Ceramic Arts & Perception — Ceramics Technical
Ceramics Art & Perception

Mountain Dreams: Contemporary Ceramics by Yoon Kwang-cho -
Article by Wuanda Walls

Yoon Kwang-choMountain Dreams: Contemporary Ceramics by Yoon Kwang-cho will be on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from September 2 through December 31, 2003. The exhibition is lauded as the first in the states dedicated to the work of Yoon-Kwang-cho, which will include some 30 objects drawn from various museums and private collections around the world.
According to Dr. Felice Fischer, the Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Curator of East Asian Art, “Yoon has taken the best features of Korean traditional arts and made them his own. His exuberance and devotion to his craft have breathed fresh life into the contemporary ceramic arts of Korea. Who knows how his first trip to the U.S. will influence his bold practice of experimentation?”

When I asked Fischer how she discovered Yoon’s work, she said she first saw his work at the Ho-Am Art Gallery in Seoul several years ago. In her words, “he was enamored (as I am) of the ‘folk’ quality of the wares, their unsophisticated, seemingly artless quality, using white slip that is brushed onto the pots, sometimes carved into, sometimes painted with iron under the glaze. Yoon’s vessels are definitely contemporary, however, and not a recreation of the traditional wares, as some of the celadon wares can be.”

Yoon Kwang-choYoon bases his work on the traditional Korean pottery known as punch’ong (or buncheong), which is one of the wares made during the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910, an era when Korea suffered the first of several invasions from Japan. Notwithstanding, in 1592, Hideoshi, the Japanese warlord and aficionado of Korean pottery sent his warships to Korea to bring back fifty potters for him. This incursion came to be known as the ‘Pottery War.’ These potters were settled in Satsuma province and descendants still make pottery using Korean style wheels and kilns to this day. Born in Korea in the province of Ham Kyung Nam Do, Yoon recalls that it was his brother who firs suggested he try his hand at pottery. He enrolled in the prestigious Ceramics Department at Hong-IK University in Seoul, graduating with a BFA in 1973. That same year he received the Grand Prix at the 7th Annual Craft Exhibition sponsored by the Dong-a-Daily Newspaper in Seoul. Consequently, he received a government scholarship in 1974 to study at a kiln pottery guild in Karatsu, Japan, where the first Korean potter in Japan had worked 400 years earlier.

When he returned to Korea the following year, Yoon was determined to explore further the ceramic traditions of his ancestors. Soon he was studying and recreating pungch’ong wares. His contemporary translations of the wares adapted the characteristics of freedom of design, unusual shapes and coarse potting, to create his own distinctive style. His work features triangular and irregular rectangular shapes, with bold swathes of white slip brushed over the reddish clay. The surfaces are given texture by gauges with a knife, nail or straw, or irregular paddling with a wooden paddle or his hands while the clay is still wet. Some of his large-scale pieces are over 2 feet high and feature Buddhist texts from the “Heart Sutra” incised over the whole surface. Zen Buddhism is a deep source of inspiration to the artist, who practices meditation as part of his discipline in creating his ceramics.

Yoon Kwang-choIn an article entitled The Primordial Encounter between Nature and Man, written by Choi Kwangjin, Art Curator of Am Art Museum, Choi states that Yoon moved from his Kwangju studio where he had worked for fifteen years to a mountain valley in Kyongju. A move that put into practice his conviction that change his living, which brought forth a change in his work. “In his first solo exhibition since his moved to the mountain valley, he makes a variety of experiments, while maintaining his former pattern. The shapes, not constrained by details, became more imposing; the technique of applying of white slip over the rough surface became more liberal and generous.”

Wuanda Walls is a writer on the arts from Pennsylvania, USA.

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