THE KOREA HERALD

YOON KWANG-CHO'S UNIQUE STYLE

BY Lee Kyong-hee

Special to The Korea Herald

A ponytail and a slate gray tunic and pants- potter Yoon Kwang-cho looks as different and freeas the ceramic wares he makes.And much like the pots from his one-man workshop and kiln in the tranquil countryside south of Seoul, Yoon proved himself to be hospitable in a homely and pleasant manner."You should have come yesterday,"said the grey-haired potter with a boyish complexion, welcoming his guests."This place looked magnificent with snowfall yesterday," he said,"But you don't need to feel too sorry. It's still quite nice today, with the heavy clouds.""In fact," he went on,laughing bois-terously,"it seems I'm in love with the scenery here in all seasons of the year and at all hours of the day."His workplace and hideout since the late 1970s,his house is a simple, two-room structure with a tiled roof in the Korean traditional style. He said he built it himself with a workman.Asking his guests to take seats on the warm, papered ondol floor,around a low,wooden table which looked like it had come from an old farmhouse, he prepared hot,green tea and served it in rustic"punchong" cups he had made.Yoon, although seeming from his appearance and life-style to be a hermit living in seclusion, has traveled widely around the world and enjoyed resounding success, both critical and financial, as a potter with rare resourcefulness and originality.A graduate of Hongik University, a prestigious institution for art education in Seoul, he made an early debut by winning the top prize in an annual handicraft contest sponsored by a leading Seoul daily in1973.His works have since been exhibited in London, Koeln, New York, Los Angeles, Sydney and Kyoto, as well as various Korean citites.Yoon's ceramic works, free in form and coarse in texture, have their aesthetic and technical roots in the early Choson stoneware of the 14th to 16th century, popularly called "punchong sagi."Punchong, the rough stoneware decorated with underglaze white slip, came as a kind of transitional stage connecting the koryo celadon and the Choson porcelain, two pottery traditions of outstanding significance.But it was anything but a mere link or intermission between two important periods.Technically a degraded offspring of the aristocratic Koryo inlaid celadon, these early Choson vessels represent the healthy psyche of a peaceful era following the advent of a new dynasty.Their seemingly naive ideas and technical imperfection, plus the prevalent humor and spontaneity, appeal to modern aesthetic senses in a charming and assuring manner.The wares are praised by many art historians as a gem of Korean ceramic art deserving far more recognition than they have so far received.Humble, rugged ware"I love the rugged and humble feeling of punchong ware," Yoon noted. " I feel it goes beautifully with my concept of a free and natural ware.""With punchong," he went on to observe, " I can freely make a rich variety of decorations, patterns, patterns and designs."He contended that, in sharp contrast to celadons and porcelains, punchong does not hide the quality of its origin, which is nothing but earth.A native of Hamhung, South HamKyong Province in North Korea, Yoon said he had been able to take up ceramic art as his major in cooege thanks to his elder brother, who was then in the United states."I was at a loss what to do after failing a college entrance exam," he recalled. "Then, my brother wrote me from America that he thought I might study pottery."His brother said that many Americans had asked him about the Korean pottery tradition, of which he was shamefully ignorant at the time."So, my brother said he bought a book about Korean ceramic art and read it. He was stunned to learn that we had such a marvelous artistic heritage."But it was years later that Yoon came to learn about the ancient wares called punchong.The late Choi Sun-Woo, a prominent art historian who served as director of the National Museum of Korea for many years, helped open his eyes to the indigenous beauty of punchong ware."few Koreans then knew about it,"Yoon noted. "I owe a lot to Mr. Choi for his wise guidance."A prolific writer and a popular newspaper columnist, the late Choi once said, "Yoon's works demonstrate a sense of massiveness and unflattering decoration, true to the korean spirit. I can see the deft hands of our ancestors through his creation."The artistic lineage of these two men gains an even greater significance when recollecting that Choi was a student of Ko Yu-sop, a pioneer in the study of Korean art history earlier this century.Ko gave the name "punjang hoechong sagi," meaning "pottery decorated with a slip and a pale bluishgreen glaze," to the wares that the Japanese called "mishima."Punchong is an abbreviated form of this long name.Yoon's reputation as a talented young potter and his excellence in major crafts exhibitions helped earn him a government fellowship for study in Japan in 1974He studied for one year at a private klin in Karatsu, a hub of Japan's ceramic industry established by Korean potters centuries ago."Originally," he said, "I had planned to stay in Japan at least for three years. But I decided to come home quickly. I realized that the longer I stayed there, the more harmful it was for my art."Bitter irony His one-year sojourn in Japan taught him the bitter irony that many Korean potters were trying in vain to imitate new trends in Western ceramic art, which was in fact much influenced by Japanese pottery."Traditionally, the Japanese have been enthusiastic admirers of Korean ceramic art, especially the punchong type," Yoon remarked. " I had realized this so clearly before my trip to Japan."It is another irony of history that while punchong ware contributed to the development of the celebrated tea ceremony wares of Japan, it almost disappeared in its homeland.Returning home, Yoon was completely occupied with studying punchong pottery, which was yet a treasure trove awaiting an explorer with insight and devotion.Returning home, Yoon was completely occupied with studying punchong pottery, which was yet a treasure trove awaiting an explorer with insight and devotion.His early effort to revive traditional technique gave way to a quest for fresh perspectives as a potter standing for the artistic concept of his time.He gave up working with a wheel for his creative pieces. Instead, he employed hand-building or throwing techniques, using coils, slabs and molds."I learned this is a very usefulmethod for livening up the texture of clay, "he explained.Also, he frequently beat and deformed his vessels by pressing them while they were wet.Then he scratched their slip-coated surfaces with various tools, such as straw, a bamboo knife, a nail, or his own fingernails.His vessels thus acquired their free and often mischievous mischievous forms and decorations of equally unexpected design- concepts that are far removed from the traditional that are far removed from the traditional notion of pottery as objects of balanced form and carefully planned ornamentation.Nevertheless, the potter still cannot tell the final outcome of his work before he opens the door of his kiln and examines each piece to see how the fire worked on it.The potter has no other choice but to wait.Being a Buddhist who believes in the Zen nature of punchong ware, Yoon says that in such moments he finds meditation to be the only way given to him.Away from his family and mandates of everyday life in the city, he also spends much of his time brooding how to seek artistic vision and inspiration."You cannot create artistic pieces without painstaking effort," he mused. "The more you suffer,the better your work turns out.""In this sense," he continued,"this is another form of asceticism, an dandles struggle to overcome yourself."Yoon makes frequent trips to sketch natural sceneries. As a result,various elements of nature, including trees, greens, mountains and streams appear on his vessels as favorite motifs.Playing a bamboo flute is another favorite way of his to fight artistic man-nerism and loneliness, added Yoon, volunteering to play a tune on his old instrument.Serene and subdued,the sound of his flute filled the room as if inviting his guests to look deeper into the path he has chosen as an artist of solitary endeavor.Only then was it understood more vividly why that "path" is leading him even farther away from the bustling capital."I am moving down to Kyongsang Province soon, where I hope I will be left alone with more clay," he said."This place is no longer quite enough."