Wallace Chan, Is This the Most Amazing Jewelry Artist in the World?
An interview with the Chinese philosophical master jeweler, who premiered on TEFAF 2016.
It’s a stunning sunny and very chilly day, 16th of March, when I take the car to head down south in the Netherlands. The European Fine Art Fair or TEFAF, is my destination and I am especially thrilled to meet one of my personal jewelry heroes, the amazing Wallace Chan.
I never had seen a piece of Wallace Chan in real life, but I knew many of them as I came across them in my reading and research, that I do daily. I often used it within the blogs, knowing it is out of reach for most people, including myself, yet I love the idea of allowing people to really look at jewelry, to open their minds and hearts and world to all the beauty that has been created. When I arrived at the booth, Cherry and Wallace were waiting for me and welcomed me kindly. I looked around whilst Cherry explained the story behind every of the 20 or so pieces that were exposed, starting with the statue that was just in time finished for TEFAF. The pieces and the interview were so interesting, I decided to create a diptych to give the pieces and Wallace Chan himself all the space that they deserve.
You are an artist, but how do you keep yourself so pure, so open when it comes to inspiration and creating?
Well, when we come to the world we don’t bring anything and when we leave we can’t take anything. In fact, when we leave, we just leave a piece of dust behind. We are not so great ourselves, so I try to communicate through materials. Our existence exists in two forms, one is physical and the other spiritual and when I create, I feel it as an interaction between these two forms. Most of the time we perceive our world as a flat world, what we see is what is there. The 3D world that interacts, like the drop of water that creates a ripple effect on the water. But when you think about light and sound, these create a much broader image of the world around us, a more unknown world. I try to create with that in mind. We think to see the world as the true reality, but it’s like we stand in front of a distorted mirror. That’s how we perceive the world, but ...perhaps the materials are looking at us too, through a distorted mirror and see us not in our true form. Wallace takes a moment and then continues: I try to forget about myself when I create, forget my own existence. You cannot be biased when you create, or else you won’t experience the freedom of creating.
We are surrounded by amazing jewelry and art, with lots of very precious gemstones. These are very expensive to start with. A young artist won’t have the capital to immediately use stones like these. When were you able to access to the materials you use today?
Wallace grins when he starts to tell a story about his childhood: everything started when I was a child, a very curious child, who loved to explore everything. One day I looked at the plug and thought: why can’t I get my finger in it? I tried and tried and finally found one of my mother’s knitting needles. I stuck it in and..tzzzzzzzzzzzzz….hahahahaha. Wallace is laughing out loud, telling this story and looking at his eyes, through my own tears of laughter, I saw the twinkling as he relived the memory. The radio was another challenge. See, I was convinced that there was someone really small, living in it. That was what made the noise, of course. It became my mission, obviously, to get it out. At 16 I started carving stones. Malachite and lapis were my first stones and they, these stones, became my teachers. But the tools too became my teacher.
"A piano makes a sound, but where does it come from? The strings? The back of the piano? The keys? The structure? Or from the mind or heart of the pianist?"
The reason I started to work with precious stones, hard to tell when exactly, was because of their transparency. My first stones were crystal, citrine and amethyst. I had two amethysts and I worked and worked on them, until I was satisfied. Then I started saving money to buy a topaz and learned to work with topaz. So this is how it went on and on, with every single stone!
There is a difference between looking and seeing. How do you teach yourself to really observe, really see?
It all starts with light. You must first know about light. Mind you, even when you start to know about light, it can fool you. Limitless practice on cutting gemstones helps, but there is more. Inside a gemstone the color has a different distribution of light and color. So one needs to learn about that too. Then there is the use of tools. Which tools with what stone. Too hard and it’ll break the stone, use the wrong tool and you’ll damage it forever. This is why I cut by hand and never by machine. I listen when I work, I listen and pay attention, the sound tells me too if I am using the right tool, something a machine won’t pick up on. Even when a tool gets old, I find new purpose for them. So it’s not just seeing but also about listening.
What struggle do you have to create the dream you have in your mind?
Laughs: Not having enough time and getting old!
"I have no favorite gemstone, each stone is special, has its own character. Having a favorite is a trap! You won’t have freedom if you have a favorite"
In the West we talk about Happiness and how being grateful for three things in the early morning, allows you to feel happier.
Ah, 3 things? No, that’s not enough! I am always grateful. Talking right now to you, but also for her - points at Cherry- for translating and making this conversation possible. I am grateful for my phone, allowing me to communicate with the world. It’s not about happiness, but about being peaceful.
If you think too much about happiness, you also are aware of unhappiness, but if you are grateful, it is a very calm feeling. See, when I have coffee and it’s not very good, I still feel grateful for someone brought it to me. Or, if I make it myself and it’s really good, I feel grateful for the beans that someone selected and grew for this cup of coffee.
Note: what an amazing and beautiful attitude!
What was your dream when you were young?
I had different dreams at different stages of my life. But they were small dreams: When I was hungry, I dreamed of feeling full. When I was cold, I dreamed of being warm. When the Chinese New Year came, I dreamed of being able to have new clothes.
And today? What would you describe to be your dream today?
It’s a little late to keep dreaming, he smiles...I approach it like this: I think about my attitude and always to do my very best when I create something. If I do so, it will teach me what to do next, it opens my future path.
On the background we hear bells of a nearby booth showing antique clocks.
We are here at the fair and not in your workshop, do you still feel inspiration going on in the back of your mind? How does it work for you?
Here at TEFAF it is such an opportunity and easy to get inspired! Meeting different people, with different backgrounds, different cultures and different manners and habits, is like working with light and sound for my mind. There are also a lot of old pieces here on the fair, and I like to see them and observe them, have a conversation with them and through them, with the ancestors.
How would a normal day for you look like?
Laughs…many people will call my days abnormal! I might work till 3 or 4 am in the morning and get up just a few hours later, to restart working. Even in the weekends, I still communicate with the materials! When girls fancy me, and then realize I work this much, they always tend to run away as fast as they can….laughs even louder now…
As much as I would have loved to chat the whole day, as this man is so incredibly interesting and I love his philosophical approach of life very much, I realize it is time for my very last question. A simple one:
Where can clients view and buy your creations?
I really seldom meet with clients, only at exhibitions like TEFAF and later this year MASTERPIECE (London) There is the possibility to have a private meeting in my HONG KONG office, but that rarely happens. I am always working on my creations!
The clients of Wallace Chan are all collectors, it is also for this reason that Cherry would not share any prices of the objects exposed as they are (and should be) fiercely protective of the privacy of those clients.
Wallace and I thank each other for the interview and he smiles when he says: very good questions...I tell him about how earlier that morning, at 6 am to be precise, I lay on the sofa with my 7 year old son, watching his work on YouTube. My son was very enthusiastic and pointed out the fish and the cicada to me, making many remarks. ''I loved watching your work through his eyes'', I said to Wallace. He grinned and told me that this brings him new inspiration already! After the photoshoot, I left the booth, greeting a famous Dutch Chef cook, who admired the cicada and told him enthusiastically about the piece. I felt touched by the conversation and not only my admiration for the artist and his work had grown even more, but I felt especially privileged to have met the human, the mind and a bit of the heart of Wallace Chan.
More about the exhibited pieces and Wallace Chan this Friday on Bizzita!