Lee Seung Hee was born in 1960 in Cheongju, the capital of North Chungcheong province, South Korea. He trained in the Craft Design Department at Cheongju University, where he studied ceramics, fiber craft, dyeing, and tapestry. His remarkable ceramic works unite the beauty and charm of traditional Korean forms with the more conceptual concerns of contemporary art. As a master of ceramics technique, he creates much of his work in Jingdezhen, in southeastern China, where he established a studio in this historic center of Chinese porcelain production in 2008. Since then he has won international acclaim for his Porcelain Paintings and his Bamboo series. In the Porcelain Paintings, which subject Korean ceramic masterpieces of past Centuries, Lee ingeniously transforms the original three-dimensional objects into stylized, shallow-relief images on porcelain tiles. His subsequent Bamboo series involves the production of thousands of ceramic “bamboo joints” that, when joined together, evoke groves of graceful, freestanding bamboo trees. His most recent ceramic works, the Space of 8mm series, infuse unexpected hints of volume into renderings of folded and layered sheets of paper. Throughout his career, Lee has emphasized motifs, materials, and colors that have strong associations with traditional Asian ceramic works. In this way, he enables viewers to make an imaginative connection between his undeniably contemporary works and the rich heritage of ceramics.
While in his previous series Lee Seunghee has often transformed fully 3-dimensional objects into low-relief ceramic works, Space of 8mm, his most recent group of works, gives a dimensional form to what is ordinarily a flat object—a sheet of paper. He starts by sculpting a flat clay surface with a thickness of 8mm in a variety of sizes and formats. To create the effect of sheets of paper that have been folded or layered upon each other, he applies 10 to 20 layers of the clay/water mixture kaolin to obtain a minimal but discernible “paper-thin” elevation.
Before firing these works in a kiln, he selectively glazes them—for example, applying glaze to the front but not the back of the seemingly folded paper sheets. By employing different colors and thicknesses of glaze, he achieves an astonishing range of rich, subtle hues. An artist who is an undeniable master of ceramic technique, Lee Seunghee says that “I am on my way to finding something which cannot be found in other materials but only in ceramics.”
Lee’s Porcelain Paintings result from a prolonged and technically demanding process. Starting with a blank clay tablet, he painstakingly applies up to 70 extremely thin layers of kaolin, a mixture of white clay and water used in porcelain production. Each layer requires a full day to apply and dry. In the next stage, he carefully isolates a raised central shape by scraping and cutting away the background. In this way, he renders, in shallow relief, the outline of the historic ceramic work that is his subject. After applying, where needed, a traditional ornamental pattern in colored pigment, he glazes and fires the work in a kiln. The entire procedure can take up to 90 days from start to finish.
The Porcelain Paintings imaginatively reinterpret a variety of historic ceramic masterpieces—vases, bowls, jars, dishes, bottles, drinking vessels—from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The original ceramic objects that Lee depicts include examples of the celebrated white porcelain that made its appearance in the 15th century, and whose elegant minimal forms were prized by the Korean aristocracy. Lee also turns to classic examples of the blue-and-white ware of the same period, noted for the use of cobalt blue pigment to create stylized patterns of birds, dragons, lotuses, and bamboo. In all of his Porcelain Paintings, Lee centers the viewer’s attention on a deceptively simple image whose low relief subtly suggests the actual volume of the original ceramic object. Lee’s works do more than pay deserved homage to the masterpieces of the past. The innovative visual language that he employs reveals a sophisticated sense of spatial play and perceptual paradox--qualities that mark these as unmistakably contemporary works.
In Asian culture, bamboo has long been identified with such virtues as modesty, integrity, and resilience. Recreating bamboo that is flexible in nature with the fragile and inflexible material, Seunghee creates a tension between natural and man-made, between hard and soft, and between flexible and rigid. Such contrasts reflect a tension within every man.
To create his imposing Bamboo ceramic installations, Lee first sculpts individual “bamboo joints” from clay, then fires them one by one in a kiln, and finally assembles them into groups of freestanding tree trunks. For the most ambitious versions of his bamboo grove installations, which feature ceramic bamboo tree trunks reaching almost 14 feet in height, as many as 10,000 ceramic joints may be needed. The colors that Lee chooses for his bamboo works consciously recall the classic hues of Korean ceramics: white, celadon green, black, and reddish-brown. The artist has made entire “bamboo groves” in black ceramic, with striking results that suggest a traditional ink landscape come to life.
Written by Christopher Phillips, an independent curator and critic
Lee Seung Hee was invited to numerous solo exhibitions including "Synchronicity" and "TAO: Between Dimensions" at Park Ryu Sook Gallery in Seoul, Korea; "Transfiguration" at Waterfall Gallery in NY, USA; "Object beyond Object" at Force Gallery in Beijing, China; "Path" at Wally Findlay Gallery in Palm Beach, FL; "CLAYZEN" at Korean Craft Museum in Cheongju, Korea, and many more. Lee's works have been exhibited internationally including "Who Will Give an Answer" at Cheongju Museum of Art in Korea; "Rethinking Craft" at SeMA Nam-Seoul Museum of Art in Seoul, Korea; "Reduction of Sense" at Ozasa Gallery in Kyoto, Japan; "Contemporary Korean Ceramics" at V&A Museum in London, UK; and "International Biennale of Vallauris 2016" in Vallauris, France, among many.
Thanks for your time, Seung Hee. Looking forward to getting to know you!
To start us off, please tell us what is ART to you?
Art, for me, is a charger for life. I often feel that we live in a programmed structure, living according to the unexplainable system rather than by spontaneity. Living a life of constraint requires much energy, so we need to gain energy from somewhere. In my case, I gain that energy by doing repetitive daily actions in my studio - doing art. Even though I am doing something, I find fulfillment in my heart rather than a loss of my energy. And I live another day using this energy. However, living as an artist is whole another story. It is still an area of confusion because I live much of my life as a non-artist. I desire to be an artist, and I always want to be in the state of becoming rather than being an artist. I wish to be known as a person who always strived to be an artist.
Art is also a dream beyond my fears. I define a dream as things that trigger my curiosity, unexplainable thoughts, and many abstract senses I feel. Working in my studio is not a reflection of the reality outside of the studio, so my work might appear “useless.” But, I am in the process of believing that doing the “useless” work in my studio is a way to live out my true self. And living out who I am is what fulfills my life. This is why I define art as the charger of life.
It is surprising that an artist like you is still exploring and learning what it means to live as an artist. That is encouraging and motivating. Regarding your works, do you have a message that you want to deliver to people through your work? What would you want them to think or feel?
People look at the world through the lens of experience and knowledge. My goal is to create an unfamiliar sight to their experience and knowledge, which will collide with the familiar. I hope to see that collision in people’s minds. Hopefully, through the interaction of the unfamiliar and the familiar, the past incidents will be re-recognized and re-connected, creating small influences on their lives. And I hope that this experience will be a small ingredient for their new dream.
I love how you said an ingredient for a new dream. How did art become an ingredient for your dream to be an artist? When and why did you decide to follow your path as an artist?
A path as an artist is like bibimbap* where despair, surrender, courage, and challenges are all mixed together. So, even in my sixties, I still wonder what it means to live as an artist. Receiving an acknowledgment for my works is always awkward and ambiguous. Sometimes, I feel like there is a large gap between myself as an artist and myself as a non-artist. When I display good works, I am very proud of myself, but at other times, I question myself and my life. That is why I spent less time as an artist. I desire to become an artist, but I’m afraid to say that I am an artist yet. But, if I have to answer your question, I decide to live as an artist when I am invited to a meaningful exhibition. Those moments encourage me and remind me that the world acknowledges and appreciates me. I think in those moments, I can confidently say, “I am an artist!” More concretely, I thought that I became an artist when I signed as an exclusive artist with the gallery.
*Bibimbap - a Korean dish in which all vegetables are mixed, making a harmonious taste
It sounds like you had many conflicting moments in your life as an artist. Despite the obstacles, what motivates you to move forward as an artist?
I would say three things: curiosity, recklessness, and courage.
Then, what has been the happiest moment and the challenging moment living as an artist?
I think artist life always holds both happiness and suffering like a two-sided coin. As I look back, the most challenging moment also holds and reveals the happiest moment living as an artist.
Thank you for sharing stories in-depth. I am grateful to have this conversation with you. Thank you, Lee.
1960年，Lee Seung Hee 出生于韩国忠清北道首府清州，而后在清州大学工艺设计系学习陶瓷、纤维工艺、 染色和挂毯。他的陶瓷作品享负盛名，不仅传承了韩国传统艺术的美感与魅力，也倾注了当代艺术的概念 表达。作为陶艺大师，他于2008年在中国历史悠久的瓷器制作中心景德镇成立工作室，并在此创作了大部 分作品，其中的瓷板画和竹子系列在国际赢得广泛赞誉。在 瓷板画作品中，Lee 以几百年来的韩国陶瓷名 作为主题，巧妙地以风格化的浅浮雕图像演绎原有的立体瓷作。在后来的竹子系列中，他制作了数千个陶 瓷“竹节”，组装之后俨然是一片竹林，千百棵竹子气韵优雅，傲然独立。在最近的陶瓷作品《Space of 8mm》系列中，他通过纸的折叠与层积，使作品表达出人意料的体积感。Lee 在艺术生涯中始终强调与亚 洲传统陶瓷作品有着紧密联系的母题、材料和色彩，激发观赏者的想象力，将鲜明的当代风格作品与丰富 的陶瓷文化遗产共冶一炉。
Lee Seunghee 以往的作品系列中，经常将三维立体物转化为浅浮雕陶瓷作品，而最近的作品《Space of
在入窑烧制前，他对作品有选择地施釉，例如在看似经过折叠的纸张正面（而非背面）上釉，采用不同的 色釉和釉层厚度，实现丰富而微妙的色调变化。作为公认的陶艺大师，Lee Seunghee 表示，“我所追求的效 果无法在其他材料中找到，只存在于陶瓷之中。”
在瓷板画作品中，Lee 别出心裁地重新诠释朝鲜王朝（1392-1910年）的陶瓷名作——花瓶、碗、罐、碟、 瓶、酒器等等。瓷器原形包括以优雅、简约的造型受到朝鲜贵族青睐的著名白瓷（15世纪时问世），以及 同期使用钴蓝色颜料创作鸟、龙、莲、竹等写意图案的经典青花瓷。在所有瓷板画中，Lee 将观赏者的注意 力集中于看似简单的图像，却以浅浮雕的形式巧妙暗示了瓷器原形的实际体积。Lee 的作品不仅仅是向历史 名作致敬，还运用创新视觉语言，揭示出复杂的空间感和知觉悖论，并因此赋予作品显而易见的当代风格 。
在亚洲文化中，竹子历来是谦虚、正直、坚韧等美德的象征。Lee Seunghee 利用脆弱坚硬的材料来重新创
为了创作竹子陶瓷装置作品，Lee 首先用黏土雕刻出单个“竹节”，接着逐一入窑炉烧制，最后组装成一组组 独立竹杆。在他最壮观的竹林装置作品中，陶瓷竹杆高近14英尺，需要多达10,000个陶瓷竹节。Lee精心选 择竹子作品的颜色，令人联想到韩国陶瓷的经典色调：白色、青瓷绿、黑色和红棕色。艺术家用黑瓷制作 出整片“竹林”，效果令人震撼，竹子仿若从传统水墨画中拔节而出。
Lee Seung Hee 曾受邀举办过多次个展，包括韩国Park Ryu Sook Gallery 的“Synchronicity”和“TAO: Between Dimensions”；美国纽约Waterfall Gallery 的“Transfiguration”；中国北京富思画廊的“Object beyond Object”； 佛罗里达州棕榈滩Wally Findlay Gallery的“Path”；韩国清州Korean Craft Museum 的“CLAYZEN”等等。Lee 的作品也多次入选国际展览，包括韩国Cheongju Museum of Art 的“Who Will Give an Answer”；韩国首尔 SeMA Nam-Seoul Museum of Art 的“Rethinking Craft”；日本京都Ozasa Gallery 的“Reduction of Sense”；英国 伦敦维多利亚和阿尔伯特博物馆的“Contemporary Korean Ceramics”；法国瓦洛里斯的“International Biennale of Vallauris 2016”等。