For millennia, Korean craftspeople have been transforming their country’s rich earth into some of the finest ceramics in the world. In time and through practice, they have perfected techniques that have been passed down through the generations, resulting in works in which form and function are exquisitely merged. Keenly attuned to the ancient roots and illustrious history of Korean ceramic production, the contemporary ceramists championed by Seoul’s Gallery LVS have staked their diverse approaches to this earthy medium on tradition—to which they are bound, but by which they are never confined.
These artists fall into two groups: those who nod to their ceramist forebears, while pursuing their own vision, and those who carry forward ancient techniques, with modern innovations. Minsoo Lee falls into the former camp, with his clever, geometric “+, -” series. Walls and cuts characterize his nested vessels, each one of which is composed of up to ten individual layers of porcelain, as evidenced by the delicate, alternating blue and white lines ringing their edges. Plus and minus signs cut into the lips of his cups and bowls, interrupting their clean silhouettes with a dual reference to mathematics and the balanced angularity of Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Inhwa Lee pushes the material properties of porcelain to elegant extremes in her softly hued, subtly textured pieces. By combining opaque and translucent, and white and colored clay, and sanding down the surfaces of her work, she makes containers that seem to be formed of marbled paper, which glow as light passes through their sides.
Serving as both counterpoint and complement to the work of artists like Minsoo Lee and Inhwa Lee is that of the artists who have skillfully modernized traditional practices, among them Se Yong Kim and Hang Taek Lim. They turn out their wares from their base in Icheon, a famed center of ceramic production nestled in South Korea’s northwestern region. With his focus on Goryeo celadon, Se Yong Kim is on a 5,000-year continuum. Using his own so-called “double openwork” technique, he makes vessels whose sides are elaborately carved with intersecting and overlapping bamboo leaves, berries, and other natural forms. Hang Taek Lim’s rounded vases are painted with imagery of nature and highlighted with crimson, a highly prized and auspicious pigment, whose formula he has researched and, ultimately enhanced, in the spirit of twining tradition and innovation shared by all of the artists at Gallery LVS.