What Roe Kyung Jo¡¯s Pottery Contains

Ryu HeeYoung
Director of the Seoul Museum of Art

¡ºRoe Kyung Jo¡»
60th Anniversary Exhibition in Roe Studio
24 Oct. - 03 Nov. 2011
(Printing Kookmin University Institute of
Environmental Design, 2011)

As most people know, Roe Kyung Jo is a potter, who creates utensils such as bottles, cylinders, and bowls from clay. For the past 40 years, ROE has been kneading clay, building fire, and waiting idly. With the piling of his experiences as a human being and as an artist, ROE must have felt with all his heart and body the ultimate sense of art form surge like the heat in a kiln and lasting more inwardly. What lies inside ROE¡¯s ceramics that have been fired with his half a century-long tenaciousness?

Anyone could feel that at the roots of R
oe¡¯s pottery style and technique beats the pulse of Korean traditional pottery. His daily memories since childhood filled with antique objects, the fact that his graduate school thesis was titled ¡°Research on the Inlaid Celadon of Goryeo¡±, and his life in emotional communion with expert researchers in Korean traditional culture inclduing Hyegok Choe Suno, must have naturally left in his conscious and unconscious mind familiarity with tradition, and inculcated a sense of responsiblity in Roe Kyung Jo for the development and succession of tradition. Of all things, that Roe got a studio at Gwangju Namjong-myeon Buwon Iseok-ri, the cradle of the 500-year-long ceramic history of Joseon Dynasty seems like a metaphoric performance advocating his style rather than a practical decision for working. (His current studio is located in Gyeonggi-do Yanpyeong.) Moreover, Roe¡¯s noble taste for enjoyment of mundane space and objects allows us to unhesitatingly call him an artist and an a-in, an old Korean term for someone who knows and enjoys the beauty of nature and scenery. However, although this kind of traditionality and naturality indeed serve as clear modifiers for the characteristics of Roe¡¯s pottery, these words are far too dry to capture the fundamental inception of his works. Roe¡¯s pottery is something dressed in the clothing of tradition and nature. Some may call it vitality, and others may call it orderliness. Critics would want to study this in terms of technique, formativeness, historicity and plasticity. The moment I face the immaculate canvas with a brush in my hand, I question the reason for painting for my entire life. I know that Roe, too, stroking the fragments of clay that have never even come into the world, must also be desperately questioning himself about the thing that others define as ¡°vitality¡± or ¡°orderliness¡± . And at his Yangpyeong studio, under the golden rays of the late sun, he may be staring at the shadows of his sculptures by his windowsill, asking the sculptures ¡°what are you guys? who are you guys?¡±

After meeting in our youth, R
oe and I have known each other for about 40 years as contemporary artists and as a fellow educators. And that there is no confusion whatsoever about the warmth of his personality, quialty of his work, and qualifications as an educator, says something about the lives of the two artists, who tried their bests in their own fields. Recently, I have also heard that Roe¡¯s students from Gugmin University won the first, second, and the third prizes at the prestigious 2011 Cheongju International Craft Biennale. As the young Roe stimulated the modern craft history of Korea with numerous exhibitions and prestigious awards, today, his students show off the essence of Korean creamics in an international stage. However, it¡¯s improper to quote the old saying, ¡°indigo dye is bluer than the plant from which it comes from¡± here, because Roe¡¯s works still remain the teacher to the younger generation, and the container that delivers the beauty of nature and tradition to us. Roe¡¯s pottery tells the story of the artist¡¯s life merely by its existence. From Roe¡¯s life-long journeys in search of the beauty of broken pottery, we see the image of a truth-seeker who goes on searching for the meaning of life. Roe is an artist, who creates the most sensitive and beautiful pottery from the most basic material that never wears down even after the constant trampling and kneading. The mere process of Roe¡¯s woks that resemble alchemy, lets us contemplate about the true meaning of life. What Roe hopes to contain in his pottery is probably this ultimate desire to define the true meaning of life. Before the winter steals up on us, I wish to visit his birch forest studio to see our lives reborn through clay.