Jewelry in China has historically been perceived as an investment rather than art and, until a few years, ago there were few options to study jewelry design in Beijing. The available training programs used to be focused on the reproduction of old techniques and existing styles and patterns. Recognizing the need to stimulate personal creativity, The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) was one of the first institutions to promote a different approach—one in which students are provided with an ideal environment to develop their own style.
Fan Zhang graduated from jewelry design in 2006 and is now one of the many young professors at CAFA. In her work there is an extraordinary blend of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary jewelry. “During my training, I had been focusing on ancient techniques. My dissertation was about Yuan Dynasty gold mesh art—something which used to be very common among royal courts and noble families in China, but also in Russia, Pakistan and many other countries. Fine gold mesh used to be shaped into precious headgear and ritual jewelry, fragile handicrafts which used to be symbols of rank and power rather than simple decorative objects.”
In the study of Chinese art history, Fan Zhang was particularly fascinated by the absence of decorative patterns in ancient artifacts. “We used to assimilate Chinese style to late Qing Dynasty antiquities, which actually could be considered more representative of folk Mongol and Manchu tradition than Chinese. Actually, if we look back to a remoter past, in the art of the Warring States (475-221BC) and the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), we can trace a peculiar taste for simplicity.”
Fan Zhang goes far beyond historical heritage: she’s been adapting ancient processes of gold mesh making in order to craft outstanding contemporary jewelry art. As in ancient times, the gold is blended with bronze to increase its elasticity and durability. Her use of a kind of tie-dye method creates different shades of color on the mesh—an approach which hints to the shadows and lights of ink-wash paintings and to the painterly idea of capturing the soul of the subject instead of simply reproducing its appearance. She finally shapes the mesh into a fabric-like surface to be molded on the lines of the body, with a few drops of gold hanging from shining threads.
Images courtesy of Fan Zhang