During the course of our three-month collaboration with Vancouver-based ceramicist, Wei Cheng, we visited her tucked-away studio in East Vancouver almost weekly. During these visits and numerous conversations, we learned more about her, her journey in ceramics, and her philosophy. We were also lucky to be able to witness her entire creative journey, from the initial concept, to testing on the wheel, the finalizing the shape and form.
Her path into this craft is fascinating, and her philosophical approach surrounding ceramics resonates deeply with us.
Born and raised in Shanghai, Wei moved to Vancouver in 2008 with the plan of completing an MBA degree. She attended Langara College to prepare for the MBA, where an elective in ceramics sparked a new interest and changed the course of her life.
She remembers vividly the first experience she had with clay and wheel throwing. She was mesmerized by it.
Wei: It was very challenging, because I had no prior experience or knowledge of clay, but it was so fun and rewarding. I felt challenged, yet fulfilled because I could see my own improvement as I put in more effort and time.
The freedom and possibilities through the ceramic medium inspired her.
Wei: I love that with ceramics, one is able to try endless things, and it’s about a balance between creativity and skill.
The teacher of that class was an inspiring figure to her and went on to become her mentor.
Wei: She (the teacher) really had so much respect for ceramics, and I learned what “craftsman” really meant. She did not allow us to use commercial clay, and instead asked us to mix our own clay, which taught us a lot of our fundamental knowledge.
With this newfound inspiration towards clay and ceramics, Wei decided to pursue an art degree at Emily Carr, with an emphasis on ceramics.
Wei: At Emily Carr, I took as many technical courses on ceramics as I could. I want to be able to express myself freely through ceramics and not be limited by the lack of any skillsets.
After she graduated from Emily Carr in 2014, ceramics became her full-time practice.
She was invited as the artist-in-residence at Alfred University in New York. In 2015 and 2016, she interned at the well-known The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, Yixing, and Dali. In 2019, she had the incredible opportunity to apprentice with legendary master potter Wang Xiaolong in Yixing, China, studying the intricacies of purple clay and the craftsmanship of purple clay teapots. Since then, her ceramic practice has taken her to firings locally, as well as in China, United States, and Europe. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Vancouver and internationally.
Presently, at her Vancouver studio, she is most interested in the firing process of wood-fired and soda-fired kilns—to her, it is philosophical.
Wei: Ceramics that are wood-fired are not perfect. Whatever we perceive to be imperfect actually becomes its personality and uniqueness. Just like people - we are not perfect, yet at the same time, these imperfections make each of us one of a kind. Same as wood fired ceramics - even for two cups that uses the same clay body, the same glaze, they will be different out of the kiln.
In wood and soda firing, our efforts only account for half of the result - the other half depends on something greater than us, the ‘cosmos’. Each piece represents a moment in time - where the fire was in the kiln, the direction it was travelling, the temperature of the fire, where the ash fell.
In the beginning, everything that came out of the kiln looked interesting and nice. As you try different clay and glazes, sometimes what comes out of the kiln is not what you had expected and there’s a feeling of disappointment and sadness. Once, an older ceramicist said to me after a wood firing: "Leave these here for 3 months, along with your expectations. When you come back, you will be able to look at them with fresh eyes and you will appreciate it." It is all about embracing whatever life brings you, while trying your best.
I realized that these philosophical concepts, which seem far away from us, from our daily life, are actually embodied through ceramics. I learned that philosophy is quite simple and closer to us and our life than we imagine.
It is this philosophical aspect of ceramics that really moves and inspires her.
All artists feel the desire to express themselves and to create. For Wei, she tries to find a balance between satisfying her desire for expression and refraining from mindless creating.
Wei: We have countless products and things in this world already in the age of consumerism. Ceramic objects last for centuries. They might break, but fragments of it still remains after thousands of years. We still have ceramic artifacts from centuries ago. As a ceramicist, I think about what I want to leave in this world? What enduring spirit and feelings do I wish to convey in my ceramics? I want to create unique objects that are quiet and honest, for the user to experience its beauty with each and repeated use that lasts a lifetime.