- Victoria Comstock-Kershaw
FETCH FEATURES | WALLACE CHAN
"Love is key to my creations." says high-jeweller and porcelain pioneer Wallace Chan. "Love for people and all things in the universe." Chan's philosophy of adoration is more than a simple respect for the material: his works are purveyors of stories and heritage. His unique techniques, style and background have made him one of 2019's most fascinating figures: from his development of the techniques and recipes for sharp cups and porcelain five times stronger than steel (aptly named the Wallace Cut and Wallace Chan Porcelain) to his September exhibit at London's Asia House (SHAPESHIFTER: The Multiverse of Wallace Chan), FETCH takes a look back on what makes the man quite so remarkable.
Chan's journey to master jeweller reflects his Hong Kong origins: "I started as a caver, a sculptor and a painter." he says of the start of his decades-long career. "After Nixon’s visit to China in the 1970s, Chinese artefacts became hugely popular in the Western market. The industry of gemstone carving flourished. I got a job as a gemstone carving apprentice at a workshop. I worked there for nine months, with coral, jade and malachite. I set up a folding table and two chairs by the fire escape of the building I lived in, and there, I founded my own workshop."
Chan's work is a pure visual feast: swooping shapes, iridescent colour-schemes, glorious light-plays and enthralling figures show a true mastery of an oft overlooked aspect of the artistic canon. "If you look at my jewellery pieces, you will find that the technical parts are also there to serve artistic purposes. I try to combine functions and forms in all my creations so every part is both artistic and technical."
Nothing embodies this intermingling of technique and emotion better than Chan's work with porcelain. "My history with porcelain is very long," he explains. "The adults in the family used porcelain spoons. They looked so elegant and divine that they were almost untouchable in my eyes. But I longed to hold it and feel it." He recounts how his obsession started: "One day, my curiosity got the best of me, and I broke [it] at the dining table and got punished for it. I only thought to myself – if only the spoon didn’t break." Here, he reveals a fascinating intersection between his own emotional experiences and his deep appreciation for the cultural legacy of the material: "Porcelain represented all the things that were then out of my reach – comfort, warmth, love, freedom." he explains. "It was not until my cousin brought home a porcelain spoon—which happened to be from the Qianlong period, and he managed to sell it for a price many times higher than what he purchased it for—that I realised porcelain’s cultural and historical value."
There is purity and strength to his creations. The Garden of Dreams Brooch is an enchanting, impressive and entirely hand-crafted piece: a turquoise face of pure serenity blossoms into a curling white lily: "[The Garden of Dreams Brooch] captures how I feel when I am in the process of creation." he says of the jewellery. "The process of creation is a difficult process to put into words, and so I put it into a brooch." The artistic mastery combined with deep artistic truths can be also seen in his larger sculptures: Rise of Heart and Lotus Children are two such examples of this. Twisting and elegant shapes, vibrant colours and blossoming intricacies give life to the titanium and gemstones: the materials are transformed and brought to being by Chan's work to give a much deeper meaning. "The two flowers are like sisters, but with very different characters." he says. "Lotus Children is about being calm and pure, and Rise of Heart is passionate and spontaneous."
The lustre and spirit, both technical and artistic, of Chan's work is a glorious reflection of contemporary technology and ancient practice. "I wanted to make things I loved," he says. "I wanted to make jewellery that dances with you, creations that have a story and a soul... I want to leave a legacy,” he said. “Chinese jewellery has a history of 6,000 years, and I want to be part of it."
Image/interview credits: Wallace Chan, Something Curated, CPP Luxury, The Jewellery Editor