But as I chatted with Whye Kee, I realised that this is really a story that goes beyond tea. And yet, it is very tea. Tell you what, I’ll leave him to tell his story.
Hi Whye Kee! What made you go into pottery?
In 2007, I picked pottery up in the last few months in prison. I spent 10 years of my youth in jail and towards the end of my sentence, my father passed away and I could not stop thinking about it. I signed up for pottery class in prison because I thought it would take my mind off things and true enough, when I did pottery, I would go into this quiet zone I could not get anywhere else. I spent all my time creating and studying pottery.
A vase I made was displayed at a Yellow Ribbon art exhibition and some people noticed it. One of them was Chen KeZhan, an established abstract ink and wash painter. Eventually, when I was released in 2008, KeZhan encouraged me to study art formally and he sponsored part of my fine arts degree at LASALLE.
What made you go into teaware?
I only just started making them this year to challenge myself. Teaware is the hardest form of pottery. If you look at a tea pot, there are so many parts to it and everything has to fit. Nothing can be missed.
But it’s also because drinking tea reminds me of KeZhan. Whenever I go to his place, he’ll serve me some fancy tea like pu’erh with ginseng in antique Chinese teaware. I find it very touching because he is like a teacher to me and I should be the one serving tea to him. But he serves me tea with his own style of doing the tea ceremony and it’s executed with such grace.
What have you learned about tea so far?
Tea has a deep taste. When I drink it, I’m reminded of nature and memories of hiking.
But I don’t really think a lot while drinking it. Recently, I went to Korea to learn more about tea and teaware there and met up with a tea friend I made from Instagram and we sat down and drank for four hours. I did find that session quite challenging but I was also very touched by his hospitality and generosity.
And then I realised that people being passionate about tea is very much like why I had so many tattoos done all over my body when I was younger. You want to get strength from something other than yourself. Also, it’s the process of brewing tea slowly that calms you down and not so much the drink itself.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Whye Kee!
p/s: He’ll be selling his range of terracotta, stoneware and porcelain teaware soon – for the latest updates, join his Qi Pottery Facebook page.
Images courtesy of Bernice Wong