Professor Roe Kyung Jo
- His Life and Arts

General Director of National Museum of Korea
8 Nov 1999

The 3rd Workshop for Korean Art Curators at Overseas Museums
The Korea Foundation.
at Roe Studio, Korea
15 Sep, 2001

His Family Background
Long ago I called on him several times to his house in Sungbuk-dong, Seoul. His father was usually a calm person and raised orchids indoors. It was a rare case in the 1970s when only a few households grew orchids and hard to find them even in the flower shop. So, he seemed extremely noble and pure.

Roe with close-cropped hair is in no way fastidious, but looks rather chic. His fanciful Jeep seems to be so practical for traveling the tough ground between Seoul and the country where his kiln is located, and for carrying soil and equipments. I have been to his studio nestled in a scenic part of Gwangju adjacent to the Han River. In the two spaces for life and work there were various shapes of earthenware pots and jars which he had collected for long years. Neatly and humbly arranged, they were all in harmony with each other and well fitted with their environs. The ceiling of the spaces papered with ¡°"hanji¡±"(Korean traditional mulberry paper) suited each piece of ancient furniture such as clothes chest, cabinet and table. As his studio was properly sized and filled with a harmoniously natural atmosphere, I felt like staying more.

Considering that financial capability is required to build the kiln and equip it with necessary furniture and materials, and some aesthetic sense is needed to locate the studio in a scenic place, I think, Roe was financially supported and aesthetically trained by his family from his childhood.

Born in 1951, Roe launched his ceramic study in 1969 when he entered the Kyung Hee University College of Fine Arts. At there, he was apprenticed to Professor Chung Kyu, the first contemporary potter of Korea, and widely studied the relevant fields of ceramics such as ceramic craft and materials study. He kept studying ceramics at the graduate school of the same University. He was awarded his master¡¯'s degree for a thesis on Goryeo inlaid celadon. He executed an in-depth study on ¡°"yeollimun¡±" and ¡°"inlaying¡±" techniques, while writing the thesis. He also had an opportunity to practice the ¡®'four gentlemen,¡¯' plum blossoms, orchids, chrysanthemums and bamboo, studying under Kim Youngki for his thesis. After completing the graduate school in 1976 he went to Japan to study absolutely different ceramics from ours. Improving his technical competence at the Kanazawa College of Art and Craft, he further studied there other technical matters and theories such as the gas kiln and color paper work.

His Exhibition Records
For an artist, holding an exhibition is the be-all and end-all of his life. Through the exhibition he can show all he has explicitly. To make a show successful he has to set up a close plan and make extremely careful preparations, giving it a long consideration. Even if it ends in failure he should pour all he has for the show.

Roe's first exhibition was held in Kanazawa, Japan where he studied ceramics for two years. It was a significant occasion to bring light to his artistic aspect of the embryonic period, and conclude his two-year study in Japan.

His lengthy exhibition records began in 1979 when he returned from Japan and actively did a variety of works including white porcelain, ¡°"buncheong¡±" and ¡°" yeollimun¡±" ware. It is certainly worth mentioning here he had a connection with the late Choi Soon-woo, whose pen¡ýname is Hyegok and Former Director of the National Museum of Korea. Roe first met him at Kyung Hee University when he lectured there. He also recommended Roe to the Kanazawa College of Art. He was one of the jury members of Dong-a Craft Competition in which Roe received an award. Widely acknowledging his potentials and qualifications, Choi encouraged him to go further ahead.

So happily, Roe also had a special opportunity to lead his study under the guidance of Chung Kyu, Kim Soo-keun, and Lee Kyung-sung, Former Director of the National Museum of Korea. After returning from Japan in 1979 he received lots of prestigious awards including ¡°"Space¡±" Ceramic Award and grand prize at Dong-a Craft Competition. His first solo show in Korea was held in 1981 at the Space Art Gallery. He was consecutively invited by Birmingham Museum of Art in 1982 and Japanese Cultural Center in Seoul in 1985. He also had a lengthy exhibition records, participating in 41 competitive and group shows from 1979 up to now. An artist collectively demonstrates his all potentials through a solo show, while he intensively or selectively shows one of his artistic aspects in a group exhibition. The artist gains momentum to grow himself from all types of exhibits, as he has to exert his utmost for each show.

Such achievements were made by his strenuous efforts. He served from 1984 as a part-time lecturer and was appointed in 1984 a full-time lecturer by Kyung Hee University. He moved in 1985 to the Kookmin University College of Design and became an assistant professor in 1986.

His first encounter with the late Kim Soo-keun, a representative architect of Korea was made in 1979 by the introduction of Choi Soon-woo. Kim Soo-keun was then the Director of Kookmin University College of Design and so favorable to Roe¡¯'s work that he provided in 1980 the space for displaying his work at his own architectural office under the title of Being versatile, teaching college students, doing artworks and maintaining own art space requires much efforts and great diligence. In this respect, Roe is an artist ceaselessly urging himself to achieve the greater in the future.

The World of His Arts Beginning ceramics first in 1979 by using a gas-fired kiln, Roe Kyung-jo started in 1982 his own studio at Punwon-ri, Gwangju-gun and built there a lumber kiln. What he submitted for his bachelor¡¯'s degree was the ¡°"onggi¡±" tile reflecting his experience with an ¡°"onggi¡±" kiln. And he presented a thesis titled for his master¡¯'s degree. Those studies and works opened his eyes to the beauty of traditional Korean ceramics. Furthermore, he was able to deepen his world through the meetings with Choi Soon-woo, Chung Kyu and Lee Kyung-sung. He massively collected old ¡°"onggi¡¯'s and kiln equipments and let them occupy the center of his house. Deeply infatuated with their beauties and charms, he often did many fieldworks in the ancient kiln sites lying scattered in the entire parts of Gwangju, home to the 500-year history of Joseon earthen ware and porcelain.

Roe is much more experienced in various styles of ceramics than others: he has done porcelain, ¡°"buncheong¡±" stoneware and even enamel ware which is absolutely different from ours. Moving away from such genres, he is now focusing his attention on ¡°"yeollimun¡±" ware(marbled ware) whose origin is believed to be in the Goryeo era. His ¡°"yeollimun¡±" ware is, of course, widely different from Goryeo¡¯'s. Remains are largely tiny cups and small ¡°"hap¡±"s(vessel with a lid) that were often used in everyday life. It is assumed that they were all made by the mixture of various clays such as porcelain, celadon and China clays, smearing its surface with glossy, pale bluish-green celadon glaze.
Roe¡¯'s ¡°"yeollimun¡±" ware is newly created by interpreting Korean tradition into his own aesthetic sense. His ¡°"yeollimun¡±" ware is largely categorized into four parts: he draws the motif of his square-shaped case and ¡°"hap¡±" from the Joseon Dynasty¡¯'s refined square bottles between the 18th and 19th centuries, adding a modern touch. At the first stage his ware, in terms of pattern, was quite similar to Goryeo¡¯'s. It has a brownish tinge in harmony with beige. The color appeared is naturally divided into the lower, darkish brown and beige areas of color. That looks like a patchwork of colors.

His ¡°"yeollimun¡±" piece makes the viewer feel comfortable with its well-balanced, stable shape and the texture and color of its body clay.

Roe was so strongly attached to the shape of square bottles that he tried to express it variously: he transformed his work¡¯'s length, width or height to create various effects of shapes, maintaining its original square form. He also diversely combined two or three body clays to render a rich variety of color plates and patterns.

What he mainly created was the shape of square case and ¡°"hap¡±" with the base and lid. Decorating with tiny ears and painting brownish tone, he executed various types of square cases. Roe, however, applied ¡°"yeollimun¡±" technique to part of the ware. He produced also many types of ¡°"hap¡±" that was suggestive of a small hut in the country yard. Its lid looked like a roof of the hut. Glassy yet translucent, the glaze he utilized slightly covered the color of body clay.

As his work may be divided into many groups, he is fully competent in doing white porcelain, ¡°"buncheong¡±" stoneware and enamel ware, not to mention ¡°" yeollimun¡±" ware. I see his other types of work as the fundamental process of his ¡°"yeollimun¡±" piece. Deeply permeating it, those works adds more meanings and depth to his ¡°"yeollimun¡±" ware. Through the work done by all experience, studies and techniques Roe has so far accumulated, he would like to widely inform us of the beauty, taste and meaning of the soil.