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Dress colours of the Huishan clay figurine: Shen Lei, Li min, Chen yunyin and Liu Mengying analyse the new colours used after the founding of the PRC.


COLOURED CLAY FIGURINES OF HUISHAN, WUXI CITY are famous for their rich local flavour and hold an important position in the history of China's arts and crafts. The dress colours of the clay figures are also the crystallisation of the folk culture of the south of Yangtze and the wisdom of the artisans during long-term creative practices, making it a unique carrier showcasing the outlook and connotation of the local dress culture of this area. Based on a statistical analysis of more than 50 clay figurines, which are now stocked in Huishan Clay Figurines Museum, this paper sums up the features of the using of colours on the painted sculptures of each period, especially analysing in detail the features after the establishment of People's Republic of China (PRC).

The victory of the China People's Revolution brought lights to Huishan clay figurine, helping it to step into a new stage of development. The country also released a series of policies to promote the development of Huishan clay figurine and established Huishan Clay Figurine Factory (the name of the factory is now changing into Wuxi Da A Fu) in the city of Wuxi. The famous writer and scholar Guo Moruo had once paid a visit to the factory and gave high appraisal to the delicacy and the prosperous developmental scenery of Huishan clay figurines for which he had written the poem: "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ran wu wu ku jin) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (xu yu chu shou zhong). [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (yi guan qian dai yi) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (gan dan yi ban tong) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (zao hua yan qian miao) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (liu chuan yi wai xiong) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (ji zhong ren ba bai), [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (tong sou xian shen gong)" (1), which means "Be it a person at present or in the ancient, the craftsmen can make his/ her clay figure in a minute. Though the figures are dressed by different attires, they are of the same body made of clay. One can exclaim on the wonderful craftsmanship of the artisan when he sees the creation process with his own eyes and it is even so when the work spreads abroad; there are more than 800 craftsmen here and each of them, be he old or young, shows his own prowess and contributes to the production of a work." In this poem, the sentence "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (yi guan qian dai yi)" tells about the great variety and research value of Huishan clay figurines' dress colours.


This paper statistically analysed more than 50 representative masterpieces stocked in Huishan Clay Figurines Museum including 13 clay figurines made in the transitional period between Ming and Qing Dynasty and 20 in the later period of Qing Dynasty and sums up the features of the using of colours on Huishan painted sculptures of different ages. Colours in figures are denominated according to the colours used in printing and restored by the colour-picking tool of the computer graphics software and then the result was made into a pie chart in accordance with the frequency of use. Figures 1, 3, and 5 show the main colours of Huishan clay figurines' dresses, while figures 2, 4, and 6 demonstrate the colours of the attiring patterns and adornments. The comparison of the four pictures shows: according to Figure 1 and Figure 2 of early Huishan clay figurines, the main colouring features are the inclination to use bright red, yellow and blue, showcasing a strong fancy of striking colour relationship and the craftsmen being good at making balance out of contrast; whereas Figure 3 and Figure 4 reveal the following characteristics of Huishan painted sculptures: tending to use various colours while attaching importance to the match of colours and an embodiment of the dress colour of the south of the Yangtze as influenced by traditional Chinese opera, choosing different colours for different figures. Figures 5 and 6 reveal the rich and varied application of colours to the dresses, the attiring patterns and adornments, amongst which the white colour is the most frequently used one and the main colours of the dresses are fresh and chaste.



Huishan clay figurines are of good preservation and large quantities exist after the founding of PRC. Figure 5 demonstrates that white is the most frequently used colour in Huishan clay figures after the founding of PRC and the main colours of the dresses tend to be of single colours. Listed are light green, acid blue and white. It is the matching of cool colours that makes the entire clay figurine chaste and mild. After the founding of PRC, clay figurine craftsmen had no longer laid emphasis on the unity of the dress colour with a consideration that the unity of colours would decrease the liveliness and vigour of the dresses, while using contrasting colours of the main hue in small areas would invigorate colours to make changes of colours. That is why there are quietly a few bright colours used in Huishan clay figures after the founding of PRC to balance the elegant and fresh sense of the main colour and there is an abundant use of embellishing colours, amounting to 18 kinds, as showed in figure 6. Even though bright colours such as red, blue and yellow account for a small proportion, they are of great use for embodying the colour matching principle of 'great harmony with small contrast'.


The colour employment of the dresses not only includes the adoption of colours and the methods of matching colours but also the proper arrangement of colour as different layout would bring up different feelings. The most perfect visual effect will be reached only when all factors are given solicitous consideration. One of the distinctive characteristics of Huishan clay figures after the founding of PRC is that it reveals an emphasis on the layout beauty of colours, such as the contrast of colouring areas and the distribution within the colour layout.


Spatial contrast of colour is the contrast effect of two or more contrasted colour gamut, that is, the contrast effect of colouring areas. The whole impression of one kind of colour not only relies on the brightness and purity of the colour but also significantly relates to the size of the colour as well, because there is no colour without area in real life. For example, as showed in Figure 7, the figure of A Fishing Dunner dresses green clothes with red flowers, using the most common contrast between green and red. The same colour will evoke different feelings due to the different contrast effects of colouring areas. Large-scale use of red and green implies passion and lack of inhibition. One of the dress features of the early Huishan clay figurines is the large-scale contrast of complementary colours and being fond of striking contrast. While with the social aesthetic changes after the founding of PRC, Huishan clay figurines also made some changes in the costumes' colour matching accordingly.

Huishan clay figurines produced after the founding of PRC are successful in the matching of colouring areas. For example, the sculpture of Yang Guifei in Figure 8 has a dress of red, yellow and blue with almost the same colour intensity at first but the craftsman enlarged the area of the red colour, giving the visitor a first impression of red hue. These tell about the design of dress colour, that the changing of spatial contrast can achieve different effects, as by so doing one can increase or reduce the intensity of the colour contrast, so as to stress a certain kind of emotion and harmonize the colour allocation, which means the contrast of colouring areas is one of the important approaches in colour design.


After the founding of PRC, Huishan clay figurines are quite concerned with the forms of colour distribution in the layout of colours. Colour distribution of different forms will result in different contrast colour effects. Every colour, regardless of its size is located in certain space and when equal colour areas are in different spatial conditions (assembled, scattered, distant, near, illusory or actual), different contrast effect will be reached as well. Early Huishan clay figurines are good at assembling large-scale red and green to lead to a strong effect; but if the two colours are put a little distance apart, the contrast effect will be weakened. Like the costume of the figurine in Figure 9, the dress has white as its main colour and is decorated with green-leaf patterns, but the scattering arrangement of the patterns lead to a soft and peaceful hue of the dress as a whole.


The colour employment of attire colours of Huishan clay figurines after the founding of PRC have emerged with new characteristics: based on the elegant principle of grand unity with little contrast, it lays more emphasis on the layout beauty of colours, the colour contrast and the forms of distribution. All of these indicate that the colour matching principles of Huishan clay figurine has witnessed a great improvement over its original features while maintaining its original aesthetic customs while being more scientific.


Professor Shen Lei is a full-time instructor in the department of fashion design at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China. His research interests are in knitwear design, the application of paper-cut art in products and brands research.

Li Min is a graduate student who studied under Professor Shen at Jiangnan University. Her research interest is fashion design.

Chen Yunyin is a graduate student who studied under Professor Shen at Jiangnan University. Her research interest is children's role play costumes.

Liu Mengying is a graduate student who studied under Professor Shen at Jiangnan University. Her research interests are fashion design and brands planning.
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Author:Lei, Shen; Min, Li; Yunyin, Chen; Mengying, Liu
Publication:Ceramics Technical
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:May 1, 2012
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