The Memphis style of the 1980s, instantly recognisable with their geometric shapes, bright hues of primary and pastel colours, and repetitive patterns, never fails to light up one’s mood. Its bold and humorous aura stands out against the minimalist and modernist objects and spaces of today. The revival of this unique and fun style in the 21st century was, thus, long drawn and inevitable. While its resurgence is mainly visible in graphic design and illustrative creations, Taiwanese graphic designer turned ceramic artist Hsian-Jung Chen, who earnestly admires Memphis design, picked up this style and coloured his latest light sculpture in tints and hues of blue, green, yellow, orange and black. His sculptural art pieces are unostentatious and light, but also attractive and charming.
Chen’s pieces are simplified forms of everyday things like trees, plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables, cars, candelabras, pretzels and toys. Shaped using clay, these physical objects sometimes appear like playthings and at other times like quirky decorations that can sit as props in one’s personal space. Chen, who lives in Taipei, first sketches and measures these shapes and forms on a piece of paper, then transfers them onto clay and later, assembles them to form cohesive sculpture art pieces, all by hand. The sculpture artist’s colourful creations, characterised by vivid colours and playfully juxtaposed circles, cylinders, and rectangles, infuse joy in their surroundings.
The Taiwanese artist first came across ceramics nine years ago. Since then, he has regularly experimented with the material to create utilitarian and decorative objects in his consistently evolving style. While his earlier pieces were characterised by a more traditional ceramic appearance, his recent creations are experimental, both in form and function, as well as in appearance. In one of his pieces, namely ‘Your Empire is Empty’, Chen built micro broken spaces using ceramics and welcomed another artist Son Li to deconstruct the space with her single line drawings. Before embarking on his latest creation, he came up with the ‘Coconut’ collection, the ‘Ice and Juice Bar’ collection, ‘Food Pose’, ‘Gold & Green’ and ‘Edible’. All these ceramic creations were inspired by food items and nature.
Holding onto this source of inspiration, Chen began to experiment with new colours, forms and sizes to interpret these everyday objects in a new manner with each new collection. He describes his process as one similar to designing clothes or creating graphic art. The visual dislocation that he faces during the initial phase of the project helps him in creating experiences with his designs. Chen’s intention for his Memphis lamps, much like his earlier creations, was not the fulfilment of function. Rather, he wanted to create sculptural pieces that could sit comfortably both as lit up luminaires and as sculptures. The added warm luminescence in the lamps, thus, acts as an additional layer that one can enjoy.
Chen, who uses his hands to fashion these ceramic pieces, believes that clay is a very approachable medium of expression. It can easily be used to assert one’s ideas and emotions. Perfect or imperfect, the final ceramic pieces always manage to communicate interesting images. He plans to further experiment with the material in his future pieces by combining clay with plastic, wood and metal.