In conversation with: Wei Xiao (萧威), Founder of Zhengyin Art

Zhengyin Art has been dedicated to creating original, elegant artworks that elevate a space. We sat down with its founder, Wei Xiao (萧威),  to find out a little more about its creative journey…

black and white image collage showing glass art installation over stair well by Zhengyin art

Zhengyin Art works closely with interior designers in providing bespoke art work and installations. From briefing to concept and delivery to installation, every step is involved in the creative process to ensure each piece of artwork is uniquely created and perfectly fitted for each project. Under the leadership of Founder Wei Xiao, the artists construct customised art solutions, selecting the most suitable craft and materials while staying mindful of feasibility of production and installation.

black and white picture of artist Wei Xiao and artisan working on a project in the studio

Image credit: Zhengyin Art

Hotel Designs: Can you begin by explaining the meaning of ‘Zhengyin’?

Wei Xiao: Zhengyin (正印) ‘Zheng’ means genuine, main and proper object, ‘Yin’ means seal, stamp and authority. There is a saying in Chinese ancient books that one who born with Zhengyin means in this person’s life he or she will have many meaningful encounters that help them grow and guide their ways. I hope as Zhengyin Art progress, we can also have many meaningful encounters and grow with our clients and partners.

HD: How have you, or your vision, changed since you start creating public art?

WX: I have to say that our heart didn’t change from the beginning, the idea to pursue innovation in art, to dive into the material applications and artistic expression itself had remain the same. However, our mindset has become more open. Thirty years ago when we started to do art projects, people had many doubts. The acceptance (in China) of contemporary art was low, it was quite hard to try new artistic expression in our projects. This forced us to see art from the public’s perspective and try to find something that suits both refined and popular tastes. By changing this mindset, we were able to better communicate our ideas and visualise the concept to our clients.

HD: It has been a few decades since you started working in the public arts field – what in particular do you like about the arena of public art?

WX: By working on public and installation art, me and my team had the chance to get to know more craftsmanship and materials. These projects provided us with many opportunities to try new visual expressions and techniques. Nothing can excite an artist more than finding a new artistic expression with different materials. We also learned a lot during our collaborations with different designers. In those collaborations, we communicate our ideas and created many great projects. And I think this is the meaning of ‘Zhengyin’, beautiful encounter, where we both learn from each other and learn as we progress.

the artist working on glass alongside the final creation in glass and stone

Image credit: Zhengyin Art

HD: Do you still remember how it was when you first started the company and what have you learned in the process?

WX: Of course I remember, but it was more a failure with frustrations. About twenty years ago, we reserved a kiln to create artworks. Even though we had a very limited budget, we were very excited, therefore we drafted many styles and shapes of artwork that we want to actualise with porcelain. However, when we bring our design to the craftsmen, they told us the designs were all unusable, all the designs were far away from the craftsmanship. I can still deeply remember the disappointment from that day. With this experience, I understood that a good design requires the creator to have a deep understanding of the material and craftsmanship in order to make it come true. And this was why we put so much emphasis on the importance on craftsmanship and materials.

In the early days, I found that sometimes the drawing was beautiful but not as good when it came out of the kiln. However, sometimes when we were not so thrill about some sketches the kiln showed us great works. Actually half of the creative process was not controllable. First experience was often an experience of failure. As we progress, we started to feel the mysteriousness within craftsmanship itself, after we discover the pattern, we were able to do deeper experiments. From each failure, we learn something different and this is the foundation of creativity.

4 different shapes and coloured glazes of ceramic vessels

Image credit: Zhengyin Art

HD: Besides the difficulty in combining the design and materials, did you also face other obstacles during your creative process?

WX: Yes, at that time, the environment was still a bit conservative. Many craftsmen have lived by their existing craftsmanship for years. They were unfamiliar with new ideas and designs. Many of them often have this mindset that change will only destroy the artistic effect. For example, at that time there were just a few available glazing to choose. If we want to try special kiln-change glazing we need to look for the materials ourselves. I remembered that we even waited outside of the blacksmith’s shop to ask for some slag for an experiment. I remember once after we gathered around and had some beer, we threw the empty bottle into the kiln to see what would happen. Till this day, I still remember how it looked like in the kiln. It was like a bowl of clear water. This was the charm in the materials and creativity!

designer Alessandro Munge working in the studio over drawings with artist Wei Xiao

Image credit: Zhengyin Art

HD: Have you seen a lot of changes in the artisanal craft and creative arts production over the years?

WX: There is a very big difference. Nowadays, when I look back to the experiment we did few decades ago, I think we did create some ripples to the local craftsmanship. At that time, the local craftsmen thought we were wasteful. As the time goes by, they slowly approved our experiments. Now if you go to Jingdezhen, you will see hundreds of glazing colours. However, back in the time when we were there, there were only a few glazing colour to choose. Nowadays the environment is definitely more open for the artistic creation.

HD: You mentioned about the charm in finding the innovative characteristic of materials  – as a creator, how do you discover and work with different materials?

WX: As a creator, I want to try all the materials I can see, I want to explore its capability of expression. In my early experiments, I was constantly trying to improve the expressiveness of Xuan paper and looking for ways to create artworks that have better texture. Talking about the relationship between creator and materials, I think it is more like an emotion communication. This is why we like original handmade artworks. If you ever try to place our hand on the clay, we can sense the change of feeling that spreads out from your palm. As the graver lefts traces on the clay, your feelings also change as you move. This is the reason why we emphasise the relationship between materials and designers. Just like when you use a brush to create a stroke on the paper, the sensation is different depends on whether brush was wet or dry. This is the kind of feedbacks that the materials give you and you can only feel it through your body. The more your body feels, the more dynamic the artwork will be.

HD: Where do you see Zhengyin Art progress in the future?

WX: Zhengyin Art is dedicated to create artworks that suits both refined and popular tastes. We hope our artworks can approach more people and can bring joy to the public. Through these years of experiences, we see the artworks that we adored can also be accepted by the public, it is possible to reach the balance between different tastes. We hope we can create more and more interesting public arts and tell each story vividly through our artworks.

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Main image credit: Zhengyin Art