The Skillful Craftsmen in Lingnan · The Guardians of Ancient Buildings | The Artwork Carved on Gray Brick
When it comes to a small litchi, the little spikes densely covered on each litchi rind need to be carved pen by pen. As for a giant phoenix, the whole image of phoenix has been exquisitely displayed from brick splicing design to the carving of wing and feather…
Gray bricks and gray tiles are transformed into vivid brick carving works and endowed with vigorous vitality by virtue of artisans’ exquisite carving techniques. The ingenious artisan awakens those dull and clumsy gray bricks with their unique beauty despite the lack of brilliant colors. There’s a whole world hidden in such a brick and it’s an awesome craftsmanship.
Shawan of Guangzhou, a place where notable families and great clans in the then Guangzhou Prefecture used to live, has been rich and influential since the Ming and the Qing Dynasties. In the past, the carved decorations on the ancestral halls and residential buildings in the rich Shawan embodied the essence of crafts in Guangzhou Prefecture. He Shiliang, a brick carving master, was born here. Immersed in such an environment since childhood, he used to grind bricks and tiles into various shapes out of curiosity. When he was 15 years old, Liugeng Temple, a Cantonese ancestral temple, started its restoration project. He Shiliang, who was in junior school then, often climbed up the wall to watch masters carving bricks and wood or carrying out other restoration techniques.
Till now, He Shiliang still bears the words of Hu Zhi, his teacher, in mind, “Only by creating unique works, can an artist become a pure artisan rather than an inflexible worker.”
In 2016, He Shiliang won the title of “National Brick Carving Artisan” in the National Brick Carving Art Competition, and later evaluated as a Master of Traditional Architecture in Guangdong Province.
Gray bricks serve as the carrier of brick carving art. Material is of peculiar importance for artisans to carve such an elaborate pattern on a brick. Different from those natural materials like stone or timber, bricks are machined and various in their quality.
There is a saying on material selection for brick carving, “one would rather use an old brick than use a new one.” That is because “the internal heat still remains in new bricks from a kiln. Most of them are too hard to carve in and not soft enough for polishing. Therefore, artisans cannot realize the expected artistic effects on new bricks. On the contrary, the quality gray bricks weathered by long time can be carved into surprisingly natural works with rich and lasting appeal.” Mr. He explained in this way.
Carving works like a “dance” by carving knife on a gray brick. “As soon as I hold it in my hand and touch it with my skin, I can figure out what pattern this gray brick can be carved,” Mr. He said, “When I carve gray bricks, there is no person around me but a pile of bricks. Such a “no-ego” state is the best state for composition.”
He’s Art Museum is located next to Anning Square of Shawan Ancient Town. It was originally Renrang Public Office, a traditional building built in the Qing Dynasty. Shawan Ancient Town “revitalized” this traditional building and re-built it into He Shiliang Art Museum themed on brick and wood carving.
Compared with the rough and thick styles in the north brick carving, Lingnan brick carving is more delicate and exquisite. According to Mr. He, “Lingnan brick carving is as exquisite as paper-cuts, so it’s especially suitable for patterns of delicate plants, such as Lingnan litchi and kapok.”
When it comes back to the protection and inheritance of brick carving, Mr. He believes that the key to inherit and carry forward this craftsmanship is to adhere to the quality and promote the aesthetics concerning traditional craftsmanship. In 2001, Mr. He set up an art and craft studio to pass on his skills by teaching students. Today, the number of his apprentices has reach about 150.
In Mr. He’s opinion, “Lingnan brick carving is a both old and new craftsmanship. Therefore, it must develop towards the general public, form its industry and thus establish a benign competition atmosphere, so as to promote the creation of high-quality works and benefit all. This is not only a drive force out of social responsibility but also a challenge with both opportunities and difficulties.”
Source: Guangzhou Daily
Report planning: Qin Hui and Xiao Guilai
Author:He Zuanying、Xiao Guilai and Li Bo