Art has been in our lives since an early age.
I, Cristina Vezzini, come from a small village in Northern Italy where terra cotta is very popular, and art is everywhere. My love for art and culture began early and was initially cultivated thanks to my parents. Since I was little, they would take me to visit museums, cultural sites, and cities around Italy. I still remember visiting the beautiful Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Tuscany a few years before it was shattered by a powerful earthquake. I attended a fine art secondary school, studying both paintings and sculptures, a bit of architecture, and hours and hours of art history. It was overwhelming at the time, but now I am so glad to have studied it. It was during these formative years that I deeply fell in love with ceramics.
Stan, Sheng Tsang Chen, comes from Daja in Taiwan, where his relationship with art was very different, to begin with. He began studying art solely from books. His father is an enthusiastic photographer, and his mum loves discovering new food and cultures; together, they traveled the globe, bringing home souvenirs from all over the world. He began visiting exhibitions and museums during high school and started cultivating his fascination for the Western world. His first encounter with the medium of glass was at college in Taichung, which led to a work opportunity at the Tito museum of glass in Taipei. Thanks to his parents' open-mindedness and support, Stan was able to travel abroad to study glass in the UK, and this was where his journey in close contact with his craft began.
Moving to the UK helped us reflect on our cultures and realize how it affects our practice and our way of seeing things. The highly textured, decorated ceramic form draws from the Italian classical style. The pure glass partly-textured form is a take on Chinese ink paintings. There is a fine balance between the textured part and the non-textured part. Stan believes that the empty space is just as important like in Chinese ink paintings. Working together has definitely changed how we view each other's cultures, and inevitably it has influenced our art.
Where does the motivation to create art come from?
The motivation to create art comes from our love for the materials – glass and ceramics, the process, the feeling of creating something with your hands, and the amazing feeling of embellishing the spaces we live in. The process of developing a project involves a continuous dialogue between the materials and ourselves, as well as a balance between the simplicity in the glasswork – Stan's glass work and his aesthetic – with the highly decorative line in my ceramic and aesthetic.
The shapes we develop are led by the materials themselves. When making a glass piece, we allow gravitation and air to guide us. When blowing glass, gravity pulls the work and helps form the shape. In the making, each piece grows and evolves in its unique way. Similarly, in ceramics, we use and exalt the quality of porcelain, its purity, malleability, and translucent quality. Once the shapes have been finalized, we work on the texture. Carving is one of our favorite parts of the process. A form completely smooth and without texture feels naked to us; hand carving allows us to dress it up.
It always surprises us when we put ceramic and glass together. The conversation between the two materials never stops. We often find interesting new reflections from the ceramic on the glass or intriguing distortions by looking through the glass itself. Moreover, our work comes alive when we add light – everything starts to sing. Light adds another dimension to the work creating new forms, textures, and reflections – unique each time.
Our inspiration comes mainly from nature and the amazing energy contained within. When we travel to a different country, we are fascinated by the different species of plants and seeds we can find. I have been collecting seeds and pine cones for over 15years. This collection never stops to inspire us. Namely, the different forms they have on the outside and their intricate textures on the inside. The idea of growth and its connection to seeds and light is what most of our work is about. A seed is a symbol of life and growth – most seeds need light to grow. A bit like our work needs light to come "alive." Light is an important element in our work. With light, we try to create an atmosphere in the space – this atmosphere is also inspired by our underwater experience. When diving, the light filtering through the water gives a sense of calmness, peacefulness, and relaxation. We use ceramics and glass to filter the light and recreate this atmosphere. We hope to create objects of desire that people love to live with.
How has your take on art evolved over time?
Our relation with art has evolved greatly over time. Our works' first big evolution happened during our MA studies at the Royal College of Art in London. Before the MA, my work was purely sculptural and very colorful, as were Stan's work. He used layers upon layers of color and was fascinated by their relationships.
At the start of my MA studies, I began using both ceramic and glass to create sculptural lighting. My passion for light goes back to when I was living in Italy. Light has a strong link to art and design, which are both strong parts of my culture. I remember going to church and looking at the lights filtering through the stained glass window as well as being intrigued by chiaroscuro in Caravaggio's painting. On the design side, my yearly visits to Milan Design Week taught me a lot in this regard. During the last year of my studies, the design started to prevail in its sculptural form, and my work took a different direction. Stan began working with me, and we both took great interest in craft and design.
Soon after finishing our studies, we set up Vezzini & Chen studio in 2012. The first show we did together was a trade show. Initially, we were making more decorative objects. We would make small objects like bowls or candle holders; the concepts of light and texture visible even then. We would create these small objects to sell them and earn a living, but also to explore different textures and new ideas.
We continued in trade shows until we realized this wasn't where we wanted to be and what we were about. As our works continued to grow, we as people and artists did too. Our passion and understanding of the materials and our craft improved, and our path became clearer. It was in 2018 when our true style really found harmony together. Before then, we tried to strictly combine the materials – creating a ceramics shape and then making a glass shape that fits it. But now, there is a dialogue – the materials are starting to talk more to each other. We came to understand where we see our work and our practice going. We concentrated on creating handmade, one-off lighting – on the verge of art and design if that division still exists. Our attention to detail and refinement increased, our work improved, and it began to be recognized by the art &design world.
Let's talk about this marriage of medium. What does it represent?
Glass and ceramics represent who we are, our culture, and our interests. Both materials have a strong heritage within our culture and are part of our history. We often joke about the fact that Stan, Taiwanese, is the glassblower of the duo and I, Italian, am the ceramicist, but we both have a profound fascination for each material. Glass has a long history in Italian culture, and ceramic has a strong link to both Chinese and Italian cultures. We have both been connected to the materials from a young age.
I come from a small village in Northern Italy where ceramics, particularly terra cotta, are used to make bricks and low relief wall pieces. Also, Murano, the Italian Glass town that I frequented during the summer months is only 2 hours from my village. On the other hand, Stan's father collects ceramic teapots, and he often took Stan to visit different ceramic studios around the country, always searching for the "best" teapot.
Glass and ceramics also have a direct connection to our source of inspiration: nature and the sea. Ceramic and glass are natural materials and require natural elements such as water and fire to be shaped and formed. Ceramic as earth and glass as water, they are both elements in our everyday lives. The marriage of the materials is also our link to the past. The first ceramic work dates back to at least 24,000 B.C. while the first glass piece dates back to 3600 B.C., timestamps of ancient materials. Using these ancient materials to create contemporary works makes us feel connected to our crafts' history.
Needless to say, these are the materials we deeply love. Their malleable, translucent, pure, and transparent qualities give us the ability to express our art and allow us to convey the feelings we want to express within our works.
How do you guys plan to grow the brand?
We have begun working with international galleries like Ting Ying (HK & London), Adrian Sassoon (UK), and Rossana Orlandi (Italy). We have taken part in cross collaborations – alongside established interior design practices in the UK, US, and UAE and a car company Aston Martin, where we decorated the wall with our Penta concrete tile design, produced for us by KAZA, a concrete tile company in Hungary. Last year we launched our first only ceramic collection for Heal's 1810 store in London and completed a large number of private and commissions.
We are humbled to know that our work has been recognized by international magazines: the New York Times, Financial Times, Vogue, Wallpaper, ELLE Decoration, and Living, etc. We can't wait to see what the future reserves for us, but the only thing we know is that we will always try to improve our work and give the best of who we are.
We aim to set up a bigger studio with a glass, ceramic, and metal workshop that would enable us to create larger scaled projects. We would like to form a team of skilled people working with us to create unique bespoke work, private and public projects. We plan to constantly improve our work, learn new skills, and develop our practice. We plan to strengthen the relationship we have with galleries who represent our work to show our work at high-end markets and reach clients around the world. We also aim to work closely with interior designers to create bespoke commissions for clients. We would also love to have some unlimited budget projects that allow us to be absolutely free to create.
We would like to have the opportunity to travel around the world, take inspiration from different countries, and investigate how our craft is viewed in those countries. Ultimately, we would like to reach the point where we can start giving back to our industry, taking on apprentices and internships to share our knowledge and experience in the field.