Kang-hyo Lee’s moon jars are not just beautiful ceramic objects: they are spiritual reflections of the natural world, alternately calm and contemplative, dynamic and dramatic.
Born in Seoul in 1961, Kang-hyo Lee is widely regarded as one of the finest Korean potters working today. His work is rooted in the major Korean ceramic traditions of Onggi pottery – voluminous storage jars originally designed for holding fermented food – and Punch’ong decoration, where white slip is layered and brushed over dark clay.
Perhaps the most beguiling of his many beautiful forms, however, are Lee's moon jars, a type of pottery that inhabits a special place in the history of Korean ceramics.
a second moon jar by Kang-hyo Lee, illustrating the spherical form that gives this type of pot its name
So-named for its spherical, lunar appearance, the form dates back as far as the Joseon period (from the late 17th to 18th centuries). Thrown in two hemispherical halves, these bowl shapes are then joined together (some potters even intentionally leave evidence of the join, embracing the moon jar's slight asymmetry or its bellying around the middle as part of its natural beauty). The jar is then decorated with slip, delicate patches of pink and orange brought out through the process of the firing lending the moon jar its faint surface 'craters'.
Much of Lee’s work derives its strength and energy from his unusual decorative techniques. Dancing to the sounds of traditional Korean music, he applies thick slips in a trance-like performance. Hurling, splashing, and sweeping the liquid clay onto his pot surfaces, initially with ladles, later with his bare hands, he remains totally abandoned to the rhythm of pounding drums.
pink blushes on this third moon jar show the beautiful transformations within the Punch'ong slip during the firing
In his moon jars, however, the decorative process is slowed to a serenely meditative pace. Scratched and splattered slip-marks echo dappled moonlight between woodland trees; blushes of peach and cream-white reflect the luminescence of a full-moon in the early evening sky.
Both quiet and vital, powerful and with presence, Lee’s moon jars are the intimate results of his search for a beautiful life.