Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lee Gee Jo 이기조

The tremendous white mound in the yard of Lee Gee Jo’s studio is the key clue in deciphering his work. Carefully tucked under a plastic cover to ward off the rain are tons of white clay dug from a construction excavation only a mile or two down the road. This is the same clay which attracted potters to the area during the Joseon Dynasty when they created the cool white porcelain that was reserved for the royal household. Inspired by this rich legacy Lee Gee Jo has set out to create contemporary porcelain sculpture and functional ware which has the spirit of the Joseon Dynasty without being mere historical replication. He says that his difficult task can only be achieved by working with the clay, not by the force of intellectual thought. He believes strongly in the importance of touch in the learning process and maintains that it was primarily through touching and handling examples of Joseon porcelain in collections in Japan and the National Gallery of Korea that he was able to arrive at an instinctual understanding of the spirit of the pottery.

It is interesting that he studied much different work in his years at Seoul National University where he received both his BFA and MFA. “I was doing abstract expressionist sculpture at that time” he says. Growing up on the island of Jeju as the son of orange farmers his early exposure to ceramics was primarily to the coarse unglazed local ceramics which are a distinctive offshoot of the Korean onggi tradition. Showing us some antique examples from his collection he explains that many of the pots were made for carrying water from the few reliable springs on the porous island. Moving from these diverse influences to the cool spare elegance of Joseon porcelain might seem to be a big leap but all Korean ceramic artists are very aware of the role porcelain has played in their culture.

Even though he holds a teaching position at Chungang University Lee Gee Jo is also a designer for a prominent Korean porcelain manufactory and maintains a studio and workshop where he produces a line of porcelain with the aid of three assistants. The workshop is set on a hillside looking out over a quiet agricultural valley near Anseong a small town a two hour commute south of Seoul. The entire hillside has been sculpted into a series of terraces containing his home, his studio, the workshop and clay mounds, and a small lawn area which on closer examination turns out to be a chipping and putting green strewn with golf balls.

It is this view that fades into the darkness when he gazes out his studio window during his favorite evening and nighttime working hours. For constructing his slab sculptures he says that he applies the sort of patchwork technique that makers of the traditional pojagi carrying cloths use. “I have one piece in the center and then add each other slab. I don’t have any exact sketch”. Working from 8 pm until 2 or 3 am he completes only one sculpture, painstakingly pounding out the slabs by hand and carefully fastening them together. A skein of porcelain shavings around his wheel also testify to busy hours spent throwing. The steady hum of hand production from his assistants mean that the ware racks fill regularly and the two gas kilns are fired often. In the midst of this activity Lee Gee Jo sits on a misty November afternoon and ponders the answer to a question about how to update Korea’s ceramic traditions for the 21st century. “Just working... just working that’s the best way”.


1989 M.F.A., Graduate School, Seoul National University

1987 B.A., College of Fine Arts, Seoul National University


2005 From White Porcelain, Free From White Porcelain, Gong Gallery, Seoul, SK

2004 Flower in White Flower, Ban Gallery, Pusan, SK 

         Metaphor & Transformation of Joseon White Porcelain, Tong-in Gallery, New York, USA

2002 Winter Porcelain from Joseon, Uri Gu Rut Rye, Seoul, SK

1994 Ceramic Table Ware, TO Art Gallery, Seoul, SK

1989 Clay Works, To Gallery, Seoul, SK

Present Professor of Art College, Chungang University, South Korea


Address: Studio: 363-1 Gisol-ri, Samjuk-myeon, Anseong-si, Gyeonggi-do 456-881, South Korea 

Tel: +82(country code).(0)31.672.8790 Fax: +82.(0)31.672.7472 C.P: +82.(0)11.397.1932














Post a Comment