After living in Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China, for 14 years, Dianna Williams, an Australian artist, ended her long art journey and left for Melbourne on Monday night.
"If I had not come to Jingdezhen, I would still be a painter who paints on fired white porcelain day after day," said the 60-year-old artist who has left a personal imprint in the small city in eastern China's Jiangxi Province.
Before departure, she used an anti-war-themed sculpture exhibition to pay tribute to her second hometown. About 200,000 people visited the exhibition in the Jingdezhen China Ceramic Museum.
Yu Xiaoping, a professor with the Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, still remembered the first day he met Williams when she came for an exhibition marking the millennium anniversary of Jingdezhen in 2004.
Knowing she was alone, Yu accommodated Williams at a campus apartment where she began to get in touch with ceramic insiders. Liu Yuanchang, a ceramic sculpture master, appreciated her painting and offered her a free workshop.
With Liu's guidance and her hard work in learning and practice, Williams has grown to be a ceramic artist who is familiar with various clay materials, production procedures, sculpture techniques and firing skills.
"I never touched clay before," said Williams, adding that she wanted to expand her knowledge and experience, not just painting, copying and doing the same things over and over.
Jingdezhen is synonymous with ceramics in China. The city boasts a long history of pottery production with some 100,000 people engaged in the industry. More than 1,000 years ago in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), emperor Zhenzong named the area by the title of his reign, Jingde, as recognition for its ceramics. The products were exported to many parts of the world.
Williams was thrilled by the full industry chain and craftsmanship in Jingdezhen. Every year, she would stay in the city for five to eight months. In 2008, she bought an apartment there, becoming the first foreigner to own real estate property in the city.
"Australia is a very young country. It doesn't have the same respect for porcelain and ceramics as Jingdezhen," she said. "I can not achieve this same work in my country because it's too expensive and I can not afford three, four or five people helping me do things."
"I would never have the chance to exhibit in museums if it was not for me working in Jingdezhen with the team of people who help me achieve my dream," she added.
Williams is fond of Chinese traditional culture. In the past 14 years, she turned the focus of her work from two-dimensional paintings to three-dimensional sculptures, blending Western and Chinese culture and techniques.
"China has so many symbols that I can use in my works. I use bamboo, dragons and the Phoenix. I use everything I can from the Chinese culture because this helps me express peace," she said.
At the High Fired Motherhood exhibition that started on May 18, Williams used the juxtaposition of an expectant mother with a weapon of destruction to explore the connections between creation and destruction.
"Williams' works are of high artistic and human value, much different from other domestic artists who care only about economic value," said Zhao Gang, curator of the Jingdezhen China Ceramic Museum.
"These years have been very difficult financially, emotionally and physically, especially the last few years. I have spent all the money I had ever earned on my artwork," she said.
Her motivation to create porcelain works originated from her family. In 2005, her son joined the Navy, following his father's footsteps, which worried and tortured her deeply.
"He has learned how to kill and to shoot guns. So, I make the 'paodan' (shells) here, and this started my journey of making artwork that speaks about war, peace and how mothers feel about the war," she said.
The 42 works, including pregnant women leaning against a gigantic bomb with a baby crawling on it and symbols of peace-like lotus, have been kept in a showroom at a local ceramics company after the exhibition ended in late September. She expects to exhibit her works in other Chinese cities in the following years.
Due to unique artistic values, Williams' works have been displayed at museums and galleries in the United States, Australia, Switzerland, the Republic of Korea and Lebanon. She is currently working on a book that recounts her 14 years in the city. "Sometimes when I go home, I feel very tired and down because I work alone and don't have people to talk to. I said to my husband that I thought it would be my last year. He keeps saying 'No, you love this, you should go back; you should finish it,'" she said.
To take care of her aging parents and young grandchildren, Williams chose to end her long journey in Jingdezhen. On Friday, she hugged her friends farewell and thanked them for their kindness, friendliness, generosity and sharing over the past 14 years.
"I will take my grandchildren to visit our Chinese relatives," she said.
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