Yeollimun-Roe Kyung Jo

Hahm Hyerie
Journalist, Chief Editor in Culture for the Seoul Daily

Constancy & Change in Korean Traditional Craft 2015
La Triennale di Milano, Italy
14 Apr. - 19 Apr. 2015

Hailed as "master of Yeollimun", Roe Kyung Jo has developed a unique kind of work. The term marbled pattern (Yeollimun) refers to natural patterns seen in brown marble. Marbled ware is made of a mixture of white clay, celadon clay, and kaolin. These three colors of clay blend together and create the marbled effect. Marbled ware was invented during the Tang dynasty (618~907 AD) in China, and it was popular during the Goryeo dynasty (935~1392 AD). However, because it was difficult to produce, it could not be produced in large quantities, and it disappeared in the thirteenth century. After extensive research on the written documents and various materials from old kilns, Roe Kyung Jo succeeded in reproducing traditional Goryeo marbled ware in 1979. He found pigments of red, white and brown in those old ceramic shards, and studied firing methods to control the temperature and humidity of the clay. From his intensive research, he invented ceramics with modern aesthetics in the traditional style. The natural beauty of marbled ware has gained attention inside and outside Korea. The British Museum holds three pieces of his work in their Korea section, demonstrating his status in the field of Korean ceramics.
His marbled ware was not invented by chance. It came from his interest in ancient Korean furniture and ceramics, his lengthy study to rediscover traditional ceramic techniques, and his artisan spirit. Born in Seoul in 1951, he was interested in painting for a long time prior to his work with ceramics. In his earlier years, his paintings were landscapes and portraits in monotonous colors. His family tradition was classical, involving the painting of orchids, and he was often in the presence of ceramic pots on antiquated furniture, so he naturally paid attention to traditional ceramics. When he entered the ceramics department at Kyunghee University in 1969, he started his life as a ceramicist. He received instructions from ceramicist and printmaker Jeong Gyu and worked at an Onggi kiln. After he entered graduate school, he studied ceramics more deeply and wrote his master's dissertation on the inlaid celadon of the Goryeo dynasty. During this time, he gained deeper knowledge of marbled patterns and inlay techniques. After graduating from university, he went to Japan and studied ceramics at a studio in Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture. Later he studied coloring and operation of a gas kiln at Kanazawa University. He brought a gas kiln to his house in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul, and made his work with it. Then he built a traditional earthen kiln in Bunwon, Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do, and worked there. In 1985, he started teaching at a university. He visited old ceramic places and collected shards of the ceramics. As he studied them, his respect for traditional beauty grew.
He has a studio and an exhibition space in a large red brick building near Yongmun-sa in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do. He built a traditional firewood kiln on one side of the building. Through forty years of making ceramics, he has learned the quiet and patient harmony of clay and fire. He is living a contemplative and creative life surrounded by several hundred white birches.

Roe Kyung Jo

Roe Kyung Jo was born in Seoul in 1951. In 1973, he graduated from Kyunghee University majoring in ceramics, and studied at the Kanazawa University of Arts and Crafts in Japan in 1979. He is well known for his marbled ware. The term Yeollimun means marbled pattern, and it is a traditional technique in Korean ceramics. Because it was difficult to produce, it disappeared in the thirteenth century. After extensive research on the written documents and various materials from old kilns, Roe Kyung Jo succeeded in reproducing the first traditional Goryeo marbled ware in modern times. After he revived the technique, he continued to work with it for more than forty years. He has won the Space Ceramic Award sponsored by Space Magazine in 1979, the Art Award at the Donga Art Festival in 1981, the Award of Encouragement at the Seoul Ceramics exhibition in 1981, and other awards. He has had numberous solo exhibitions at the Space Art Museum in Korea, Birmingham Museums and the New Orleans Museum of Art in America, the Benson Gallery in England, and the Japanese Cultural Center. And he has participated in group exhibitions at more than one hundred venues, including the National Museum of Mordern and Contemporary Art, the Contemporary Ceramics Biennale, the Korean Ceramics Exposition. His notable exhibitions in recent years include Traditional Transformed: Contemporary Korean Ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum in England in 2011, the European tour exhibition of Korean Contemporary Ceramics in 2011, The Diverse Spectrum: 600 Years of Korean Ceramics at the Museum of Art, Sao Paulo in 2012, and Dual Natures in Ceramics: Eight Contemporary Artists from Korea at SFO Museum in the San Francisco International Airport in 2015. His works have been purchased by major art museums, including the Smithsonian Museums, the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, the New Orleans Museum of Art: NOMA, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Cleveland Museum of Art in America; the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in England; Pienza Ceramics School in Italy; the Naprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures in the Czech Republic; the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada; Musée Royal de Mariemont in Belgium; the Uihong Museum and Jingdezhen Museum in China; Kanazawa University of Art and Crafts in Japan; and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul Museum of Art, the National Folk Museum, and Icheon International Ceramics Exposition in Korea. He is currently a professor of ceramics at the College of Design at Kookmin University.