Culture / Art

Interview with Chinese Master Sculptor Xu Xiaoyong the Celestial Blessings collection with Royal Selangor

Xu Xiaoyong brings ancient Chinese mythology to the world in his new collection that features sculptures of Chinese deities

Mar 06, 2017 | By Robbie Wilson

I sit down with sculptor Xu Xiaoyong at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, to discuss the launch of his Celestial Blessings collection for Royal Selangor. Originating from Jiangxi, China, Xu is renowned in China and his sculptures of Chinese deities are extremely popular works of art for the home. His latest collection consists of the Guan Yin Figurine, Guan Gong Figurine and Fu Lu Shou Figurine.

What arrtacted you to collaborate with Royal Selangor?

It is a corporation with 130 years of heritage in traditional craft; there is “pewter” in the blood of every member of the Royal Selangor family.

How did Chinese mythology and legend become such a crucial aspect in your work?

In ancient China, our forefathers liked to use metaphor or stories to express their opinions; I like it this way, too!

Where does your passion for celestial deities originate from?

From“truthfulness, kindness and beauty”. In other words, only by truly understanding what is meant by “truthfulness, kindness and beauty” can we rise above mortals and live with genuine freedom, the way the deities do.

How is working with Pewter different from materials that you’ve worked with in the past?

Raw materials are usually a key concern when it comes to the expression of traditional arts. Having said that, as a contemporary artist, I am looking at materials for their ability to express. Throughout my career, I have worked with different materials for different subject matters, the most being wood.

However, when I first came across pewter, I became fond of it because of the shade of its hues and the approachable tactile feel. Subdued? Peaceful? Understated elegance? It is rather hard to put into words. I would describe it as having “a shade of Zen”. If you lead a worry-free life, it will be reflected in your bearing. It is kind of expression of a person’s “shade” or “tone”, like “gold”; or, it is likened to someone with profound knowledge but stay “low profile”, like “silver”; or, it can be compared to someone “positive but never arrogant”, making him such a pleasure to be with, like “tin”. That’s what I meant by “a shade of Zen”.

Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) by Xu Xiaoyong

What makes this collection different from the traditional figures venerated and worshipped by the Chinese?

Deities are intrinsically the same; the differences lie in the image and artistic expression. Statues made by different artists will naturally be different. As a maker of statues of celestial beings and deities, I must first and foremost, work with a serious mindset and refer to literature and classics to understand the development of this tradition through the ages. This, coupled with other external influences and contemporary features, will enable us to create a work of art that is infused with life.

Did you have a particular type of customer demographic in mind when designing this collection based on Chinese mythology?

There is an old saying in China, “Gold will shine through” (if something is authentic, it will stand the test of time). Traditional Chinese culture is built upon the wisdom of sages from bygone eras, based on an understanding of peaceful and harmonious coexistence between Man and Nature. This wisdom is increasingly proved by scientists and advocated by the well-informed. This range is inspired by the written works; and yet, they are a form of expression different from that of words. They are created with joy and are a blessing for those who appreciate them.

Where do you find the inspiration for your art pieces?

The artist Rodin once said, “Artists should not depend on inspiration. Inspiration simply doesn’t exist! Art is feeling. If you know nothing about volume, proportion and colours, and if you don’t have a pair of agile hands, then the strongest feeling will be paralysed. What makes a great artist is nothing more than wisdom, concentration, sincerity and will power, and work in much the same way an honest worker does”. I fully agree with Master Rodin. Put in a lot more effort than others normally do, and the so-called “inspiration” will be there by your side, whichever way you turn to.

Fu Lu Shou (Three Star Deities) by Xu Xiaoyong

What did you enjoy the most from this collaboration?

Mutual respect. As an artist, I need a lot of room for creativity throughout the entire process. Meanwhile, as an established corporation with over a hundred years of history, Royal Selangor would normally have a lot of things they insist on and won’t give in to in order to achieve sustained development. In reality however, the room for creativity the company has allowed me not only speaks of their youthfulness, but also freedom.

Can we expect more pieces in the future from your collaboration with Royal Selangor?

Who knows, in a world of constant change, nothing is certain. However, I treasure the present, every moment of it. Perhaps, you too will one day discover that each present moment holds many interesting stories.

What do you like to do in your free time?

All sorts of things. Come what may, this would be the best of arrangements; each encounter will be a kind of revelation. Instead of differentiating the “likes” from the “dislikes”, accept the things that come your way with joy, and learn without personal preference or resentment.

For more information, visit Royal Selangor.

This interview was first published under the Design in Palace 18.