Loretta H. Yang and Chang Yi, founders and artists of LIULI Crystal Art, devoted their life to the art of LIULI for three decades. In the process, they revived the ancient Chinese technique of pâte de verre lost wax casting and instigated the contemporary glass art movement in Asia. Richly imbued with traditional Chinese artistic vocabulary and philosophical thinking, Yang’s works have been acquired by more than 22 museums for their permanent collections including Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Palace Museum in Beijing, New York Museum of Arts and Design, The Corning Museum of Glass, and Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. She has created work for the Oscars, Grammys and 32 world leaders.
“Beauty transformed” is how Japanese critics have described Yang’s multiple talents. Named Best Leading Actress in the 21st and 22nd Golden Horse Film Awards ceremony, she was the first actress who won this award two years in a row. In 1987, Yang left the film industry along with her late husband, film director Chang Yi, and several other people from the film industry to establish the glass workshop and studio LIULI Crystal Art near Taipei, Taiwan. The industrious group invested their resources in rehabilitating a dilapidated factory and learned the techniques and process of glass casting in the French manner, similar to the luxury glass made by Lalique and Daum. Yang single-handedly rediscovered the techniques of pâte de verre glass casting and uses this technique to create works with a traditional Chinese artistic flare.
When asked, “What has it been like being a woman in the glass arts industry all these years,” Yang responded: “Honestly, I haven’t given this topic much thought. Don’t exceptional women exist in all industries? Chang Yi believed that women were the stronger gender and possess a resilience men don’t. He would use the saying ‘will of steel, gentle heart’ to describe women, because he observed that we lead with a gentleness of heart and an unwavering will. Maybe I’ve been lucky to work with Chang Yi all this time because despite what other people said, we took it with a grain of salt and continued to live according to our own set of rules. We complemented each other. He was responsible for the development, planning and operational aspects of the company. And because of this, he was able to steer our team in the right direction and instill an equitable value system.”
She continues: “I, on the other hand, have more patience and lean more toward innovation. I enjoy researching techniques – LIULI Crystal Art’s 12-step technique is a product of my work. Yes, the process was challenging, but what would we be without it? LIULI Crystal Art faced a lot of challenges in our 36 years. The sheer will to complete a project was our greatest encouragement and got us through them. Chang Yi used to good-naturedly admonish that I was the type of person who doesn’t know when to quit. But really, I’m the type of person who immerses themselves in something and will continue searching for an answer until I find it. Value and strength are creations of our own design. I refuse to put myself in a box or limit myself in any way. Women can be just as bold as men, men can be just as resilient as women.”
Today, LIULI Crystal Art owns factories on Taiwan (Tamshui) and in Shanghai, and numerous galleries on Taiwan and in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and United States. The group decided to use the Chinese word LIULI as opposed to more common names for glass in the Chinese language. It is commonly believed that the word LIULI first appeared during the Western Zhou Dynasty (about 1045-771 BCE), which referred to the glass being produced at the time. For Yang especially, using the term LIULI greatly references her own body of work, which draws upon traditional Chinese motifs and such Buddhist teachings as enlightenment and transparency, evoking an almost meditative practice and devotional purpose. Each piece undergoes a comprehensive 12-step process and requires six to eight months to complete.
Known for her floral sculptures, in 2006 Yang removed all traces of color from her work. This pure, transparent series debuted at Leo Kaplan Modern in New York in 2007 with Proof of Awareness, an oversized and colorless blooming peony, garnering widespread acclaim. To Yang, the oversized flowers of Proof of Awareness represented her life reflections and the next stage of her creative journey.
Says Yang: “LIULI petals, when looked at individually, hold little significance. But when clustered together, these petals manifest a symbiotic relationship to create a single large and flawless flower. A harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship does not focus on the self but on the greater good of everyone involved.”
Combining pâte de verre with hot casting, Yang uses multiple castings to create the abstract form of Buddha. Because life is impermanent, LIULI is the perfect material to capture its wavering illusory and tangible qualities. Yang explored the Buddhist philosophy of enlightenment and non-attachment in her exhibition Diamond Sutra held at the Grand Palais in 2015. The Ateliers d’Art de France commented: “The collection exudes a meditative philosophy that captures the Parisian way of life yet is an uncommon component in contemporary French art.”
In 1996, when Yang and Chan Yi visited the Buddhist grottoes near the desert oasis of Dunhuang in western China, the moment they saw the Thousand-armed, Thousand-eyed Guanyin fresco in Cave 3 at Mogao, painted during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) and slowly disappearing under the relentless weathering of the desert sandstorms, Yang vowed to recreate the image in glass as a way of handing down to future generations the wisdom and compassion it has accumulated over the centuries. On the reverse side is engraved the Great Compassion Dharani, a popular incantation in Chinese Buddhism. The unique transparent nimbus represents the wisdom and compassion of Guanyin illuminating the world. The image exudes an air of boundless compassion, quelling the anxiety of a troubled heart. Though Yang has completed a 200cm version, her deepest wish is to complete a LIULI-made Thousand-armed, Thousand-eyed Guanyin that measures14.7 feet tall!
In order to “continuously create art for the good of the heart,” Chang wrote a dedicated poem for each artwork. It took great determination and faith to accumulate such a compelling body of work. He viewed LIULI as a communicator of life and death, and as the state between illusion and reality, light and shadow. Even though life was illusory, a dream and ephemeral like bubbles, there was always an unwavering touch of red in the heart urging all to never give up life and never give up hope.
Says Yang: “Although it’s been more than three decades, we know there’s a lot more to achieve. And the only way to do so is to continuously practice what we believe in. The mission of LIULI has always been more than LIULI. It is the society, the culture, and the human beings.