Repetition in art can be boring: the human eye seeks novelty, seeks a focal point, seeks stimulation. Perfect repetition implies something machine made, mechanical and soul-less.
But what about imperfect repetition – or rather, perfectly imperfect repetition? It is, afterall, what nature is: everything looks the same from afar, but come close and you see that every flower, rock, creature is unique. It’s what gives us hope as individuals: that certainty that beneath that uniform of hoodies and denim/suit and tie lies a one-of-a-kind being with singular value, a distinctive (and distinctively valuable) soul. It creates a feeling of spaciousness and infinity, of possibility and hope.
That’s the feeling I get when I look at the work of ReCheng Tsang: artist, ceramic sculptor, all-round creative. Her work ranges from conceptual multi-media sculptures to highly graphical, sculptural installations (some large and covering entire walls; some smaller) that incorporate repetition of shapes – all ceramic.
She often uses series of repeating white discs, petals, or frayed-looking strips that bring to mind summer linen as it flaps on a clothesline on a summer day. The elements are arranged on a wall in strong, contemporary geometric patterns. Each disk, petal or strip is different: raw, organic-looking, but exquisitely wrought. Maybe it's a slightly different shape. Or a kiss of color like blue, red or even gold along the bottom of one of those squared off petals.
As you look at the pieces, you realize that all this perfect imperfection takes a hell of a lot of work, a degree of meticulous obsession, concentration and focus that we don’t usually have in this crazy multi-tasking world of ours.
Despite the fact that her mother is a noted ceramist, and while she did dabble in art as a child, ReCheng never really thought she’d follow her mother into the art world. Instead, she studied sociology and Chinese Literature at UC Berkeley. It was as she was thinking about getting a PhD in Chinese literature that she realized that while she loved literature, she really didn't enjoy writing critical essays. What she really wanted to do was to work with her hands.
Her epiphany about ceramics came in Tokyo when her husband was transferred there. Looking for something to do, she decided to take pottery classes at a well-respected local studio. Soon, she was invited to apprentice with the studio master, sitting at the wheel all day long, from 10-7. She found she loved it. Returning to the US, she undertook a visual arts post-baccalaureate degree (with a focus in ceramics) at the University of Washington.
Inspirations come from patterns and textiles, and the literature she reads, much of which is Chinese. Artists who inspire her include Louise Bourgeois, Richard Tuttle, Lucie Rie, and Hannah Wilke, a ceramic sculptor.
She’s intrigued with the idea of taking things that are small and seeing how they can give presence to a particular space. She often works in variations of white, appreciating the subtleties that require a viewer's attention. She also finds that simplicity brings out the form better, and often varies the feel of the individual pieces by varying the glaze.
I’m obviously not the only one who finds beauty and resonance in ReCheng’s work. Her commissions grace numerous homes, restaurants (like San Francisco’s acclaimed Frances), and have appeared in shows like the Museum of Craft and Design’s New West Coast Design 2. She’s also represented at galleries such as Seagar Gray Gallery, Kaller Fine Arts in Washington DC, and Gallery Lulo in Healdsburg, California.
ReCheng’s work on exploring the perfection of imperfection is like life: simple, complex, profound and moving, and never the same one moment to the next.