Move to content area


Ceramics is among the most widespread medium employed by contemporary artists. It is a persistent method to transmit the symbols of modern culture. Discussions and research on contemporary ceramic art focus on the creative expressions of forms, glaze, themes and patterns. Relevant elements are the creative impetus, viewer's critiques, structure of the contemporary culture, socio-economic backgrounds and the zeitgeist of the era. Contemporary ceramic art thus expresses the artist's personal style and the worksvalues. It also conveys the cultural significance of the symbols and provides the viewers with considerations and thoughts about spirituality, regional culture, values of the time and cultural features.

About My Creation

Sun Chao

Sun Chao

My Road to Ceramics

Picking up the Paint Brush
My enlightenment did not start until very late. In1937,the Japanese army invaded my hometown of Shuchou ,and many people fled to the countryside seeking refuge. I was only eight years old at the time. My nanny held my hand while running away,but the frenetic crowed separated us,and I couldn’t find any of my family afterward. I roamed around the country alone. Two years later,I was lucky enough to be adopted by a farming family. I sur-vived and lived on. During this period of time,besides farming ,I also worked as an apprentice.I did not have any chance to study and I often cried over my illiteracy in secret.
In the year before the end of World War Two ,I was already 15 years old.Relying on my childhood memories,I found my way back home from hundreds of miles away. Although, my home had already been destroyed in the battles,I was able to find my grandmother's house where I would live for a while.At first,I could not read and did not have a school to go to. Seven years of wandering had also given me a strange accent and labeled me an outsider. So I just stayed inside the house all day, flipped through the old books and copied the pictures I found inside - for which I even received some praise.
Geitzyuan Picture Handbook was my book of enlightenment. At the time, my grandmother had a tablet shop. My uncle wrote tablets and I help him to draw patterns on the tablet holders. I also went to the village school for three months. After the first month, I was able to write letters to my foster parents who had adopted me when I was a refugee. After that, I finally went to an elementary school for the first time.
One of the few pleasant memories from my childhood was of an earthenware basin full of water in the front yard of my grandmother's house. Next to the basin, there was a writing brush and a big gray brick. People would practice calligraphy on the brick when coming in and out of the house. There was also an elementary English textbook with nice illustrations in my grandmother's house.I did not just draw the illustrations but learned how to draw the letters as well.Therefore, I was eventually able to pass the placement exam and enter the eighth grade.
The destruction of my home had left me with no immediate family. I wanted to study but I did not want my relatives to feel they had to use their meager resources to help me. At the time, the army was recruiting and encouraging students to devote themselves to the country. I thought that the military could offer me an education, so caught up in a feeling of patriotism,I joined the Nationalist army after attendending only a semester of eighth grade. Naively, I thought that as soon as the country became stable, I could go back to school or go to work. I didn't know that the next sixteen years of my life would be wasted in marching.
In1949,I came to Taiwan with the armored troops. Army life at the time was beyond harsh and crude. I was in anguish, and my spirit couldn't find relief. Self study was the only means of keeping me sane. Books, especially philosophy,gave me a sense of tranquility. I picked up the paint brush in 1958 during the war in Kingmen, an island in the Taiwan Straits. The battles started on August 23 and went on for months. The sound of cannons crumbled in the sky. We could not leave the fort, and I had already finished reading the few books I had with me.luckily, I had plenty of paper and started to draw. I drew nature and any kind of pictures I could find in the newspaper, in magazines, or even on lottery tickets.
After the war, I went back to Taiwan with the troops. One day, I saw a beautiful photograph of corn on a calendar. I said, "If only I could draw this."People standing next to me sneered, "If you can draw it, I will change my last name to yours." From that day on, I started drawing corn everyday. Finally, on the 24th day,I could draw a solid kernel with one single stroke. In this stroke, I had trained myself to reflect both the contour and the texture of the kernel at the same time. I have always kept this sketch as a fun memory.
Entering College
In 1962, I was finally discharged from the military and I wanted to go to school. With only a year and a half of formal education, I was not qualified to apply for college so I made a fake high school diplomastamped with a school seal which I carved out of a block of soapand turned it in so I could sign up for the college entrance exam. Impressed by this evidence of my desire to learn, the chief of the Ministry of Education wrote on my fake certificate in red,in the manner of a true educator, "In recognition of this student's motivation to study, hereby, I give him permission to
apply for college." I was exhilarated. A year later, I was accepted into the Fine Arts Department at the National Taiwan Academy of the Arts, entering the holy ground of
my heart. Even though at the time I was already short on money for food and had no money at all to pay for tuition, my heart was filled with strength. With help, I found jobs such as painting frescoes or dying batik and managed to save enough money
for the first year's tuition before school started. Because I had spent so many years in the army, I was already thirty-six when I entered college and became the oldest student in the school.
Back then, the Fine Arts Department was divided into three divisions:Chinese Painting,Western Painting,and Sculpture. In deciding which divison to enter,I considered the fact that one did not need any equipment to draw a piece of board would be sufficient – while sculpture,on the other hand,requires tools and is learned more conveniently in a school setting. Thus, in order to fully take advantage of the school's equipment, I chose to study sculpture, This decision took me from working on a flat surface to working in three dimensional space, Aside from going to classes, I spent almost all of my time (including winter and summer vacations) working in the sculpture room, Often, businessmen would offer me paper on which to paint Chinese paintings for them to sell, This was how I paid for my tuition. One time, a man took the hundreds of paintings I had made for him without ever paying me. At the time I was quite angry because my daily expenditures depended on these earnings. Afterward, I thought to myself, on the bright side, someone had just given me a summer's worth of paper to practice my drawing.
Thinking back, school life was rich in friendship. When I was sculpting in the studio, friends who studied music would often keep me company while playing the flute or violin. Some of them even volunteered to be my model. In this artistic atmosphere, we influenced each other, constructing an aesthetic living environment. The chef of the cafeteria would even call me for dinner during winter and summer vacations - despite the fact that our meal plans were only valid during school days.
Before the graduation exhibition, I made my first big group sculpture. After I finished it, I did not think it was good enough. So, I knocked most of it off and kept only a small portion as a portrait, Coincidentally, the head of the Department was passing by. He was quite angry and said, "Even if it does not meet your expectations, at least it belongs to this period of your work. So what if you are not satisfied you’re your wor,.. when was I ever satisfied with mine? If you keep knocking off all of your work, you will have nothing left to save." There was caring in his scolding,but I just cannot endure flaws in my work. In fact, when I started making ceramics Jater, my attitude never changed,. The only complete, intact piece left from college is a portrait I sculpted during my sophomore year.
A year after graduation, I entered the National Palace Museum in Taipei because of the sculptures I made in school. By chance, I also sculpted a pair of giant bronze lions which were placed at the front gate of the museum after completion. This pair of lions was modified from the traditional style. I made the squatting hind legs in the
shape of right-angles, forming a stair step that can be walked on. I also exaggerated
the curls on the elbows of the front legs so children can play and climb on the lions
thus giving them an opportunity to have more childhood memories of their native
Experiments in Historical Ceramics
In the spring of 1969, I entered the National Palace Muscum in Taipci and it was my job to care for the ceramic and jade pieces. I was deeply attracted to the enormous collection. At that time, no one in the museum had any firing experience. We relied only on eyesight to discern the period, location of production, and authenticity of a piece. During this time, two incidents diverted my interest from lab rescarch to studying Chinese glazes. The first incident involved a Hare's Fur tea bowl in our museum collection. At the bottom of the bowl, the streaks of the Hare's Fur leaned toward one side. Some specialists thought it was a counterfeit and said that the streaks were drawn onto the bowl. It became a joke among us because the slanting
lines were actually caused by the uneven stacking of saggars (the containers that hold the clay bodies during firing). Another time, a colleague told me that a foreign visitor saw a Copper Red piece and said that based on his chemistry background he disagreed with the exhibition's description of "Copper oxide turns green in oxidation firing and may turn red in reduction firing." In fact, this statement is indeed true, but at the time we did not have a lab in which to conduct our own experiments for proof.
Therefore, I started reading chemistry textbooks and studying the fundamentals.
Friends often accompanied me on trips to kiln factories. Yingko was the town that I
visited most frequently because it was famous for its concentration and production of ceramics. I often met people who found joy in their own way, even in the most
thrifty studios. I remember one time, an old man chuckled and said to me, "Yingko
clay is sticky, it won't let you go." Most fortunate of all, I had my good friend Dr.Peter Liu making glaze recipes and firing the kiln with me. Back then, there were no glaze recipe references written in Chinese as there were in English books. Ms. Jane Kuan, who later became my wife, translated quite a few English books for me. When friends came, I often gave each one of them a mortar and a pestle and we would talk
while grinding the glaze. My friends contributed greatly during this process of endless experiments on different glazes.
Early on, since there was not enough space in my apartment, I placed the kiln I used for my experiments at a kiln factory and asked others to fire it for me. During the winter of 1975, I was able to relocate it to Peter's front yard. When I started the very first set of kiln fire by myself, I found that I was sweating profusely in the cold wind. This made me truly realize the gap between theory and practice. At the time, I was experimenting with Celadons. I wanted to show the green of Lungchuan and the elegance of Ju ware. Peter helped me make many recipes. We applied these recipes
to test tiles. After gathering many of them, we loaded the kiln, and fired them all at
once. At the time, we had to be thrifty with the equipment so we did not even have a
pressure gauge for the gas kiln. It was really difficult to fire high temperature reduction since we could only control the switch of the gas cylinder manually. If we put too much pressure on the handle, more gas would flow out and the kiln pressure would increase. Since the chimney was too short to exhaust enough air, the heat would turn the chimney shaft red due to the incomplete oxidation of the kiln and instead of increasing the kiln temperature, the temperature would actually decrease.
As a result, I burned the chimney shaft red when firing for the first time.
During this period of time, I put the gas cylinder and kiln at the doorway. The pyrometer, on the other hand, was carefully placed inside the house. We would run in and out of the house to check on both ends. Once we ignited the fire, the kiln had to keep firing for 8 or 9 hours consecutively, so we had to take turns to eat. Usually, one person would be inside the house, perhaps eating, while keeping an eye on the
pyrometer and yelling if the gas needed to be turned on or off. Another person would stand outside the house, turning the switch a little bit more, or a little bit less, according to instructions. Pedestrians often looked at us funny, but we were having lots of fun. The most intense moment would be when the gas had run for too long and lost too much heat causing the gas cylinder to start to freeze. As the fire started to disappear, someone would rush inside the kitchen and boil pots of hot water to pour on the gas cylinder. With the heat from hot water, the kiln fire would suddenly shoot up again and soothe my worries. This interesting period of time only lasted for a few months because Peter's family moved abroad. After that, I moved this small kiln around several times and continued using it to make thousands of test tiles. I also added a pressure gauge and improved the chimney until I was quite satisfied with it.
Working with ceramics is much harder than any other type of art because it requires both artistry and technology. It includes aesthetics, chemistry, thermodynamics, and the use of machinery. For people who have only a background in studio art, it is not easy to conquer the technical aspect of ceramics. At the beginning of my first ten years of making ceramics, this part of my knowledge was very limited. In 1979, the
seond year after I left the Palace Museum, I built a 1 m3 gas kiln that could connect more than a dozen gas cylinders at the same time and finally solved the problem of the old fuel system. Besides using the pressure gauge to check the pressure inside the kiln, I also designed other efficient ways to test the pressure. After years of training,I can tell the intensity of the pressure inside the kiln by looking at the color
and length of the flame. I can also tell the temperature by looking at the color of the flame. The brightness of the kiln fire changes from dark red to bright red to even white radiance at much higher temperatures. In reductions,the color of the fire is fuzzy;but in oxidation the color of the fire is bright and clear. Besides testing kiln pressure,I also made improvements on kiln leaks,the chimney,and the chimney shaft. In1982,I built another 1 m3 electric kiln with an even more complete overall design. The temperature difference in the kiln could be controlled within 5 ° C when firing to 1300° C,which was really helpful in gaining precision over sensitive glazes. My studio ”Tienshin Kiln” was also built around this time,giving me a more quiet working environment.
Preparing different kinds of glaze recipes is a test of patience. Back then,I adopted the most scientific(but also the most tedious)method – the coordinate formulation – calculated the ingredient proportion of each glaze,and began my endless trials in glaze recipes. I even bought a calculator to speed up the cacculation process.These were rare and expensive at the time and cost me two months of salary at the Palace Museum. Since each batch recipe for test tile weighs very little,only 25 grams,I used a micro-scale when preparing glaze. The amount of the ingredients must be precise; not one centigram more and not ine centigram less. The amount of water that is used for milling the glaze should also be messured to keep the concentration as nature to me as breathing air. Ceramic art asks both liberation of expression and precision in operation. Yet the two seem to represent conflict since the lack of caution and precision can be quite dangerous in any step of the process. This is
what makes it so different from any other kind of art. I was once burned by the kiln
fire and I have been poisoned twice from inhaling too much carbonic gas. I was burned because I was standing too close to the gas burner when igniting the gas kiln.
My hair and eyebrows caught fire immediately. Luckily, we knew that zinc oxide
combined with fat was excellent for curing burns, so we grabbed some zinc oxide and
rushed to the kitchen where we mixed it with a little vegetable oil and applied it to
my face. However, my burned hair and eyebrows looked quite comical for a few days. The poisoning experiences were the result of staring at the kiln fire for too long while breathing in too much carbon monoxide. I had to stay in the hospital for a couple of months to regain my health.
In my journey of learning ceramics, I began by studying the whole Chinese ceramic history starting with Neolithic painted pottery, and then all the other traditional glaze firings. I mainly focused on Tang Tri-Color (A.D. 618-907), Celadons,Black Glazes, and Chuns during the Sung Dynasty (A.D. 960- 1279) and Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1271-1368), and Copper Reds and Underglaze Blue from the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644) and Ching Dynasty (A.D. 1644- 191 1). Finally, I extended my research to Zinc Crystalline glazes, a new type of glaze that was first discovered by the Europeans during the 19th century. It aroused my enthusiasm to go beyond the traditional. However, the process of advancing from the cultures of former times and building a style of my own was filled with hardship. Over the years, I have opened the kiln countless times, always full of hope. However, I have destroyed about 90% of the pieces after opening the door. At the same time, flawed work always offer me insights for improvement and, consequently, I started to say, "It's alright, the next one will be better."
Developing My Personal Aesthetics
Looking through the history of Chinese art, one obviously finds that the representative glaze of each dynasty has always gone beyond that of the prior dynasty, not only reaching a new summit of achievement but also reflecting a different aesthetic. Due to the complicated production process and the considerable size of the kiln, firing ceramics has always been a work of collaboration, passed from generation to generation. The emerging products therefore lacked individual traits. This is why,despite the prominence of Chinese ceramics , traditional potters were not able to show very much individualism in their work.
However, modern pottery has changed completely in this aspect. It has freed itself
from the artisan characteristics and become a new form of art. With the help of modern technology, tools, and materials, it can finally yield to the artist himself. Pottery thus approaches a pure art form. The imprints of the melted glaze left on the clay body during firing represent a new expression of art. That is to say the troublesome production process no longer constrains individual traits. Clay and glaze become the medium of modern art; through firing, the creator's aesthetic beliefs are revealed.Even though it is not as convenient a media as water color or oil painting, ceramics has its own particularities. It has both sculpture's solidity and painting's format. These distinctive characteristics are the reason why clay and glaze continue being an independent medium.
I am interested in ceramics because it presents the sort of beauty that other media
cannot, such as the coloring effect due to high temperature firing, the natural formation of the texture, the jade-like quality, and the subtlety in the variety of the tints of glaze colors. In the field of high temperature firing, I have experienced creating the most expressive paintings and detailed color variations by combining crystalline and non-crystalline glazes as my medium. Non-crystalline glazes cover a wide range and they can be used with crystalline glazes at the same time as long as the maturing temperatures, kiln atmosphere, and firing conditions are well coordinated. Crystalline glazes are the crystallization of metallic oxides on the glaze surface after firing. Of all glazes, they are also the only kind that have variations of crystals, enriching the depth of the glaze.
The primary beauty of crystalline glazes are the glittering crystals –full of radiance and grandness. This is also what I strived to show on wares produced during my  early years. However, after perfecting the skill, I did not want to continue practice the same style. Thus I started to apply glazes combining both crystalline and non-crystalline glazes layer by layer. I sought to explore the effects of the flow and dynamics of glazes which are expressed especially in the composition of dots and
lines. From vibrant to calm, from luxuriant to tranquil, my style changed along with my philosophical beliefs.Thus I started to make ceramic slab paintings in 1986. The technical aspects of making the ceramic slab - such as its size, evenness, and firing were an even greater challenge. Meanwhile, the most important turning point for
for myself was the visit to Frantisek Kupka's exhibition in the Paris Modern Art
Museum in 1990. From Realism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism,
and finally to Abstract Art, Kupka never stopped experimenting with new styles.
Moreover, he always changed to a different style when the prior had reached its peak. His life-long curiosity and exploration moved and inspired me. After returning from Paris, I started to express myself freely and in an impromptu manner by spraying, brushing, sprinkling, and pouring glazes. Crystalline glazes are a medium
that has strong possibilities as the vivid crystals grow and evolve continuously in the
kiln fire. This unpredictability breaks through the fettered traits of traditional ceramics and proves its capable connection to modernism. Even though the tools and techniques used for glaze paintings are different from water, ink, or oil paintings, the aesthetic elements are applicable to all. In addition, the individual's projection, composition of the painting, and search for poetry can all be expressed by using this kind of abstract art language.
My independent study of painting during my army years and the study of sculptures during my college years were the origins of my art skills. Starting from the most simple steps, such as the mechanical practice of artistry, or the direct application of ideas, to the aesthetic training of two and three dimensional space, all were applied to the manipulation of clay and glaze. From the years of ignorance to my sudden understanding of clay and glaze, I experienced the echo of nature's vitality in the burning of fire, glitter of crystals,and the unexpected variables. The ability to express a state of mind or the essence of nature are the results of steeling myself and conquering the obstacles of tools, materials, and techniques. In my philosophy, this
kind of art is just like the wisdom obtained atter experiencing the tribulations and
agonies of life. It is the highest form of liberation: emancipated nature.

Personal Chronology


Born in Hsuchou,China


Graduated from the Fine Arts Department,National Taiwan Academy of the Arts R.O.C.


Created the two bronze lions that guard the main entrance of the national Palace Museum,Taipei.


Participated in the international Ceramics Exhibition in Faenza,Italy.


Participated in the international Biennial Exhibition of ceramics in Vallauris,France.


Participated in the "Creating trom Tradition"exhibition at the Modern Gallery of the National Palace Museum,Taipei.
Solo exhibition at the Lung-Men Art Gallery,Taipei.


Solo exhibition at the National Museum of History,Taipei.
Honored with the R.O.C. National Culture Award.


Two pieces collected by the Victoria & Albert Museum,London.


Solo exhibition at the National Museum of History,Taipei.
Solo exhibition at the Galerie Jacques Barr_re,Paris.


Solo exhibition at the Maison des Arts et Loisirs de Sochaux,France and one piece collected by the City.
Solo exhibition at the Galerie Gabrielle Fliegans,Strasbourg,France.
Solo exhibition at the CCPD Culture Gallery, Taipei.


Solo exhibition at the Taipei Gallery, New York.
Two pieces collected by the Everson Museum of Art, New York.


Solo exhibition at the Ubersee Museum, Bremen, Germany and one piece collected.
Solo exhibition at Staatliche Museen Kassel, Germany and two pieces collected.


Solo exhibition at the National Museum of History, Taipei and one piece collected.
One piece collected by the British Museum, London.


Solo exhibition at Galerie De La Petrusse, Luxembourg.


Solo exhibition at G.Zen 50 Art Gallery, Kaohsiung.


Solo Exhibition at Lung-Men Art Gallery, Taipei.
Published "Born By Fire", Chinese version, by Artist Pub. Co., Taipei.


Solo exhibition at the Mayor’s Resident Art Salon in Taipei City
Invited to participate in touring exihibition “Asian Ceramic Delta : Korea,Taiwan,Japan” organized by Taipei Country Yingge Ceramics Museum and showing in Korea,Japan.


Invited to show”Milky Way” and other new works in the exhibition “Taiwanese Glamour in Modern Glaze” at Taipai County Yingge Ceramics Museum.


Receives the Achievement Award at the "6th Taipei Ceramics Awards" and display Country Yingge Ceramics Museum

3F Special Exhibition Rooms