Friday, February 27, 2015

Jeon Seong Keun: Poetic Space and Form

This article is by Park Suku AKA Suck-Woo Park (박석우) a Professor at Sang Myung Graduate School of Art and Design, he is an internationally known contemporary Korean ceramic artist and a council member of the International Academy of Ceramics (IAC)

The Greek word ‘Poetics’, originating from the verb “to make”, has many connotations as it also associates with the making of space, music, architecture, poems etc.

Seeing Jeon Seong Keun’s work, the audience can hear somebody’s voice reading a poem or they can see a dancer’s silent movements.  In his artwork someone’s poem is expressed as sounds, painting, dancing.  It is very similar to how a poet’s work uses language.

Jeon Seong Keun Double Walled Bottle with Fish and Lotus

I can find the artist's delicate hands doing open-work and carving on the surface of his works.

Jeon Seong Keun Double Walled Bottle with Fish and Lotus Detail

Although the works are already apart from his hands, the audience can feel it is still alive.  His works are some kind of artistic creations crossing the different boundaries between the making of ceramics and the making of poems, the making of Space and the making of forms.  Furthermore, I can see the infinite fantasy and imagination created by a great poet.  The space, made by open-work on the surface of ceramics makes me feel the massive space as if I am a large edifice.

Jeon Seong Keun Open Work Detail

Jeon Seong Keun Open Work

Last but not least, because the form is mainly based on traditional wheel throwing, the audience can contemplate retrospectively ancient ceramic culture.  The artist seems fascinated with the old tradition of Korean ceramics and pursues a new interpretation of that tradition.  I hope to read his “new interpretations” in the near future.

Jeon Seong Keun Open-work with Dragon

Jeon Seong Keun Recent Hangul or Korean Writing Work

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Jeon Seong Keun: In The Context of Korea’s Ceramic History of Open-Work

Jeon Seong Keun
Placing an artist’s work in the context of Korean ceramic history should not be undertaken with every ceramic artists. Although we as ceramic artists personally perceive ourselves as being innovative or unique we still all stand on the shoulders of those who preceded us. Even with all of the individual innovative work that is being done by ceramic artists internationally it is rare that a contemporary ceramic artist would stand out to the point that such an attempt to place that artist in the context of the ceramic history of that artist's country could or should be made. Jeon Seong Keun was such an artist.

Jeon Seong Keun Double Walled Bottle
Korea has a long history of ceramic open-work.

Silla Kingdom (3 Kingdoms Period) 1
This includes the open work of the 3 Kingdoms Period (삼국시대) (57-BCE - 668 CE abt) of Silla, Baekje and Gogureo and also includes particularly the Gaya Confederacy (42-532 CE).

Gaya Confederacy 2
It continued through Unified Silla (668-935 CE) and was followed by the magnificent open work created during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392 CE)

Goryro Dynasty Brush Stand 3

Goryro Dynasty Teapot with Warming Bowl 4

Then came the striking white porcelain openwork of the Joseon Dynasty that inspired Jeon Seong Keun.

 Joseon Dynasty Dragon Brush Holder 5

Joseon Dynasty Double Walled Vase 6

Detail Joseon Dynasty Double Walled Vase 6a

Today, Many Korean contemporary artists include open-work as part of their ceramic repertoire.  Open-work has endured throughout much of Korea's ceramic history. 
Although many Korean ceramic artists are truly masters of open-work, in my opinion, none have mastered the full range of this work, including three dimensional sculptural carving, to the degree achieved by Jeon Seong Keun.

Freshly Carved Double-Walled Bamboo Bottle Jeon Seong Keun

 Detail Freshly Carved Double-Walled Bamboo Bottle Jeon Seong Keun

Seo Jung Gul Chief Director, World Ceramic Exposition Foundation said, 
"Jeon's work goes beyond open-work. Regardless of size and shape, highly wrought carving spreads over the whole body evenly in his work.  Compared with general open-work, his skill has a striking difference because of the 3 dimensional mass."
 Detail Partially Dried Double Walled Flower Design Jeon Seong Keun

This piece is not the finished piece of the one in process above but is of similar topic

Indeed, Jeon Seong Keun's work does surpass most traditional open-work.  Ambrogio Possi, the famous Italian designer who participated in the 2003, 2nd World Ceramic Biennale Workshop, said about Jeon's work:
"I couldn't imagine that such a feat was humanly possible."  
Chief Director Seo Jung Gul reported that Possi felt sorry that during the workshop the right circumstances were not created to highlight Jeon's work enough.  High praise indeed.

Double Walled Teapot Jeon Seong Keun

With the combination of traditional open-work skills and sculpture carving skills Jeon Seong Keun was able to take porcelain openwork to another level.  We know the techniques gained through woodcarving are not directly transferable to porcelain clay.  That transfer Jeon had to do by himself. Jeon Seong Keun was able to master both open-work and three dimensional carving on porcelain, the most difficult of clays with which to work, is as the Italian Possi exclaimed truly unimaginable.

 Double Walled Bottle Jeon Seong Keun

In my opinion, after personally researching Korean ceramics for at least 4 decades, Jeon Seong Keun achieved a level of understanding and skill that stands out as among the finest in Korean ceramic history.  I personally believe Jeon Seong Keun was the most skilled open-work carver in Korean history.
That we have lost Jeon Seong Keun at such a young age is truly tragic.  We join his family in mourning this great loss, and are thankful for his life and work.  

1, 3, 4, 5, 6 National Museum of Korea - Seoul
2 National Museum of Korea - Gimhae

Note on 4: There is a debate as to the purpose of this type vessel.  Some have suggested it is a wine ewer with warming bowl.  However others argue that the lotus blossom bowl, a symbol of Buddhism would not be used for wine. The drinking of tea was at its height during the Goryeo Dynasty and was enjoyed by all from peasant to palace.

Note on 6: This national treasure sculptural double walled open-work has both slumped and cracked during firing. It is seldom seen from this angle as most often photographers take its image from a angle that doesn't expose that it has slumped. There is a great degree of loss in firing open-work.  Add to that sculptural open-work with its various degrees of thickness and one is always courting with disaster during the firing. It is one thing to carve sculptural open work in jade that is not drying and shrinking and quite a different thing to carve in porcelain.
Where are the other large open-work vessels made during the Joseon Dynasty?  One must remember that Japan annexed Korea for nearly 50 years during the first part of the last century. In the process they sold thousands of Korean treasures to museums and private collectors world wide and took thousands of pieces to Japan. Only a few remain in Korea.      
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Friday, February 20, 2015

Jeon, Seong Keun

This year, the year of the sheep, goat or ram, arrived with great sorrow for the ceramic world.   The internationally renowned ceramic artist Muto (撫 土) Jeon, Seong Keun (56) passed away after losing his fight with renal cancer, February 19, 2015. 

Seong Keun was known for his double walled open vessels and his ability to carve animals, flowers, fish and birds as well as hangul (Korean writing) without prior drawing. 

Over the years of visiting with him and his wife Tommy, both with the Korean Ceramic Tours we host and privately, we have grown quite close.  I spoke with his wife Tommy and their son just the day before he passed.  More than an exceptional artist Jeon, Seong Keun was a very kind and gracious man.  Three of our tours guests returned to study with him at essentially no charge.  He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.  
This post is the beginning of the blog I am creating as a tribute to Jeon, Seong Keun and his family.
Watch this French video.  
Please go to next post.