x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 February 2018

Made by an eminent Chinese ceramic artist, this clay teapot will set you back a mere US$150,000.

The artist Qian Zhangfa with his ceramic teapot “Be Together” displayed at the China Art Exhibition at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Ravindranath K / The National
The artist Qian Zhangfa with his ceramic teapot “Be Together” displayed at the China Art Exhibition at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Ravindranath K / The National

Thrown and sculpted by the Chinese ceramic artist Qian Zhangfa, this clay teapot will set you back US$150,000. The artist’s work is popular internationally, has received two United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization awards and is collected by ceramic museums in China and beyond.

The teapot featured at the recent Chinese Intangible Cultural Art Expo in Abu Dhabi – the first time such pottery has been promoted here even though the Silk Road means there are many cultural crossovers between the countries.

It is made from purple sand clay, or zisha, that can only be found in one place on the planet – Yixing, China, 200 kilometres north-west of Shanghai.

Zisha clay usually comes in five natural colours of which purple is the rarest, containing no lead but a variety of minerals that are healthy for tea drinkers.

The shape and the design of the pot is far from traditional; the stand for the pot is made to look like rock but has been fashioned from clay.

The pot has not been glazed, which would usually mean it could not hold liquid but such is Zhangfa’s technique and the properties of the purple sand clay, it can be still used as a functional vessel, although at $150,000 it’s possibly not the greatest idea.

Teapots are eminently collectable; the Chinese love of tea and ceramic work – the passion for pottery gave its name to the country – has spurred a market since the 16th century.

The tradition of making purple sand clay teapots was established in the Ming Dynasty in mid-1500AD, at which time a fine pot was already worth its weight in gold as a result of its spiritual and artistic values.

The goal of the teapot artist is not merely to make a fine teapot, but to encourage the tea drinker with each sip to recall the intimate spiritual and physical relationship that one has with the natural world.

It takes Zhangfa a month to make each pot and it is not likely you will see one again as they are made by private commission with a visit to his studio as a pre requisite to sale.

Q&A: Qian Zhangfa

q US$150,000 for a tea pot? That’s a nice little urner.

a One of the best, in fact. The potter, Qian Zhangfa, is a provincial master of arts and crafts, a state-level senior artisan. He is also one of the original professional potters. Much like anything that is manufactured, the quality of the manufacturer is paramount, and when you are looking at top teapots you want to look for a Chinese manufacturer.

So it’s not unreasonable to pay $150,000 for a teapot?

The Chinese have a penchant for teapots. In June 2010, a 1948 purple clay Yixing zisha teapot by the master ceramicist Gu Jungzhou sold for nearly US$2 million at an auction in China, topping the list of the most expensive Yixing teapots in the world. Yixing teapots often interest buyers for their engagement with ancient Chinese literature, as poems and designs are engraved on them by calligraphers and artists.

So China is eponymously named?

The country or the porcelain? Either … The word China can be broken into two parts “Chi” and “Na.” The word “Chi” is actually from the word “Qin,” which is the first name that was given to China. During the third century, China was dividing into six countries. The king of Qin was the king that united all six nations. Qin pronounced in Chinese is “Chin. The word “Na” comes from the word “nation” in Persian. Persia was the country that sold and traded Chinese silks, spices, and porcelain to the rest of the world. When people asked the Persians where the goods came from, their reply was that the goods came from the “Nation of Qin”, or “Chin-na”. The name became the catch-all term for the porcelain manufactured by the nation.

ascott@thenational.ae