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Artelier Interview: Artists Vezzini & Chen on their Career & Craft

As international art consultants, Artelier specialises in curating art for luxury residential, hospitality, yacht and aviation projects. Artelier's feature wall collection – Artist Walls – presents a collection of artists whose originality of ideas and dedication to their materials makes them true contemporary masters. Through collaborating with Artelier, they have created large-scale custom art commissions that reinvent the concept of the mural for the modern age, pushing the possibilities for feature wall art.

Cristina Vezzini and Stan Chen are an artist duo who combine their own crafts – ceramics and glass – into composite works. As a couple in both their professional and personal lives, their artworks can be seen as a marriage of materials, styles and influences, that together represent a harmonious creative union.

Vezzini & Chen's striking installations are ideally suited for large-scale feature walls. They have recently completed commissions for hotels in Qatar and Japan, and are currently creating new concepts for hotel lobbies together with Artelier. They are also collaborating with Artelier on an upcoming yacht project, for which they will be creating a monumental staircase feature wall with integrated lighting.

Could you tell us more about your individual career journeys before you started working together, and what drew each of you to your own materials and work?

SC: I'm from Taiwan, and actually my BA was in Communication – nothing related to craft or art. When I was in university, I first came into contact with clay, ceramics, jewellery and glass, and that’s how I started with all these different materials. There was one material in particular that appealed to me, which was glass – I was so intrigued by the process.

When glass is molten it has such fluidity; you have to work with rhythm and gravity, and all of that was really intriguing. When the glass is that hot it's glowing in your eye, and it's amazing.

So, I decided to go on the glass journey. I started in a glass museum, which taught beginners how to blow glass. Taiwan also doesn't have university courses in glass, so later I came abroad to study. I studied at first in Bournemouth and Poole, and I met a glassblower who used to work for Blue Crystal Glass, who is a very good, skilled glassmaker – that's how I mainly attained my skills.

As you were learning the glass craft, did you experiment with new techniques, and push the material in new directions?

SC: There are always new things to learn with glass. They say it takes 15 years to be a master of glassblowing – I'm just about there, not yet, but almost! You always require many different skills, but we say that you have to nurture glass. It always comes out differently. You have to see how it reacts before you can work on it.

My previous works are quite colourful, but now I'm more focussed on the form; since studying at the Royal College of Art, I’ve been focussing on form and just use clear glass now. That’s mainly because I'm looking more into the shapes created by glass, and I feel with clear glass you can see the shape much more, without any interference from colours.

Cristina, could you tell me more about how you got into ceramics and the development of your interests?

CV: I come from Italy – from a small village famous for terracotta, which is mainly used there for bricks, to build houses. I studied fine art in Italy, but I used clay more for making sculptural pieces. But during my secondary school studies in Italy, I came to the UK to study English. I loved how people here give importance to craft and ceramics. I decided to come to the UK, moving here in 2007 to study a BA in Applied Art at the University of Creative Art in Rochester.

I began to concentrate more on ceramics during my second year of the three-year course, but at that time I was making really sculptural work – highly decorative, really colourful, and using a lot of textures. After three years of study, I moved to London, and I worked for a year for the artist-ceramicist Kate Malone. She is well-known for ceramics, and also uses crystallised glazes, which were the glazes I was interested in at the time. After one year of working for Kate, I studied my MA at the Royal College of Art, in Ceramics and Glass. That's where I met Stan.

I fell in love with ceramics really because of the malleability of the material, how you express yourself, and how you can create anything you want. I loved the purity of porcelain, mainly. That's why we just use white porcelain at the moment – the purity of the material.

Returning to the idea of texture and shape, this is really why we now use just white ceramics and clear glass – it’s because we use so many textures. And actually, the texture creates so many shadows within the piece, that we feel for now there is no need to add extra colour to either material. The choice in our material is really about forms and textures.

When you first started combining your materials and your own experiences into composite works of art, how was the process of finding complimentary ways to use your materials together?

SC: It could be a bit of a creative battle! Because my work is really simple in form, and Cristina's work is highly decorative. So, when we first joined together, there was a battle in that sense.

CV: We first started to work together because Stan was helping me make glass pieces for my degree show at the Royal College of Art. But I was always interested in a clear element in my work; during my BA I was mixing ceramics and resin, and that's why I decided to study an MA in Ceramics and Glass, so that I could use glass instead of resin. Also, being Italian, I was always passionate about glass.

SC: We always joke about how I'm Taiwanese using glass, and Cristina is an Italian using ceramics!

What are the dynamics of being an artist duo like now – combining your own creative ideas and making them into one piece?

CV: It can be challenging, but it can also be really stimulating on the creative side. We have two completely different minds, but they are also very similar in other ways; we have completely different backgrounds and cultures, too. So, we try to bring all of that into the creative process.

That’s why we feel 2018 was really when our true style really found a harmony together. Before then, we were trying to strictly join 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.

What is a significant similarity in your approaches? (maybe combine)

CV: The inspiration is an important similarity, as we both look to nature. We are both interested in the small details you find within nature, so it might be the lines you see on a leaf, or the texture that you find inside a seed.

Are there differences in approach or influences? You mentioned bringing your cultural differences together, too?

SC: Our difference in character is the biggest difference we have. As a person, I am personally softer, compared with Cristina who is stronger in character. But in the work process, you can somehow see that difference as well. She is more direct when she wants to change something!

CV: On the cultural side, you can see how Stan's glass and aesthetic is purer, so there must be something deeper to do with the ideas of Zen, clarity, purity. In the ceramics, you can see richness and decorative forms, perhaps leading on from the Italian classical style.

After graduating from the Royal College of Art and coming together as an artist duo, did you start working full-time on your own work, or were you involved in other creative projects?

SC: At first, we were both working for other artists alongside our work, but now we just concentrate on our own work. It’s been about three years now that we work full-time on only our own art. From time to time, though, we do sometimes help artist friends on installations; that is good for our minds as well, to see different ideas in other people's creations.

CV: When we were starting out, we were also making more decorative objects. We would make small objects like bowls, or candle holders; so, you can see even then the concepts of light and texture. We would create these small objects in order to sell them, and so earn a living, but also to explore different textures and new ideas.

You have created complex decorative pieces recently; could you tell us more about some of your newest work?

CV: We have just shown a new light piece at COLLECT – a new wall light. This one perhaps is a bit more decorative; it's quite different from the ‘Seed’ light, which is much simpler. This work is more floral, which is a distinct development from the ‘Gem’ light, into a more floral direction.

We usually take inspiration from nature, but it's often a bit more subtle within the look of our design. In this work, we called it ‘Lotus’ light, it's really like a flower – if you see it, you will straight away recognise it as a flower. Whereas with our other lights, you wouldn't necessarily interpret it as a seed, for example, if you don't know the inspiration.

In contrast to these kinds of projects, you often undertake large-scale commissions – could you tell us about a larger installation?

CV: We’ve been doing many more large-scale works recently, like hotel projects in Qatar and Japan. We love to see our work in public spaces, because it goes back to our central idea of creating an atmosphere in a space – in public spaces, more people get to benefit and enjoy this atmosphere.

We also did a big project three years ago for the Long Pond at Forde Abbey, a historic stately home in Somerset. For that project we created an installation in the pond, to float on the surface of the water. We called it 'Floating Garden'.

SC: It was 130 pieces of our work, with different textures, out of both ceramic and glass. It was a massive space, so even though we made 130 pieces it comparably looked like little!

CV: We took inspiration from the different textures in the garden, from different plants, and then recreated those textures on the ceramics and the glass to make spheres that float on the water.

How was it fixed, and how did you install a large installation in the water?

CV: They are hollow shapes, with air inside which is sealed off, so they’re floating with an anchor keeping it in position.

SC: We were both in wader suits and got into the water, and had a little boat for the pieces to install them! Each piece was anchored down with a weight, with a fishing wire. Because they are like bubbles, they float on the water. We sealed the rim and added a hook to hold down the fishing wire. So, we also used 130 individual weights!

Was that something you proposed, or did someone commission you and ask whether it was possible to create something like this?

SC: Yes, to give ourselves a challenge. We hadn’t done outdoor installations at that time, and were thinking it would be a good opportunity to have a little bit of fun! We normally say yes to opportunities, although now we are more selective as we have become busier and busier.

CV: It was sponsored by Somerset Art Works, in collaboration with Flow Gallery, which is a gallery in Notting Hill, London. We thought it was a great opportunity in terms of scale, and the nature of the installation. Also, we were thinking how we take so much inspiration from water, and under the sea, and so doing an installation on the water seemed very fitting.

Artelier's art consultancy plays a fundamental role in all artwork commissions, and as the appointed art consultant for projects we bring artists and clients together to achieve forward-thinking and intelligently curated art installations. Discover more about our feature wall collection Artist Walls.

Vezzini & Chen have recently joined our Artist Walls collection: view their dedicated page here. To read the second instalment of Vezzini & Chen's interview, where we discuss how they draw inspiration from nature and the organic tendencies of their materials, click here.


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