A teapot is an instrument. One of many arranged neatly on a tea artists’ table, but without a doubt the most important one. Some people use a hundred different teapots while some use the same one their entire lives. Collectors might keep more than a hundred of them nicely arranged on a shelf and never once use them. The relationship between artists and their tools is a tricky one to discuss.
I should say it is very much like a human relationship. The first meeting is awkward, hesitant, like meeting someone for the first time. There is the unfamiliar gaze when you first hold it in your hand and everything about it - smell, texture, colour, pattern, weight - feels new. It is only natural to feel somewhat uncomfortable and to instinctively reject what we don’t know.
But everything changes when you start using it. The first brew is like a first date. You don’t know where it’s going but you’re enjoying the company. After a period of courtship and a committed relationship, everything about a teapot feels familiar and warm. I feel like I know everything about it - how heavy is it with and without water, where I should place my finger to balance it while pouring, and what the tea will taste like even before I begin brewing. I know it so well that it feels like an old friend, an ex-lover with whom you can have the deepest conversations without hesitation. And even if you fill it with unfamiliar leaves, you know it tell you what you need to hear.
This deep bond only emerges from regular use, through success and mistakes. That glossy sheen on the skin of a teapot that is so desired by collectors can’t be faked. It is the result of contact with tea, water, and natural oils from the human hand, over and over again. This is the natural way of seasoning or nurturing a teapot. The spirit of a teapot lies in the using, and not looking.
Once, I remember standing in front of a wall of maybe 4-500 hundred yixing teapots at the Grand Hyatt Singapore and feeling a deep sense of sadness. Everyone would have marvelled at the amazing display but to me it was a cemetery. A wall of dead teapots, never to be picked up and feel the brush of hot water flowing over and through it.
I’m glad I have never had a taste for such showmanship or materialism. The few I have are all lined up on the shelf behind me, each with has a character of their own. Ask and I will tell you which is which. They are all unique: confident, mischievous, elegant, but always honest. Where does it come from I wonder, this sense of character? Is it embedded in the pores of the unglazed clay? Or is it in the curves, lines and empty space where there is nothing and everything? Perhaps it’s not there at all and I am only imagining things.
Pictured below is a Da Bing Ruyi teapot made from old red clay (zuni) from Huang Long mountain. The black dots are iron deposits within clay after going through high temperature firing. In one photo it is new, and in the other, after being nurtured for a month. Can you guess which is which?
我觉得这就像是人与人之间的关系。像初次的相遇，开始的尴尬，犹豫。握在手里的感觉，一切都那么的陌生，泥土的味道，质感，色泽，形态，重量 - 都是新鲜的。人的天性的本能，对不熟悉与未知的事与物，产生直觉性的排斥。