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An introduction to Scholar’s Rocks as an inspiration of Babs Haenen’s Porcelain Mountains

Babs Haenen’s artistic exploration is deeply interconnected with her fascination for

Asian culture, particularly Japanese and Chinese. She has won the Inax Design Prize for European Ceramics in Japan in 1991 and later opened a studio in Jingdezhen, China’s renowned porcelain capital. Having graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, where she later shared her expertise as a teacher for nearly two decades, Babs’ creative journey for the “porcelain mountains” is a fusion of western artistic training and eastern influences.

Image 1: Plate with mountainous landscape (China)

Her porcelain sculptures transcend mere objects; they become meditative conduits, inviting viewers into a contemplative dialogue with their tranquil yet dynamic forms. Suzanne Lambooy, curator of the Kunstmuseum the Hague and one of Babs’ exhibitions, beautifully describes how Babs’ porcelain mountains exude a sense of motionlessness yet harbour an inner dynamism, with their swirling contours and enigmatic depths captivating observers.

Image 2: The Lingering Garden, 2023

In her creative process, Babs meticulously assembles each piece from diverse- coloured porcelain slabs (from pigments such as copper and cobalt), deftly manipulating them to weave intricate patterns. Through successive firings, she orchestrates the flow of glaze, imbuing her works with vibrant hues and captivating motifs reminiscent of the techniques employed by abstract expressionist painters. The glaze of her sculptures refers to the Ying Ch’ing glaze, paying homage to the traditional aesthetics of Dehua porcelain. China was the first place that created porcelain, which was then exported all around the world. Pieces made in Dehua went to the Porcelyne Fles, Delft where they were painted.

Image 3: A Blaze of Colour, 2023

Babs’ porcelain mountains pay homage to the age-old tradition of scholar’s stones, or gongshi, revered in China since the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). These stones, shaped by the hand of nature, were esteemed for their harmonious blend of colours, textures and patterns. They were believed to possess mystical energies, gracing the desks of scholars and adorning the gardens of nobles.

Inspired by the rich tapestry of Chinese painting and the evocative mountain motifs found on classical blue and white Chinese porcelain, Babs’s sculptures form a unique artistic language. Since 2002, she has delved into this theme, creating pieces that straddle the realms of fine art, tradition and innovation. They depict not only the shape of mountains but also hidden and mysterious buildings that provoke the observer into imagining the people who are inhabiting them. Babs’ porcelain mountains or Shan Shui (Shan – Mountain and Shui – Water) stand as silent witnesses to her creative vision and profound reverence for the timeless beauty and symbolic resonance of nature which is the cornerstone of all her artistic creations.

Image 4: Shan Shui, 2012

Awaiting for the next story about Babs Haenen and her artistic creations!


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