21 May - 19 June 2003
Yoon Kwang-cho is an acclaimed artist whose interpretation of traditional Korean ceramics has earned him high praise worldwide. His work has been displayed in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Korea, as well as in Japan, Australia, Finland, Germany, England and the USA. His work is also represented in the collections of the Queensland Art Gallery, the National Museum of History of the Smithsonian Institution and the British Museum.
Born in 1946, he studied ceramics at Hongik University in Seoul, and like many of his peers Yoon has found direct inspiration from Korea's past ceramic traditions. It was while training in Japan under the master potter Nakazato Tarouemon of thirteenth generation Korean Karatsu potters that he came to appreciate the beauty of Korean ceramics, in particular punch'ong stonewares. They belong to one of the main traditional types of Korean ceramics, the others being bluish-green glazed celadons and white-glazed porcelains. Punch'ong are indigenous to Korea where they were made between the 14th and 16th centuries AD. The term punch'ong is a shortened form of punjang hoech'ong, meaning pottery decorated with a white slip and a pale bluish-green glaze. Typical of punch'ong is the wide range of decorative techniques that were used, including stamped, incised, inlaid and sgraffito-cut motifs, as well as underglaze iron-painted designs and wares brushed with slip or dipped in it. Made for the commoners as well as the elite market, they convey an earthy quality of unsophisticated and understated beauty.The punch'ong legacy is clearly seen in the rustic naivety of Yoon's pots. The motifs are incised into the moist slip-covered surface taking on spontaneous abstract forms. Yoon is, however, not only concerned with merely copying traditional techniques, but strives to evoke the aesthetic and artistic principles of ancient punch'ong wares. He feels that the art world of today is overly concerned with technique at the expense of heart and soul, and in common with traditional punch'ong potters he shares a love of experimentation, strong expressive designs and energetic shapes. In Yoon's words, "an artist should put his or her heart and soul into works, even when painting only a dot. An artist needs to be able to infuse fresh air into lifeless things."
Interestingly, his elliptical and triangular shaped pots have unusual sculptural forms which were not used by traditional punch'ong potters. They clearly reflect Yoon's emphasis on artistic freedom in the form of re-interpretation of traditional punch'ong techniques. He says, "I enjoy celebration of freedom and man's free spirit, both vital sources of artistic creation." Since the shapes are impossible to make on a potter's wheel, he first creates the desired shapes and then joins them together, while carefully adjusting them with his hands or tools.
Yoon argues that "punch'ong is a challenge to the general notion that things fine and elaborate are beautiful. Punch'ong lies beyond the concept of aesthetics, like nature herself." Nature is possibly one of the greatest sources of inspiration for him. Yoon continues, "punch'ong treasures the artisan spirit of our ancient potters which touches me deeply. With punch'ong I can freely make a rich variety of decorations, patterns and designs, by inlaying, scratching and cutting away white slip. In sharp contrast to porcelains and celadons, punch'ong does not hide the quality of its origin - earth." In choosing the word 'ki' as the title for his first solo exhibition in the UK, Yoon emphasises the importance which nature plays in his life and work. 'Ki' has numerous meanings and eludes an easy definition in English. Meaning energy, spirit and life-force, the character is used in the Korean words for nature, temper, vitality, humour and mood. Yoon's works embody them all.
Charlotte Horlyck, Curator of Korean Art
Victoria and Albert Museum