Technique, Philosophy and Nature Presented in Roe Kyung Jo's Art: Beyond Time, beyond Measure

Article excerpt

AS A CERAMIC HISTORIAN, I WOULD POSIT THAT THE potter Roe Kyung Jo is in the line of both the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Folk Art Movement (Mingei Movement). Both movements, the former developed in Britain in late 19th century, the latter in Japan in the 1920s, put an emphasis on the necessity of maintaining traditional craftsmanship in highly industrialized societies. The Folk Art Movement found its important inspiration in the traditional crafts of Korea, where Roe was born. Roe is one of those successful artists who integrated into modern art practices elements that are present in certain traditional Korean crafts.

Roe Kyung Jo is presently a professor at the Department of Ceramics in the College of Design at Kookmin University in Korea. From April 25th to May 24th 2007, Galerie Besson in London hosted an exhibition of his paintings and ceramics entitled From Canvas to Ceramic. The exhibition showed 20 pieces of his ceramic work and seven oil paintings dating from the early 1970s to 2006. The exhibited pieces, selected from throughout 40 years of the potter's career, capture the essence of his life work.

1. Features of his work As Korean art historians Chung, Yangmo and Choi, Kon have already noted, Roe's work may be grouped into three categories according to the manner in which the form and surface decoration were done. The pieces shown at the Galerie Besson were not an exception.


When examining the first group, which were bottles, the viewers can instantly notice that the potter found his inspiration in similar forms of the late Choson dynasty (1392-1910) in Korea. The Choson model for this group is a rectangular bottle attached with a short neck and a mouth. As Choi notes, the potter makes minimal and barely noticeable alterations. The surface decorations done on this group of vessels, on the other hand, are more like those of stoneware decorated with a marbling technique called yeollimun that was produced during the Koryo dynasty (918-1392) in Korea.

He uses a number of different types of clay (natural, white and red) in order to create a design closely resembling marble. He carefully mixes the clays, kneads them and builds up bands of clay all calculated to produce a final visual effect. After glazing and firing, the surface reveals the specific design that he intended to create. It is comprised of varied bands of subtly differentiated shades of yellowish-brown. Under a thin coating of transparent glaze, the subtle differences in the color and texture of the clays are vividly displayed.

This yeollimun technique is known to have been developed as early as the Tang dynasty (618-907) in China. Korean potters began producing yeollimun ceramic wares during the Koryo dynasty under the influence of similar Chinese wares. Upon viewing yeollimun wares from the Koryo dynasty, Roe explored, experimented with the technique and finally claims to have rediscovered the secret methods. In the first group of vessels, freely curving wide bands created by the subtle difference of the clay colours usually take up a substantial part of the surface area. In general, in terms of both form and surface decoration, the first group is strongly based on traditional designs from the Choson and Koryo periods.

The second group exhibits purely geometric structure. It is composed of rectangular cube-shaped vessels with minimal surface decoration. They neither have a neck nor a mouth attached. This second group of bottles was constructed in accordance with extremely precisely measured geometric lines, angles and proportions. The last group is composed of boxes with lids. These boxes are basically a rectangular tube shape with or without slightly rounded edges. These last two groups have no corresponding form among traditional Korean pottery. It is interesting to note that although in the body shape these groups did not draw directly on any traditional forms, these vessels are still reminiscent of certain Korean traditions, including those of Choson crafts. …