taken into consideration, and controlled within 200 yuan, otherwise there will be no profit. Some manufacturers want to lower the price unscrupulously, so they use ordinary materials and inferior workmanship, and dump them. This practice is a vicious circle. This vicious circle will lead to the extinction of the lacquer art industry. Not good, This is not desirable. This is an inevitable phenomenon. It cannot pass the government’s administrative order, saying that you can’t do this, you have to do it. It is a process of free growth and respects the factors of its development law.

Black gold spotted rhinoceros paint hexagonal bottle

For example, teacher Xu Guanyu of lacquer wood furniture in Pingyao, Shanxi, sticks to his bottom line, and the things he makes will be better than ordinary people, but under the impact of cheap prices, he will be shocked to pieces, and even rush to the difficult situation of life. Do you have the ability to let others know your stuff? It is worth the money to gain the respect of others. In fact, it doesn’t mean that if you sell a lot, if you sell it cheaply, you may gain respect, and it is very possible that you may be demoted, but if you can persist in doing it well, and use real materials to do it well, only if you really do it well, If you are recognized by others, the price of your things is higher than others, and others will buy yours and not others. There is a natural law of survival and development. Every consumer has a different consumption concept. This is precisely because it provides good opportunities for different classes, that is to say, different levels of lacquerware categories, and different market classifications are formed.

we need to have positive energy to spread the aesthetic knowledge of lacquerware

In the market, it is survival of the fittest. This looks cruel, this Inside is that every consumer has his own point of view, whether his point of view is correct, regardless of him, first of all he invested his real money to buy. To respect his right to choose, I am willing to spend money if I choose expensive ones, and I am willing to spend money if I choose cheap ones, even if I don’t want it. The most important point here is to let consumers have an aesthetic awareness. Money, why spend this money, he also wants the best things, but if he doesn’t know what is the best, consumers can’t judge when they come across good things. At this time, we need to have positive energy to spread the aesthetic knowledge of lacquerware. What is good, bad and general, elegance and vulgarity, spread this quality, this view, this kind of knowledge to their consumers, let them master this aesthetic standard, and after they have a deep understanding of lacquerware, establish From the point of view of lacquerware, they will have a choice, and choose the kind of thing that suits their economic income. For example, if someone buys a lacquer utensil for 200 yuan, it is actually very expensive. I only have a bowl of rice for 40 to 50 yuan. Why buy a lacquered wood for 200 yuan? It is not expensive, because he knows what is good, he knows that this thing needs this money, and two hundred thousand or three hundred thousand is not expensive. Then speaking of the consumer group of lacquerware, lacquerware actually has a consumer group from low to high, the higher the consumer group, there are only a few people, not many people, but there are a lot of people on the lower level, and some people have been doing it without even a chance to get ahead, that is, below the horizon of the pyramid, many people are on the horizon The following is still being done, and there is no market yet, but the people at the top are supported by the people at the bottom. Without the support of the people below, where can the top come from? The so-called high and low are a relationship of contrast. How can there be no comparison? It is called high and low. Although these people below are low, through his efforts, he slowly walks out of the horizon, slowly reaches the middle level, and reaches the highest level through his efforts. One depends on his good fortune, and the second depends on his efforts. The so-called talent, the need for talent, the need for opportunity and the need for hard work are generally comprehensive. It does not mean that you can be like me as long as you follow my method. A teacher teaches ten students to do it. It is impossible for ten students to do it at the same level. It must be good and bad. Some do very well, some do not do well, or even fail, and some can achieve a top level. Even if the teacher said the same thing, every student has a different ability to accept, absorb, understand, and express, especially the expression with hands, to digest and understand what the teacher said, to unite mind and hand, how the teacher said.

So lacquerware in every place should have a reasonable living space, and there is no way to make a rigid rule, survival of the fittest. The lacquerware here is very rare. Many lacquer artists and experts discussed this matter. Why did you (Gan Erke) survive for so long? The reason for this is the positioning everyone gives themselves when doing things. If your positioning is not accurate, your success rate is relatively low. For example, many people want to be on the part of the pyramid, the part on the top of the tower, but in fact, very few people can go up, and at this time they have to position themselves. If you think that you want to be an industry and a market, then you should be a market, then you can make things of high quality and low price, which can be accepted by consumers, so that everyone can own your lacquerware, which is not expensive, It is also very beautiful, but beautifies life.

Li Zhiwei: What do you think of the title of master

Gan Erke: At present, the country attaches great importance to intangible cultural heritage and has given honor to many people, including me. It is good for some people, but it is harmful for some people who cannot afford it. Being a master is a title that encourages you. You are what you say, but a real master is not a seal. You have done some good things through your own efforts. The recognition of future generations, what is the recognition today, a hundred years. After two hundred years, people will mention you. Some people are not rated as masters. They just don’t have this opportunity, but their things have already been made into master-level things. In the next hundred years, two hundred years, he will be mentioned, but not those who are complacent after getting the certificate, those who show off and regress, will be eliminated. Many people don’t understand that people should know how much they are. He is actually not worthy of being a master. This title is wrong for him. Before he was awarded the title, he still did things in a down-to-earth manner, but his motivation for doing things was wrong. The purpose was to get the master. After getting the master, it seems that I have achieved the true fruit of cultivation. What else should I do if I am a master, that is to harm them?

Li Zhiwei: What do you think of the style changes of some craftsmen?

Gan Erke: There may be no good or bad here, but the style can be changed. He first started with traditional handicrafts, and he was able to do them very delicately, and he did them well. In his later years, he may change his style, moving from traditional handicrafts to another level, which is not a bad thing. But now there is a problem. Many people now have two concepts of “craft” and “art”. It is a very sad thing that craftsmen look down on their crafts. Lacquer painting belongs to the category of lacquerware. The Academy of Fine Arts also set up a lacquer painting department to incorporate lacquer painting into the art industry, but traditional lacquerware stays at the level of craftsmanship. There is a boundary between crafts and fine arts. In fact, this boundary should not be divided. When you take the craft to the extreme, this craft is art. But art is not supported by craftsmanship, and what you express is still blank. Craftsmanship means craftsmanship, that’s right. I put forward an expectation: Craftsmen should respect the industry they are engaged in and love it. Don’t be confused by the trendy concepts in society and lose yourself. It’s great to do crafts very well, and it’s a very honourable thing. Like Da Vinci, Rodin, and Michelangelo, they didn’t think I was an artist or a craftsman at that time, they made it to the extreme, and it was art in itself. Craftsman, why do you even look down on your own industry, abandoning the inherent looking for empty things? Of course, your interests develop and change, you like to do something, this is understandable, it’s okay. But you can’t put the cart before the horse, and it’s not advisable to put the cart before the horse.

Lacquerware is first and foremost a vessel.

Lacquerware is first and foremost a vessel. If you violate this key thing, everything will cease to exist. What is a utensil, and why is it called a utensil? When water is poured into the utensil, the water on the side of the utensil is square. In fact, utensils are a shape. There should be many explanations for utensils. In other words, there are bronze ware, porcelain ware, wood ware, and stone ware, so there are many. Lacquerware is the same as porcelain and silver (ware). If it is done well, it can be used first, it can be seen, and it can be superior to use. Tao, in the past, ceramic bowls could be used as rice bowls, but Tao’s teeth are uncomfortable and rough, and after being glazed, the cracking and roughness can be avoided. But the pottery is heavy, and the nobles use bronze, which is cold, smelly, heavy, and sad. Lacquer ware existed before bronze ware, and later it was discovered that lacquer could be used to make utensils. The temperature felt by the hand is the same as the temperature of the human body, and the color is more beautiful, and people like it. Then the more you do it, the better you will do it towards a high standard. After doing it with a high standard, it has exceeded its use value and has risen to an appreciation value.

Li Zhiwei: On the way of inheritance and the relationship between master and apprentice

Gan Erke: Art may not be usable, but it can enlighten the mind and expound thoughts that can affect a person’s values and aesthetics. Why do you say that Chinese lacquerware is used to make utensils in the entire industry? In the past, they were all utensils. How many years did you have to learn from the master to learn the craft? It took more than a year to fetch water, sweep the floor, boil water for the mistress, and make tea for the master. For two years, the master thought the child was good, so he made it for you. If he didn’t do well, he would beat you and scold you. Only under the strict teaching of the master can he learn the craft well.

In fact, learning crafts now is different from the past, and lacks the spiritual relationship.

The skill of the painter, he just came into contact with the skill of the painter, watched the master how to do it, knew how to place the tools, and what rules he had, all of which he learned subtly. When he did it, he was quick to get started. One important point is to establish a close relationship between master and apprentice, do housework, create a family relationship, respect the master, and the master treats you like a child. Learning crafts “be a teacher for one day and be a father for life”, because the master gave you a job to eat and help you gain a foothold in society, just like your biological parents. Your biological parents give you life, and there is a bond between master and apprentice. With such a relationship of interest, when the master is old, the apprentice can still do his filial piety to help the master spend his old age peacefully. This is a kind of reciprocal relationship and family relationship. This relationship is absent in contemporary times, and largely missing. In fact, learning crafts now is different from the past, and lacks the spiritual relationship. He thinks that if he learns from his master, the master will pay him a salary. In the past, as an apprentice, you had to bring rice, carry ham, and kowtow, and you had to be led by your parents. Not now, once I learn from Master, I want to be a master, I want to be an inheritor of intangible cultural heritage, I want to make a lot of money, I want to be famous, but in fact, my intention is wrong, so I refuse to learn deeply and often learn superficial things. Through this method, I quickly learned from the master, thinking that it was all right, and a good disciple would maintain a close relationship with the master. Those who are not good may turn against each other because he cannot become famous unless he defeats Master, so he often tells Master that he is not good. This is true, this is the aspect of morality, the traditional good teacher-student relationship in the past, the kind of spiritual relationship, and now the children are missing. Now children have a sense of superiority. My parents regard me as a treasure, and he regards himself as a treasure. Parents have too high expectations for him, you must become famous and start a family. He also didn’t see when Master became a “family”. Master is in his 60s and 70s and has not yet become famous, but he started learning crafts when he was 15 or 16, and it has been 40 or 50 years now. They can’t calm down to learn a craft, and then reach a natural growth process, they all want to backfire, which is a common situation among young people. Of course, there are still good children, and they are studying very rigorously.

Li Zhiwei: Your lacquerware was exhibited in Japan in 2018. Is there any interesting story behind it?

Gan Erke: On May 10, 2018, Premier Li Keqiang visited Japan to visit “Bringing Cultural Relics to Life – The Palace Museum Cultural and Creative Exhibition”. Because China and Japan had interrupted their high-level exchanges for eight years, it was the first time that the Prime Minister The 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan is an opportunity to pave the way for Abe’s visit to China. Realized the process of the country’s important weapon as a ritual of cultural exchange. Through this exhibition, neighbours can see how China’s culture has progressed and developed during the 40 years of reform and opening up. The content of this exchange The Ministry of Foreign Affairs held several meetings to discuss what to bring. This matter was entrusted to the Palace Museum, and the Palace Museum and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also discussed it. Among the works of the inheritors of intangible cultural heritage, lacquerware, ceramics, bronze ware, and woodware were selected. There are considerations in the selection of things. I analyze that these things first not only represent the cultural and creative products of the Forbidden City, but also display traditional Chinese culture. The second one has meaning in it. From the perspective of the five elements, metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Bronze ware represents gold. Wood, Han Meilin’s chair, carved; lacquer from water, fire and earth is porcelain, because porcelain is calcined from earth through fire. Lacquerware belongs to wood, and the texture and colour of lacquerware reflect a metallic lustre and gold.

Lacquerware represents a kind of self-confidence.

Lacquerware represents a kind of self-confidence. Japan is a big country of lacquerware. China also brought lacquerware to China this year, which also shows a kind of self-confidence and the development and improvement of Chinese lacquerware. It is also a very good thing. The leaders of the Palace Museum held a meeting at the Ministry of Culture to discuss what to bring, and at the same time called me on the spot, asking me to send the works as soon as possible. Then they selected 7 works, and these 7 works were not the best in my opinion. I said that I recommend 1 or 2 more pieces to represent the whole look, and you can choose 7 more pieces from it, which will be even better. I combined the 12 pieces of lacquerware according to height, shape, colour, and arrangement, and then took a photo for him. They ordered all 2 pieces for 1 quickly. Everything is beautiful because of the way we have furnished it. Pack things up send them to Beijing, and then repack them. At the exhibition site in Japan, Premier Li Keqiang was very excited and very happy, and the news broadcast was also broadcast. Dean Shan Jixiang explained one by one very seriously, and they felt very happy that time, saying that the effect was much better than they imagined, and the leaders of the two countries were very happy.

Lacquerware was introduced to Japan from China, and Japanese lacquerware is also very good and famous all over the world. Chinese lacquerware has also made great progress. There is neither humble nor overbearing in this. Thousands of years of cultural exchanges have emerged at this point. Great significance, great impact. The scene of Li Keqiang’s visit to Japan is being played around the world. This is a major event between the two countries. It is a signal, a signal of cultural exchanges to the world. My lacquerware has undertaken a national mission, and I am so happy to have the opportunity to do things for this national mission. This is exactly the same as my original intention of making lacquerware at that time. Why do I make lacquerware? It’s not because I’m a fan of lacquerware. If the shop is doing well, I make lacquerware. No, the store is running well and making money. To make lacquerware can only be an idea, but if you want to lose money, there is a big gap. One is to make money steadily, and the other is to lose money. Why do we do it? At that time, I had an idea, that is, to see that Chinese lacquerware would go to the world again.

Li Zhiwei: What should we think about the exchange of lacquerware between China and Japan

Gan Erke: Chinese lacquerware is more generous and full of vitality and creativity. These characteristics can be found through comparison and physical observation. Of course, Japanese lacquerware is also good, but it seems to lack a kind of vitality. Japan will explain every step of the craft in detail. The technique of Japanese Makie lacquerware is open to the public, and there are many people who make it. In order to show its style, he is also willing to let the audience know the whole production process. We have already done this when introducing rhinoceros lacquerware when we were doing programs on CCTV, including tools, crafts, materials, processes, methods, steps, how to achieve a standard of beauty, and what is beauty. We have done a very detailed introduction. Why is it said that in the past ten years in China, rhinoceros lacquer has stood out and been widely accepted? This has something to do with many of us now joining in the production and promotion of lacquerware. Rhinoceros lacquer is not only luxurious, noble, elegant, and not vulgar, because I never try to please anyone when I make lacquerware, and I completely follow my own ideas. In this way, I have always insisted on my own personality. I can appreciate the advantages of other people’s lacquerware, but I don’t imitate other people’s things, because your things have a lot of other people’s things, so they can’t be 100% acceptable. My cultural elements, and the style of lacquerware, others can tell at a glance that this is Gan Erke’s work, I did whatever I thought in my heart at the time, and raised the beauty of lacquerware to no limit. In my heart, I don’t have an apology for its beauty. After I have achieved this level, it is beautiful and beautiful. After a certain stage, I will deny it. When I have better ideas, I will go forward and reach the goal. On the other hand, no one can ever reach a satisfactory level. Lacquerware production can reach a certain height in stages.

In addition, like Japan’s Matsuda Gonroku, these old top Japanese lacquer artists, their professionalism, exquisite works, and high artistic expression ability, Chinese lacquer artists need to learn or should have such skills. The artistic level, artistic style and artistic style of these relatively high-level lacquer artists, their whimsy and their techniques will affect the middle and low-level lacquer makers, and they will be an inspiration and guide for those who are approaching the high level. Because the highest skill is a bright light in the vast sea, giving you a sense of direction so that you will not get lost, and go in one direction. China should produce a group of such people, not a few people should produce a group of such people.

The second is that talents and professionals engaged in lacquer art creation should constantly improve their self-cultivation, see more, think more, and know what is beautiful and what is good. Some people think their own things are very good, but in fact, they don’t understand the vulgarity. He thinks very good things are average, but his realm has not yet reached. Broaden his horizons, he knows what is good, what is ordinary, what is vulgar and what is elegant. Improve your self-cultivation aesthetically. When his vision is opened, his skills will improve rapidly. If his vision is not opened, he will still be in a hazy state, unable to do it in the clouds and fog. One is self-aesthetic and aesthetic improvement, and the heart must be stable, not to be too high-spirited and eager for quick success. The development of things has its own laws, respect the laws and let it grow naturally. Coupled with the blessings of the government, public opinion, the literary world, and the fine arts circles, guiding him in a good direction, the addition of the two will increase. Another thing is to cultivate a large consumer group in society.

If there is no such large consumer group in society, then there is very little room for the development of lacquer art. Lacquerware or lacquered wood must survive and have a life, no matter if it is one hundred, two hundred, one thousand, twenty thousand, one hundred thousand, or eighty thousand, it has its own space. Compared with Chinese lacquerware, Japanese lacquerware has a good historical foundation. Since ancient times, nobles have been using lacquerware. I remember a Japanese aristocratic daughter got married. It was a book as thick as lacquerware, and it was the dowry at that time. The nobles supported the development of art. The use of nobles set a model for the development of lacquerware art. You can know what is good through the life and use of nobles. The following artists will talk about it. Then I will do it too, so that everything will be improved.

In fact, if there are no aristocrats to participate in the appreciation and support of art, it cannot be said to be excellent. Why did the European Renaissance come so fast? It was because of the support of the pope, theocracy, emperors, and court nobles. They have vision and taste. If you follow me, you do it for me. The status is respected, and I can come in and out with me, which has a great effect on the improvement of art. Persist in doing it every year, and the seeds will always grow and germinate. An art supported by the nobility, this art is sure to develop. The aristocrats appreciate oil paintings, a group of big oil painters appear, the aristocrats appreciate sculpture and sculptors appear, the aristocrats appreciate the art of lacquerware, and the art of lacquerware improves. There is cultural support, economic support, and a certain reputation given by the society. Chinese people watch advertisements, for example, when a certain station broadcasts them, and they think they are good, and they also buy bags bought by celebrities. In fact, in Europe, nobles buy nationals before they buy. Aristocrats are divided into spiritual and wealth aristocrats, cultural aristocracy, and many other categories. These are the backbones of the Chinese nation. Without them, they would not be able to support themselves. The lumbar spine is broken, and the chest cannot stand up. These are the nobles. The nobles and upstarts are slowly reappearing in China. Some of these upstarts understand, and some are just playing. In any case, he appreciates art, he moves closer to collecting art, and he goes to the aristocracy because the aristocracy does not appear overnight, nor is it granted to you by anyone, it is passed down through generations. Now the government promotes traditional excellent culture, which is very precious. This is the prosperity and development of traditional Chinese crafts, which has never been like it is today in any dynasty.

Li Zhiwei: How do you see the establishment of Chinese lacquerware brands?

Gan Erke: Hermès wants me to only do it for its family, and I will balance it and spare part of my time to do it. It is more pleasant to cooperate with Hermès. I think that Hermès will do well in lacquerware in the next few years, whether we have our own lacquerware brand in China. On the label of the lacquerware made for Hermès, there is the logo of Shangxia (Hermes is a subsidiary of Shangxia in China, and Hermès holds 85% of the shares) and the logo of Gan Erke. Hermes also uses one of my influences. Without influence, it is difficult to buy. Friends also think this is a selling point, and Hermes also relies on this as a selling point. There are also several issues reflected here. It should be said that the brand influence of Hermès is still good. It seized the opportunity to absorb nutrients from the excellent Chinese traditional culture and use them to enrich the cultural elements of its brand. Second, through their publicity, it improved the reputation of Chinese lacquer. This is a win-win.

My works were once auctioned by Christie’s in 2014 and 2015. They were all sold and very successful, so the influence of Chinese lacquerware has increased. In addition, the British Museum collected a large box in 2017, which increased the popularity of Chinese lacquerware.

There are so many people doing gold painting and painting. I said, there are no more than me and no less. Japanese Makie is very good. It should be admitted that if I do it again, I am just a fan of it. The Japanese will say: It’s almost as good as mine. What I want to do is to make Chinese things. Rhinoceros lacquer has been available since the Eastern Han Dynasty. After the development of Tang, Song, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, it has been developed very well, but there are very few existing ones. It is very interesting to make it, and a virgin land has been developed. I opened this land, I walked this road, the scratches on my legs were terrible, and I was covered with bruises, I walked over, and everyone saw that I walked over, so I walked this road. We made a road out of the field that didn’t exist before, and now everyone is rushing to this road. At this time, it is needed, and it is necessary to clear the source and let others know how to make rhinoceros lacquer.

I am also planning to publish a book. The purpose of writing a book is to let others understand and inspire, and it can be circulated hundreds of years later. At the same time, it should be recognized that there should be a market for different grades of rhinoceros paint, which should be determined by the market and respect the laws of the market. I did not make low-end products to cater to the needs of the market. I have subtly led some people to influence some people to make rhino skin paint within their ability to meet the market demand. In fact, it is a meritorious thing, and there will be comments behind it. I don’t learn something to reproduce it, I learn its cultural elements, artistic elements and techniques, and make a new thing, and the new thing has roots, and this root is the traditional rhinoceros. I make rhinoceros The texture and the tradition are exactly the same, but richer than it, the texture and colour are more beautiful, and the traditional craftsmanship endows it with a modern aesthetic, which Europeans like at a glance. I also polished the inside of the lacquerware. The inside of the lacquerware is as exquisite as the outside without leaving any dead ends, and everything is exquisite.

Li Zhiwei: For the development of lacquerware, what should lacquerware craftsmen stick to

Gan Erke: It seems a bit chaotic now, but it is inevitable. When everyone does this, there will be mixed opinions and opinions. When there is a standard, it may not be the final standard. Different people have different opinions. Yes, when the vast majority of people agree with this standard, this standard may not be shaken. When one of your lacquerware is good enough, it will be recognized, and it has enough influence on the development of lacquerware. As long as it is correct, it will be recognized. Here we can set two standards and three standards. We want to achieve the peak of Chinese high-quality lacquerware, which requires many people to join in and call on people to have high-quality goods awareness and brand awareness. Brands are built on the basis of long-term recognition by others and a long-term commitment to excellent quality. Persevere, China lacks brand awareness, not by advertising, but by showing things. This kind of brand is not only the skill of the work, but also the character of the person who made the work. If there is no good character, it will not be long or far.

There are very few enterprises with a century of history in China, and the average Chinese enterprise is only seven or eight years old or even shorter. How to achieve a century-old enterprise is to rely on generations of people to persist in doing this thing and persist in continuous improvement. Build brand awareness. Second, every practitioner should improve their cultural and artistic appreciation, and pass on good things, good works, and good ideas through dissemination. It is very difficult to select the people, objects and things that we want to set the benchmark. These people can stand the test, stand the test in the face of failure, and stand the test in the face of honour. Establish a long-term mechanism to promote lacquerware, technology and aesthetics. Establish a mechanism. This requires the government and institutions, and can also draw on the strength of social economy and consortium enterprises. This is a public welfare undertaking, a money-losing business, but it is beneficial to society. It is a meritorious thing.

Let colleges and people with design ability lead the market, and the things are beautiful, well-crafted, beautiful in material and suitable in price. One is leading and the other is supporting. The government must pay close attention to the protection of intangible cultural heritage and carry forward the spirit of Huangshan pine. Every time I go to Huangshan to see Huangshan pine, the roots of Huangshan pine will not be thinner than the pine stem. It is so deep that it cannot be blown down by the wind. The roots of craftsmen must be solid and deep, and at the same time, they must be humble, and they must return to zero when they get titles, and don’t pursue honour too much.

My lacquerware is made of clamped tires. I hope it will be stronger and more accurate. It takes more than four months for me to make a fetal bone. There must be a lot of technical skills in it to solve the problems that may occur in the future. The device is first used, and it takes a long time. Thinness is a direction of beauty, and firmness is also a level. It depends on the purpose of this work. Some works have to bear strength. Opening and closing back and forth are suitable for solid types. Some things are just a kind of ornamental, which can be lighter. The characteristics are all good like some of my lacquerware are made very solid and thick, some are made very light, some are made very simple, some are made very complicated, according to the needs of the material, this is up to you to grasp it as you like.

There are several major factors in a beautiful utensil: color, ornamentation, and utensil shape are all important, and they are several major factors that constitute beauty. More importantly, the overall temperament of the ornamentation, color, and utensil shape must be highly unified and have an overall beauty. The work must be enough to touch people’s hearts. I later understood a word called visual impact. I used to use this word, shocking and heart-pounding. I later found out that the work cannot speak, but other people communicate through their eyes. When they see this thing, they will be moved. Shock and impact, when I saw this thing, my heart opened, and I felt different. Fever, attracted, meditating, my eyes would not leave, and then I found the right word to describe its beauty, I have been unable to think of a suitable word to describe it. This kind of thing is basically good for creating beauty and shocking impact through vision. There is also a kind of beauty, this kind of beauty has been lingering in my mind for a long time, and I have been thinking about this thing. A friend of mine who is a collector, when he opened the brocade box, would suddenly lean back after seeing the lacquerware, and then put it away again, because he was suddenly caught by the visual beauty of this utensil, and the visual impact moved his heart, psychologically.

The resonance lingers in the mind and lingers for a long time. This is a good and powerful work. A good work will convey a kind of beauty and bring a kind of spiritual joy to people. This work is full of the author’s own good things. Although the work cannot speak, others can. Understanding it can impress audiences and collectors. Good work is also good in different eras, vertically, in the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, where it is, whether it is general or what position. The other is the horizontal comparison. Your lacquerware is compared with Hangzhou, Fuzhou, the United Kingdom, and Spain. What kind of position are you in? If you compare it vertically and horizontally, the position of the work will be determined. Others will draw an equal sign for you. But this point is not your final point. You are changing, either progressing decadent, or conceited. Although you are making progress, you are conceited and arrogant, which makes others feel disgusted and sad. If you feel disgusted with yourself, your prices will drop..

About Gan Erke

Gan Erke, born in Huangshan in 1955, is a master of Chinese arts and crafts, a national inheritor of intangible cultural heritage, and an expert enjoying special allowances from the State Council. He has been committed to the creation of high-quality lacquerware for a long time and has successfully restored the endangered rhinoceros lacquer production process and endowed it with a new look to present to the world. Gan Erke admires the beauty of the Song and Yuan dynasties and is committed to exploring the greatest possibility of deepening the development of refined and elegant fine lacquerware in the new era. His works are collected by the Palace Museum, the National Museum, and the British Museum.

About Li Zhiwei

Li Zhiwei is a teacher at the College Of Communication And Art Design, University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, Ph.D.


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