Whether the outcome of deliberate choice or intuition, most of us have an affinity towards certain objects, materials, surfaces, design aesthetics and colours. Oftentimes, we talk about these decisions in terms of personal taste, and how we choose to fill our homes can be a mirror that reflects who we really are.
In How to Live with Objects: A Guide to More Meaningful Interiors, authors Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer sum it up eloquently as thus:
These objects are the story you tell to the world about your personality and your obsessions, your experiences and your memories, your desires and your intentions.
This beautiful, weighty tome by the editors of online magazine Sight Unseen offers a practical and visual journey that champions the philosophy of living with objects that bring joy. The items we choose to occupy this most intimate of spaces are what give our home its very soul. But what of Chinese art and antiquities? Pieces that hold storied histories of their own and invite marvel at their creation. How do we curate these objects so that not only does the setting elevate the object, but the object in turn accentuates the space it inhabits? Following some golden rules used by interior designers might offer some valuable insights.
Taking selected pieces from Monochrome (25 May - 1 June), we visited the studio of Hong Kong-based art and design powerhouse duo Julie & Jesse to explore how creatively adopting monochrome and analogous schemes to contrast colours, textures and shapes and following the 60-30-10 ratio – comprising of one dominant colour (“60”) with a support colour (“30”) and an accent (“10”) – can bring visual appeal, balance and harmony to a space or, in our case, a photographic composition.
Not all whites are the same, as demonstrated in the image on the right where the beauty of a delicately carved Dingyao white-glazed ‘lotus’ ewer from the Northern Song dynasty is accentuated by various plaster moulds and ceramic casts. When we talk about the colour white, we are really talking about the absence of any colour (or in the case of light, the absorption of all colours). For those who favour a neutral palette, white can be extremely interesting with a wide spectrum ranging from warm tints to cool shades, from sandy hues and creamy whites to beige and bone colours. Add in variations in surface, material and texture for an even more nuanced look.
Just as not all whites are the same, here on the left-hand image we see that not all celadons are identical. In the world of colours we might describe it as a willow-green, or a soft grey-green. The gentle hue of celadon is a perfect complement to neutral shades of white and grey. The colour effects a soothing sense of peaceful harmony. In ceramics, celadon refers to celadon glaze which originated in China and was highly regarded for centuries by the imperial court, with the technique later spreading throughout the wider Asia region. If a picture really can tell a thousand words, then this composition of a Longquan Song-Yuan dynasty ‘bamboo-neck’ bottle vase next to a Longquan early-Ming dynasty celadon waterpot and a Longquan celadon ‘lotus’ cup and cover from the Song dynasty narrates a metaphorical journey from mould to final touch, representing the entire process of pottery-making and the richness of Chinese ceramic history.
While tones of the same hue create a monochromatic palette, an analogous colour scheme involves a harmony of three adjacent hues on the colour wheel. For example, yellow and red sit on either side of orange, making these three an analogous combination of primary and secondary colours. Throw in a tertiary layer alongside the countless tonal variations of each and the formula becomes much more complex and nuanced but a visually appealing harmony remains. In this image on the left, the archaic wine vessel from the Eastern Zhou dynasty, Warring States period makes an unexpected pairing with the Daoguang flambé-glazed 'pomegranate' lobed vase. Not only are the material surfaces of copper-inlaid bronze a jarring juxtaposition next to the glistening flambe-glazed ceramic, the oxidised green off-tone provides a striking contrast to the pomegranate red which highlights the voluptuous curves of both pieces.
A prime example of an analogous colour scheme can be found in sancai pottery, seen in the present photograph on the right. Sancai, meaning “three-coloured”, is a type of low-temperature glazed pottery associated with the Tang dynasty. Using glazes or slips, sancai pottery predominantly uses the colours amber, green, and a cream white. In this pairing, the amber glaze of the marbled tripod jar draws out the similar warm orange-brown-red tones of the sancai cup and the rare small sancai ‘floral’ pillow. If we consider the 60-30-10 rule, one may say the amber is the dominant colour, cream white is the support and the green of the pillow is most heavily accented. In this way the pillow becomes a predominant focal point.
Contrasting material textures and surfaces result in beautiful combinations that can create a luxurious mood and adorn a space with accents (think the 10 of the 60-30-10 rule). Here on the left image, the subtle yellow jade of this intricately carved Qing dynasty ‘carp and dragon’ double vase is complemented by a delicate and rare Tang Dynasty gold stem cup. The rich gold tones of the cup draw out the warm yellow undertones of the jade, highlighting the striking forms and details of both objects.
Similarly, in this present image, an imperial ruby-red Yongzheng glass jarlet and imperial ruby-red Qianlong archaistic 'chilong' glass cup are set against a glossy ceramic sculpture with undulating forms reminiscent of a mountain landscape. The translucency of the glass contrasts with the glossiness of the ceramic glaze, while the neutrality of the warm cream prompts the red colour of the glass to pop as an unforgettable point of interest.
Living with Chinese art and antiquities need not be about grandeur, but the images below demonstrate the ways we can curate Chinese art and antiquities within the modern home while spotlighting the beauty and exquisite craftsmanship of these incredible objects.