ReCheng Tsang

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I am originally from Taiwan. My family emigrated to the states when I was nine. After living in Tokyo and Seattle for several years, my husband and I returned to Berkeley and it is where I reside and where I call home.
What necessities do you require when making your art?
Stillness, quiet, and natural light. Laguna’s Frost porcelain clay, cookie cutters, a rolling pin, and felt.
Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
I work in cycles, so I don’t really have a typical day. My typical cycle is lots of drawing, sketching, lots of glaze, and material tests, then when I finally sit down to create the piece, I am a bit manic and work pretty intensely for several long weeks. However, my day is broken up in chunks - getting to the studio mid morning, lunch break with my husband if he’s working from home that day, then another few hours of work before the kids finish school. I tend to work on one large piece at a time. With smaller pieces, I move between them. I protect and value my studio time and space because I have to always balance between work and family.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
When I start a new piece or incorporating a new material for the first time. It is the most difficult but also the most thrilling.
Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?
I sketch, draw and take notes before starting a new piece. So by the time I actually start the piece, the idea and the vision of the finished piece are already pretty developed. However, the process of creating each individual porcelain piece is organic. So in the end, each porcelain disc or strip is a bit different. Each piece bears the marks of my hand. As a result, the assembling of the piece also happens organically, even though I am assembling the pieces within a prescribed perimeter, usually a rectilinear or circular space.

While I have pretty good control over the glazing and firing process, it’s always exciting and a bit nerve-wracking to open the kiln lid. Unintended results sometimes are more thrilling than the intended ones.

In my most recent series, I began incorporating hand dyeing of the industrial felt and applying and painting acrylic and ink washes onto porcelain. The meeting of the wash with the porcelain and felt produce unexpected depth, gradation, and patterns.

How do different perimeters (rectilinear, circular, or other) inform the final conception of the work?
It’s a dialogue and interaction between the porcelain pieces and the perimeters.
How do you choose your materials?
My materials have been fairly consistent in the last five years - porcelain, sometimes stoneware, stainless steel pins, and industrial wool felt as substrate. I like the thinness you can get with porcelain, and I found a fantastic white clay body that works well with colorants and glazes. Felt counter-balances the hardness of the porcelain, yet it complements the sensual, atmospheric feel of the work. I am obsessed with gold and it frequently appears in my work. I work with a gold lustre to get the right hue.
Do you see gold (or other colors you incorporate) having a symbolic function in your works?
Colors always evoke certain emotions and memories for me and for the viewer. It symbolizes a particular mood, a fleeting moment in the natural world, a particular day, a past experience. I am very attached to gold - perhaps because it figures prominently in my cultural background - it’s part of who I am - although I do not use gold to convey any particular Chineseness or Chinese symbolism. When I put gold in a piece, it’s saying that this is my creation - it’s my stamp.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Earliest iteration of my current practice were pieces affixed directly onto the wall, all unglazed or lightly glazed. They were also monochromatic. My work has continued to be monochromatic, but I have introduced felt and stainless steel pins. They have remained on the wall. I am interested in getting my work off the wall and work within a less rectilinear boundary, and also incorporating more vibrant colors.
"I am very attached to gold - perhaps because it figures prominently in my cultural background - it’s part of who I am - although I do not use gold to convey any particular Chineseness or Chinese symbolism. When I put gold in a piece, it’s saying that this is my creation - it’s my stamp." — ReCheng Tsang
When you say off the wall, do you picture your works as venturing more into a 3D space, hanging, or free standing?
Yes, definitely.
Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?
That I actually like thick, buttery, fat candy-colored hues like bubble gum pinks, peppermints, and shocking blues.
Are you formally trained? Did you go to art school? Who trained you? Did you have a mentor?
I guess I can say I am formally trained, first as a painting major for a couple years, then by two potters in Japan. I worked as an apprentice for one year each. The curriculum was quite rigid and I spent 6 months just centering the clay on the wheel. As a result though, my throwing and handbuilding skills are quite good. I then abandoned my graduate studies and enrolled in the post-baccalaureate visual arts program with a focus on ceramics at the University of Washington. At the time, I did not realize that the ceramics program at UW was one of the best in the country. I just wanted to continue to work with clay and I was conveniently living in Seattle. I was fortunate enough to study with Akio Takamori and Jamie Walker, both of whom offered me tremendous encouragement to pursue this path.
Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now? Have you ever collaborated, or would you? How solitary is your art-making process?
My art critique group is of utmost importance to me. We have been meeting continuously on a monthly basis for many years now. The dedication and the constant engagement with their work keep me motivated and working. Art-making has been a solitary practice for me. My art practice will continue to be so but I am also exploring collaborative design opportunities with an architect friend. I am also very interested in collaborating with textile artists and designers.
What are some themes you find recurring in your pieces, intentional or not?, or: What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
Monochrome, gradation, tension between order and chaos, fragility and permanence, beauty and vulgarity, white and gold, repetition and subtle variations.
Have you always worked with ceramic?
I actually started out as a painter and came to ceramics only after college and had moved to Japan and was looking for a new creative outlet. However, I grew up with clay - my mom also works in ceramics. The work I show publicly has always been in clay but I do sketch and draw. These sometimes inform my work and sometime they exist independent but inter-related to my ceramics practice.
You have a particularly unique process for creating your artwork. What led you to this process and how did you know it was the right one to pursue?
I began my current practice about 5 years ago at a time when I had very little studio time due to my family circumstance: I had two young children and my husband was working and going to law school at the same time. The bulk of child-caring and housekeeping all fell to me. I used to work fairly large scale, handbuilding large vessels that took many hours and weeks of continuous work. I no longer had the time, energy, nor the desire to consistently work at that scale. The advice that kept me from quitting altogether was from a writer friend who also had small children and a busy schedule: just go into the studio and work with the time you have - five minutes here, 30 minutes there. So that’s what I did. I started to work with smaller chunks of clay, rolling them out, cutting, pinching, folding, and stretching. Almost immediately, that way of working felt natural to me. I began making simple forms - hundreds of them - discs, rectangles, cubes, etc. Some time later, I realized that much of what I was doing, the physical motion, the forms, the repetition, and the mostly non-glazed white surface resembled the northern Chinese way of making dumplings and other floured goods that I was surrounded by in my childhood home kitchen. I continue to work this way today, exploring form and composition, and recently, color.
Do you see your works as unique or as part of a series?
I tend to work on two sometimes three series at the same time. Currently, I am working with ovals and strips. They represent different parts of me - one that requires order and repetition, and the other, the desire to be impulsive, a little unpredictable. I think we all have these contradictory sides and these tendencies happen to manifest themselves in my work, separately but concurrently.
Your works are especially fragile and you’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that you need to assemble them on site if you’re working on a larger scale - does this lack of control feel liberating, or is it a challenge you find yourself constantly facing?
It’s a little bit of both. When I assemble the work on site, I have the liberty of not committing to a particular composition until the last possible moment. My hand and instinct that day will dictate how the work will resolve itself. On the one hand, it’s a bit scary. I get anxious and question whether the piece will come together at all. As you can imagine, on a practical level, there are many uncontrollable elements.
How do your surroundings direct your approach to your work?
My studio is on the 3rd story of our house. I have great natural light and an unobstructed view of the sky and the hills. I think if I were in a downstairs space without any natural light, my work would feel less expansive and ethereal. Perhaps it would feel claustrophobic and contained.

I am also drawn to the desert and seaside landscapes. Both are monotonous yet ever-changing at the same time. The subtleties and shifts in color that happen throughout the day, the jaggedness of the rocks and the constant motion of the ocean water all are echoed in my work. We spent this past year living right next to the Mediterranean sea. I never tired of going to the beach every day, at various times throughout the day, no matter the weather. The sky and the water were the most vibrant of colors, and during stormy weather, the darkest greys and blues. We also spend quite a bit of time travelling to different desert landscapes, from flat white sands, to red rocky hills and shimmering green canyons. As a result of this experience, I have been exploring color and working with washes in my new series of work.

"Some time later, I realized that much of what I was doing, the physical motion, the forms, the repetition, and the mostly non-glazed white surface resembled the northern Chinese way of making dumplings and other floured goods that I was surrounded by in my childhood home kitchen." — ReCheng Tsang
What tangible objects or intangible moments are you most interested in representing through your works?
I try to capture a particular mood that I experienced at a particular moment in a day.
What’s next for you?
I am exploring color, using more vibrant and saturated colors than I am usually comfortable with. I also look forward to learning to weave and discussing collaborative projects with my design and architecture friends.

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