The Korean ceramic artist LEE Kyu Hyung (1952) studied ceramics and sculpture at the Dankook and Hongik Universities in Seoul and at present is a professor of Sangji University in Wonju. As many of his Korean colleagues he initially made wares for practical use inspired by the celebrated celadon stoneware of the Koryo period (935-1392) and the untrammelled freedom of the punch’ong (or mishima) wares of the early Choson dynasty (1392-1910), which are widely appreciated as the acme of Korea’s rich ceramic history. Very soon, however, he found this too limiting for his creativity and began to experiment in all kinds of ways. He still finds inspiration in Korean tradition (in time-honoured techniques as well as in old myths and legends), but he reinterprets this to create something novel and original.
A myth that often recurs in Lee’s work is that of Ch’oyong, the son of the Dragon King of the East Sea. Ch’oyong was sent by his father to the court of the king of the old Korean state of Shilla to assist the latter in his administration. The king appreciated this so much that he gave Ch’oyong one of the most striking beauties of Shilla as a bride. One night Ch’oyong returned home and found, as an old song relates “four legs in his bed”, only two of which looked familiar. The other two belonged to a demon that had assumed human form, attracted by the irresistable allure of Ch’oyong’s wife. Ch’oyong then made the demon retreat with a shamanic song, which for the next millennium procured him a new status as a demon-queller. Another source of inspiration for Lee are the numerous myths and stories related to the stars, which played an important role in ancient Korean religion and customs.
Lee’s explorations of uncharted territory have also resulted in formal and technical innovations. In his work the boundaries between ceramics, sculpture and painting lose their meaning. Among his specialties one may count “ceramic paintings” which, although unmistakeably modern in flavour, in his latest work have been inspired by wall paintings from the old Korean state of Koguryo. Quite remarkable is the way in which Lee, rather than modelling the clay by hand, utilizes the potter’s wheel to shape his sculptures. His continuous search for new glazes, moreover, has made him one of the most versatile Korean artists in this respect. Apart from ceramic paintings and sculptures, Lee still produces wares for practical use, like the ingenious sets he has designed for the drinking of pu erh tea in Chinese style. Lee Kyu Hyung has already exhibited his work in Korea, Japan, China, the USA, New Zealand, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Egypt. The Amsterdam exhibition is his European debut.
Prof.dr. Boudewijn Walraven, Leiden University, president Netherlands-Korea Association