Monday, February 24, 2014

Evening Mist: Mottled Grey Buncheong Fa T 822

These words, from my old Sensei Hamada Shoji, keep haunting me when I think about this bowl.  It is a bowl that has some room for improvement like all of my bowls but those improvement areas all belong to me.  The clay, wheel, glaze, kiln, firing atmosphere all contributed to this bowl’s better qualities more than I. 
When I began this blog, my intent was to not review my own work.  I didn’t want this blog to be self-promoting, if you liked my thoughts, or self-damning if you thought otherwise.  That is one of the reasons I try to remain somewhat anonymous by using my artist’s name as a pseudonym.

Soetsu Yanagi once wrote:

“The most detailed human knowledge 
is puerile before the wisdom of nature.”   

I would like to be able to take credit for everything good that takes place with my chawan but the best qualities of all of the better bowls I call ‘mine’ come from nature.  That is certainly the case with this bowl.

 For some time I have been drawn to this bowl.  Maybe you other potters out there get many bowls that do what this one is doing, but me not so much.  So in my personal limited ceramic world this bowl is pretty rare.  Not that I don't get this type of spots in other ways.  

For me this particular mottling type is so unusual that I have been struggling between writing about it or not.  The things that make this chawan a little different are also subtle so you may not even care.  It is not like this is the most beautiful chawan or even the one I consider my best.  But it has gained my attention so here I am.  That said, writing about one's own work seems on the one hand pretentious and on the other hand frightening.  It is a lot like giving a speech about yourself.  Who wants to listen to it?  And if they do, what will they think about you?  So why am I doing it?  First, the credit for this bowl goes not to me but to nature.  Second, this blog title reads An Adventure Toward Insight and Clarity and this bowl has been calling to me lately to try to gain a little insight and to clarify my feelings about it.  If we don't take chances where is the adventure?

On my personal website I wrote the following about this bowl. 
   Thrown on a moderated wheel, it is stable and strong.  According to ancient Korean aesthetics, it is one of the perfect colors for tea.  The bowl follows a combination of Korean and Japanese teabowl aesthetic principals.  It both fits the hand and pleases the eye.
 The color comes from the use of one of Korea’s buncheong decorating processes.   A classic semi transparent and “dry” feldspathic glaze was used.  The kiln reduction was also modified producing unusual mottling on the clay body.
I also wrote, “. . . it reminds me of a summer fog on a misty day.”  It is one of my favorite bowls, it does remind me of a summer fog on a misty summer evening in spite of the perhaps overly gushy romantic notion that idea conveys and it is one of the perfect colors for tea.  Besides, there seems to be a chawan tradition of ‘romancing’ the bowl by naming it.  So in that tradition, just now for this post, I decided to call it ‘Evening Mist’, although the name, if any, belongs to the owner so this name might remain about as long as mist itself.  (The naming of the bowl by me may also seem pretentious but I needed a title for the post not a number.)
For those unfamiliar with my chawan, I approach them from several directions.  Some are influenced by fire, others by earth and others by air or water.  This bowl is from the water series.

The beginning of a quality chawan or really any chawan does not begin on the wheel on which it was formed but rather with the clay body.  In some ways this is an 'accidental' clay body.  I use this clay more to make some vases and larger bowls than chawan.  But I often ‘warm-up’ in the beginning of the day by throwing a few cups or a chawan or two with any clay just to get into the rhythm of the clay.  This is one of those bowls.

We sometimes take our clay bodies for granted.  I have.  But the clay speaks to the bowl’s final result as much as the potter.  It is a very important ‘outer power.’   As you can see, this particular clay body has a considerable amount of ‘grog‘ or pre-fired clay particles.  The stuff Hamada Shoji told us was ‘dead clay‘ and ‘it absorbs water’.  He was right but I still use it for some things as  mentioned.  It is one of six or eight clay bodies I use.
This bowl was inspired by a very memorable chawan ‘moment’.  Mary and I went to visit our friend Chung Yang Mo, Director Emeritus of the National Museums of Korea,  who is considered to be the premier authority on Korean ceramics, especially chawan.  He is often quoted by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and others when there is a ceramic exhibit featuring Korean ceramics.  On this particular day, we arrived at his office, chatted for a moment and then he brought out an old late 14th century. Joseon Dynasty tum-bung-mun or dipped slip buncheong chawan.  I was stunned, and wish I had an image of it to show you.  The bowl had been brought to Professor Chung by the potential buyer with two questions, “Was it real?” and “Was it worth 250,000,000 KRW?”  That’s the equivalent of  $225,000 USD or 165,028.60 EUR.  It was real and it was a stunning bowl.  Subtle yes but stunning non the less.  I couldn’t get over that bowl and still hold the memory of it in my mind.  Prof Chung told me that a well known Japanese chawan artist was moved to tears when he saw that bowl.  Among that bowl’s characteristics was a multi-layered slip that I approached on this bowl.  I never want to copy bowls but am inspired by them.  More than that, the Joseon Dynasty bowl had a maturity only available to a potter after years of knowledgeable work.  I’m not referring to the age of the bowl in terms of it’s ‘maturity’ but to the form, decorating and firing processes that created it.  One could see / feel in that bowl a partnership and unassuming trust between the inner and outer powers that created that bowl.  Nothing was pretentious - it just happened.  But it was no accident.  It happened because of that natural unassuming trust and partnership. It was not 'intellectual knowledge' but rather the result of a natural amalgamation between and among that Joseon potter's physical, emotional, perceptual, intellectual and spiritual 'natural knowledge' or simply 'ways of being' that developed naturally through years of work.  He didn't think about it.  He just did it.    
In many ways that is both the purpose of this blog and the blogs failure.  Instead of writing, I should simply be doing.  But I have a problem. How does one who was raised in a society that seems to value only intellectual “knowledge” become 'one' with all those other 'ways of being' in an unassuming natural way and - just do it?  For me, this blog acts as a kind of catharsis that relieves not just my emotional tensions but my physical, perceptual, intellectual and spiritual tensions as well.

Hamada once said,

"Technical things are important
but you must go beyond them 
into nature."

Again, how does one who was raised in a world that sadly places an overemphasis on intellectual “knowledge” become 'one' with all our other ways of being in an unassuming way and  - just do it? 
When it comes to a chawan, from a Korean perspective at least, it must be natural and not contrived.  A chawan is a 'servant'.  As a servant, it should not be overly pretentious yet should have presence in the hands and to the eye of the user.  It should have personality but not be too proud or boisterous.  It should evoke a quiet sensitive state of mind. It is this delicate balance that is at the heart of my personal challenge with chawan. It is easy to create flamboyant, whimsical or outlandish work we call chawan.  Far more difficult is the task of creating chawan that truly serve.  

Beyond the inspiration from another work, something nearly all chawan artists do, one must also go into ourselves and embrace the limitations we are faced with.  How do you help ‘bad clay’ or even 'dead clay' take on life?  How do you move toward developing a ‘presence’ in the piece?  How can you get anything of real substance from a gas kiln when your soul yearns for wood and the nuances that alone can bring?  That is the challenge of any artist’s work to bring from the materials and conditions as much as they are able to give.  If that happens then the chawan or any work has a chance to ‘live’.  

Objectively, this chawan is large: 16cm wide 8.5 cm tall and 7cm deep inside.  

I am quite happy with the depth and interior form of this bowl.  It draws me into that deep well (too bad this isn‘t in 3D).  I also personally like a large chawan but not much larger than this one.  Chawan normally range from 12cm to 17cm wide with something like 14.5-15.5cm being the norm if there is a norm.  This bowl would be classified as an Ido style.  It was thrown on an electric wheel with moderated speed a little more carefully than necessary.*

It is trimmed with a homemade thin strap steel gub suay kal (left bent knife) that was actually made in Korea.  The kal was a little dull and chattered slightly during trimming.  Not on purpose but not avoided either.  Since I like it, perhaps it was on purpose.
Again, I like the form of the bowl and the depth of the interior but after living with the bowl for a while, for me the foot is a little too small and doesn’t have the depth of character I would like.  I must add that I thought it was fine when I made it.  It still sits quite well.
It is a ‘tight bowl‘, thanks to the electric wheel and my early ‘tight’ training with the Japanese porcelain master Inoue Manji* and my exposure to some contemporary Korean masters who work a little more controlled.  I still struggle to relax.  Only the surface and chattering of the gubsuay kal relax it a bit.  These remarks are not to diminish the absolutely brilliant and beautiful work by Inoue Manji or the Korean masters whom I greatly admire.  But I now work in a different direction influenced more by old Korea than Japan. Still I thank Sensei Inoue for the discipline he gave me and for a greater appreciation for ‘tighter‘ work by others.
That is probably why I can’t deny that I like the tighter bowl form of this chawan quite a bit, even as I now personally work to be more relaxed - but not 'faked', a topic for another post. 

In finishing the piece, it was dipped into a thin clay slip.  The Korean term for dipped slip is ‘tum-bung-mun buncheong’.  Most tum-bung-mun white slips are both white and really opaque.  This slip was neither.  Applied quite thin, and sometimes in layers that ran naturally uncontrolled nor forced, the slip becomes one with the clay body. The feldspathic glaze is also very thin.  I didn’t want a glassy shine on this bowl.

In preparing the slip, that came from another of my clay bodies that happens to shrink the same, I ignored putting it through a sieve while mentally “channeling” the Joseon potter, of that earlier teabowl I mentioned, so there are a few tiny clay particles from the undissolved slip remaining that add a little to the character of the bowl.                  
It is the kiln that is responsible for this unusual surface that was a ‘gift‘ from nature.  Sure the firing, being gas, was somewhat ‘controlled‘ and you try to accomplish certain results but until you open the kiln and the glaze cools you can’t be positive of anything, at least not in this kiln.

The surface of this chawan reflects a captured moment between oxidation and reduction much like the ip-hak chawan in my last post. This one is however quite unusual.  Unusual because this effect on other bowls most often occurs because of tiny stone particles in the clay body around which re-oxidation after reduction occurs.  In this case it happened through the thin slip and also on un-slipped clay under the thin feldspathic glaze.  The re-oxidation mottling developed because of the grog in the clay body more than because of tiny stones. the grog particles re-oxidized differently than the clay surrounding them.
Once more, I give the credit for this bowl to the outer powers more than to myself.  Can I say this bowl has presence and is not overly pretentious?  Does it have personality and is not too proud or boisterous?  Does it evoke a quiet sensitive state of mind?  I think so.  We are left with a simple, honest ‘water’ chawan with an unusual surface - like summer fog on a misty day - that for some time has been waiting to serve.  

It was recently purchased. 

Post Script:  In the last two posts I have shown two types of buncheong.  The ip-hak chawan in my previous post uses the sanggam buncheong carved inlay process while this bowl (I’m temporarily calling ‘Evening Mist‘) employs the tum-bung-mun buncheong process.  The sanggam inlay process has its roots in the Goryeo Dynasty celadon decorating processes of the 12th century.  Early buncheong decorating processes of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 -1910) were very similar to later Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) celadon decorating processes.  The buncheong glaze moved from the difficult to achieve celadon to a variety of basically transparent slightly lower temperature and easier to achieve buncheong‘ glazes.   Buncheong decorating went through a transition from pictorial decorative inlayed slip in the earlier years to very simple dipped or brushed slip processes. It is often said that buncheong processes were at their peak in 1492.  
Although both the ‘Ip-hak’ and the ‘Mist’ chawan exhibit the re-oxidation-reduction effects.  Many buncheong works do not and these effects should not be connected to ‘buncheong’ in general
A debate exists regarding the decline or sudden end of buncheong in Korea around 1592 after which porcelain became more popular in Korea.  Some scholars, particularly Japanese leaning ones suggest that buncheong would have ended around 1592 in Korea in any case.  There is a case for that conclusion. Others, particularly Korean leaning point out that the Japanese invasion was largely responsible for the decline and end of the use of these processes. There is a case for that conclusion. 1592 was the time of the Imjin War (Bunraku War) when Japan invaded Korea and thousands of Koreans were forcefully taken to Japan. It is less well known that nearly all of Korea’s art, including paintings, sculptures, furniture - everything that was above ground was destroyed by the invading forces or taken to Japan.  Many Buddhist temples and the art in them were destroyed.  Between 60,000 and 80,000 Koreans, mostly scholar, artists and intellectuals but also women and children were taken to Japan at that time.  Among them were hundreds or perhaps as many as 2000 ceramic artists.  Those Korean ceramic artists established ceramic centers and changed the face of Japanese ceramics adding particularly to Japan’s natural ways of working with clay.  That war has gained the nickname 'The Pottery War'.  
Interestingly, just a little later there was a major fire in China and many Chinese ceramic artists also came to Japan to work.  These ceramic artists brought with them overglaze enamel decorating processes.  So today we have this strong division in Japanese ceramics between the very natural from Korea and the very controlled decorative processes from China.    
Click on the link
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a fantastic and free PDF book on Korean arts. Did you miss it?
Both of Hamada's quotes come from my notes when working with him.  Yanagi's quote is from his book The Unknown Craftsman translated by Bernard Leach.
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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The New Year's Chawan:

Ip-hak-Dawan the Standing Crane Chawan

Finally, it is January 31, Seollal: Korean Lunar New Year -- Happy New Year!  The year of the Snake has passed and it is now the year of the Wooden Horse.  I wanted to post something special today in celebration.  So I selected a crane. 
You probably know that the zodiac animals, used as symbols for the Lunar, Han or Chinese New Year, does not include a crane.(1)  But the crane is an auspicious New Year’s symbol bringing long life to those who believe.  Even if you don’t believe, why take chances when drinking from a bowl like this on New Year’s day is a great tradition - especially when drinking delicious tea. 

I think of this as an Ip-hak Dawan, or standing (ip) crane (hak 학) chawan.  It is a New Year’s dawan.  In Korea the terms dawan and chawan are often interchangeable but the term dawan, for me, implies a ritual.  This style bowl is sought out for a New Year’s ritual.  I spoke with several Korean ceramic artist friends about this bowl and got very little consensus except that it is a New Year's Bowl and a symbol for long life.  It is also often used throughout the year for special guests wishing them long life.  
Korea does have a special traditional ceremony and one of the days it is celebrated is New Years Day.  That ceremony is called Charye or Charae and is part of the fabric of Korean tradition.  It dates back to the first year of the reign of King Munmu.  In the year 661CE King Munmu of Silla (2) ordered tea to be used during ceremonial offerings.  That is one of the first mentions of tea in official records in Korea and predates tea ceremonies in either China or Japan.  To be fair that was and is an ancestral rites ceremony.  It continues today.  China was the first to have tea ceremonies as we know them today.  In any case over the millennium in most cases during the Charye ceremony tea has been replaced with wine.  So this is probably not a Charye tea bowl.
Perhaps the ritual for this bowl is formal for one’s family or it may be informal  even casual when used for a special guest when they visit or simply by one person alone with ones thoughts, but in each case the purpose is the same - to bring long life and with it happiness.  The drinking from a bowl for this purpose is then a ritual.  Koreans seek out images of the crane particularly as a symbol of long life, happiness and blessings from God and this dawan is one of the items they choose. 
This particular ip-hak dawan is by my old friend Lee Jun Hee in whose studio I worked in Icheon, Korea now many years ago.  Lee Jun Hee was well known in his day for his beautiful paintings on white ware.  At the time I worked in his studio tea was beginning to be revised in Korea.  The Korean tea ceremony was being rediscovered.  Palace tea rituals were being saved and passed on and buyers for chawan were rediscovering Korean chawan.   

The bowl is tall and deep.  This chawan style, originally Korean, like the famous Ido chawan style, was adopted and used also in Japan as early as the time of Sen Rikyu.  I wonder if Sen Rikyu’s Korean grandfather had anything to do with the adoption of this chawan style?  Sen is the Korean name Rikyu adopted from his grandfather Sen-Ami an aesthete working for Ashikaga Yoshimasa a local warlord.
While history and purpose is important, and for me quite interesting, it is time to contemplate the bowl. 

 Undecorated Side (3) 

Taller and more narrow than most chawan we think of as being Korean, this bowl was made for tea.  Being a dawan, it was made very carefully.  Its simple swelling to an open mouth form sits on a special three legged foot that obviously means there was something special about this bowl.  In forming the piece the ‘throwing’ lines are softened meaning a little extra care was taken.  The foot was not trimmed in the normal quick 2 or 3 quick swipes manner. But special care was taken in the trimming of this foot.

Trimmed 3 Legged Foot 

Then the crane was carved using a cho kak kal.  Cho kak kals are special tools each with various sharp tips now made of steel but originally from bamboo that are pulled toward the user to carve out lines of various widths that are then often inlaid with white and black slip. 

 Gub Suay Kals and One of Several Cho Kak Kal Styles

Trimming and Scrapping with Gub Suay Kals

The extra slip is shaved away with a gub suay kal inlaying the slip.  A similar tool is used for trimming the foot.  Actually the ‘black slip is usually red (from the red iron oxide) or dark grey (from black iron oxide) when applied and turns black during the firing.  Of course the slip must ‘fit‘ the bowl and not shrink too much in the drying or firing process or the inlay will come out.  This particular process, the sanggam process, was invented by Koreans during the Goryeo Dynasty when celadon was it its height in Korea.  Now, in this form, it is one of several buncheong decorating processes many of which had their roots in the Goryeo Dynasty's celadon decorating processes.  The correct term for this process on this piece is ‘buncheong sanggam’, and it employs both white (peak sanggam) and black (heuk sanggam).

Won-Sanhwa Reduction-Oxidation Effect

It is glazed with a simple 'thin' feldspar and ash glaze over a toothy impure sandy clay body.  It was fired in a wood kiln using an alternating atmosphere between reduction (won) and oxidation (sanhwa) that captured re-oxidation spots around the impurities in the clay.  Note: I have noticed some tea blogs calling this effect 'buncheong'.  That information is often incorrect.  A buncheong process (and there are many) must use slip in some way.  This effect often occurs without as well as with the use of slip.  Usually that slip is white alone or white and black. 

One can see slightly thicker ‘ring’ of glaze on the foot where the glaze 'gathered' around the finger tips when potter picked it up by the foot to glazed the bowl.  Beyond that all is in ‘control‘ as suiting a dawan like this.
For may reasons, this is one of my favorite bowls and I'll be using it today while wishing long life and happiness to all.
May the spirit of the crane on this dawan bring you and yours long life and happiness.  Again, Happy New Year! 

1. Zodiiac animals in order beginning this year are: Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Boar, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon and Snake.
2. King Munmu of Silla (reigned 661–681) is also known as the King who united all of Korea founding the Unified Silla Kingdom.
3. This chawan/dawan is 9.5 cm tall.  The body is also about 9.5 wide gradually swelling to 11.5 cm wide at the lip while the foot is 6.5 cm wide.
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Simple Chawan by Park Jong Il

I’ve been away from this blog for far too long.  Because of that, I have been looking at a number of chawan worthy of being the one with which I returned and I have assembled several that I consider worthy candidates.  You will meet them later.  Then I received a grouping of images of chawan by Park Jong Il.  We introduced him to the Western tea world a few years ago and his teapots that are gaining international attention.  Park Jong Il is best known for his teapots. While his teapots are usually consistent and recognizable as uniquely his, his chawan are different.  In a real sense his chawan are like a group of people that might attend a gathering to celebrate tea.   Some are masculine, some are feminine, some are more rugged looking than others – I think you get the picture.
As I was preparing those chawan images for that post, I kept returning to this teabowl.  I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t get it out of my mind so I decided to write about it simply to figure that out.  Unfortunately I don’t have the bowl here and the images I do have were taken with a cell phone so I can’t hold it in my hands.  But, I do know it was made with Jerisan clay, the same clay that he used to build the walls of his home and studio - the same Jerisan that is the ‘holy mountain’ for Korean tea.  So this bowl at its heart is made with the clay that most ceramic artists think is the best clay for chawan.   
Still, this is a very plain, effortless and not very complex bowl.  I mean this bowl appears so simple and uncomplicated that probably many people would simply walk on by.  Possibly not even give it a glance.  There are no drips, no stones emerging from the sides, no overlapping glaze or slip, no fingerprints, no wobbles – nothing – nothing that would call your attention to it.  Sure, there is that gentle kiss of flame on the lip - but that is it – after that nothing.  Really nothing?  Well, there is that perfect pale light orange ‘flesh’ color that is so sensuous and desired by tea connoisseurs.  And this bowl is very calm, unagitated and serene.  It is at peace with itself.  There is a softness to it that makes me want to hold it.  I know it would fit my hands beautifully.

The walls were formed quickly with faint throwing lines – not fingertips, but the side of the finger.  The clay body has no ‘grog’ or pre-fired ‘dead clay’.  There appears to be a certain amount of fine sand but not river bottom sand that would act as ‘miniature ball bearings’ in the clay body.   

It is a deep bowl with the interior dropping down inside the foot.  The strong foot was trimmed quickly, possibly with a bamboo gub suay kal or left bent knife, leaving a ‘ruffled’ or chattered pattern where it didn’t cut cleanly through the sandy clay used to form it. 

One or possibly two quick passes with the kal and it was done.  There is no sense in fussing over the foot for this bowl.  The foot is sturdy with a ‘bamboo knot’ foot – a classic finish.  Finally it was fired with wood with a semi-transparent feldspatic glaze – a time honored glaze.
So what makes this chawan extraordinary, exciting and compelling?  In a word, “nothing”.  Well, nothing ‘extraordinary’ or ‘exciting’, but compelling - I think so. 
In a recent post on our new tea 無爲 Mu-wi Sejak I wrote a little about the term ‘mu’.  Essentially the term means something like ‘empty’, ‘nothing’, ‘nothingness’ or ‘without‘ etc.  At first glance, one might attribute all of these things to this seemingly unremarkable bowl.  But there was something about this bowl that made me come back to it again and again.  Just to absorb it.  I must also remember that the term 'mu' in this sense is a Taoist term so it it a Taoist 'nothing'.
I can imagine feeling this bowl as it fits my hands warm now, not hot, with the addition of some good fresh matcha.  The kind of matcha the Japanese keep for themselves and don’t export.  I bring the bowl to my lips and absorb that sweet, not bitter, freshness of tea.  This bowl is serving me well.  That is how it should be.  This bowl was made to serve.  It is not a collector’s chawan – not yet anyway, but give it a century or two of good use and it may become a cherished cultural treasure.  You won't have to wait that long to enjoy it and only a little while for it to begin to mature in use.   
For this chawan is just that - a chawan.  It is not a bowl for candy or soup, possibly rice, but as soon as you look at it you know it is a chawan.   It is made for tea – to serve tea.  It is not made to serve itself, to be displayed on a shelf on some collector’s wall.  This bowl is made to be used, and the more you use it the better it will get.  It is just a simple chawan.  It is not the “Kizaemon Ido”.  But, let us remember that when Yanagi wrote about the Kizaemon Ido, he wrote . . . how ordinary! So simple, no more ordinary thing could be imagined. There is not a trace or ornament, not a trace of calculation. It is just a Korean food bowl, a bowl. Moreover, that a poor man would use everyday – commonest crockery.  
Later Yanagi continues:
But that is how it should be. The plain and unagitated, the uncalculated, the harmless, the straightforward, the natural, the innocent, the humble, the modest: where does beauty lie if not in these qualities? The meek, the austere, the un-ornate – they are the natural characteristics that gain man’s affection and respect. 
This chawan by Park Jong Il is not the Kizaemon Ido but it has many of those characteristics - plain, humble, straightforward and natural.  I don’t know about you but it has gained my affection and respect.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The World of Korean Ceramics - Available Book

This is a very quick post on the availability of the book The World of Korean Ceramics.  
I recently was able to make arrangements with the surviving author of this book Dr. Alan Covell for us to handle sales of the remaining copies of this out of print book.  Several of you have contacted me about this book but it was not yet available.  Now it is available, please contact me again if you are still interested.  I will accept orders in the order I receive them after this post.  
The book will be signed by Dr. Covell.   The price is $35.00. plus shipment from the USA.  The original price of this book at the time of its publication was $39.50.  I realize that this is slightly higher than some used copies.  However a blog based on the content of this book is being developed and will be available to those who have obtained the book from this source.  All proceeds from the sale of this book will go toward our work promoting ceramics - particularly Korean.

1. The Prehistoric World
2. The Horserider-Shamanist World
 3. The Buddhist World
4. The Confucian World
5.  The Japanese World
One may wonder why Japan is included.  This in part explains Korea's influence on Japanese pottery including chanoyu, Japanese gains in the "Pottery War" and more.
6.  The Modern World
  Each section provides very interesting and rare information in .
Included are chronological tables, kiln Illustrations and maps of Koryo kilns, partial list of musuems and major Korean collections, bibliography, and maps of porcelain and buncheong (punch'ong) kiln sites.  

The book is richly illustrated.

This is just one of the many pages of illustration found in this book.  All of these Korean chawan are in Japanese museums. In case you are interested, the text below these chawan reads:
No one individual could take *Hideyoshi, who first was hospitable to the Portuguese traders and Jesuit missionaries, as his predecessor Nobunaga had been, but by 1587 came to see that they presented a rival power, a rival loyalty, and he demanded absolute obedience from his subjects.  Kyushu had been difficult to conquer, and was not under such strong control because of its distance from his center of power (Kyoto-Osaka).  By sending troops only from the maritime provinces of Kyushu and western Japan, Hideoshi revealed his wariness of these strongly Christian areas.

Dr. Jon Covell, now deceased, was a learned scholar of both Japanese and Korean.  She was the first person to earn her doctorate in Japanese studies and lived in the Daitoku-Ji Japan for 10 years doing extensive research.  Daitoku-Ji temple houses many famous chawan.  Then she also lived in Korea for 10 years doing extensive research there as well.  There are very few who can match her linguistic skills.  Her son Dr. Alan Covell is a leading authority on Korean Shamanism and scholar on many aspects of Korean and Japanese culture. 

Again if you are interested in getting a copy of this book signed by Dr. Alan Covell, please contact me and include your shipping address and phone number.  I'll email you a PDF invoice and explain payment arrangements. 

NOTE:  This book is currently not available from me.  I will place you on a 'wish list' and work on getting more copies.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

An Older Korean Buncheong Chawan

We have had very little snow in our area this winter and what snow we did have has not been big and fluffy while bending the branches with its downy whiteness so deep you can barely move.  Beautiful yes, but not being a skier, that type of snow doesn't bring me physical joy.  I'm the one who has to shovel it.  
The snow we are having reminds me of an older buncheong bowl in my personal collection.  As I said, this snow is not the snow that is all fluffy and bright - untouched and pure white, but a snow that is more ‘natural’ and touched heavily by its environment. 

The bowl is touched heavily by its environment too and takes me back to a Korea 'touched heavily' by the conditions of the times.  This bowl takes me to my  Korean grandparents and to the times they experienced prior to and during the period when this bowl was made - the years when Japan occupied Korea.
I’m speaking of my ‘gqey yl’ buncheong chawan or brushed slip chawan made in Korea during the period of the Japanese occupation – officially 1910-1945.  I use the term ‘officially’ because the Japanese were in control pf Korea for several years before 1910 - defeating both Russia and China then assassinating Queen Min1 in 1895 and in 1906 dissolving the Korean army and palace guards of which my grandfather was a ‘captain’.  Grandfather would die for Korean independence, possibly also by assassination.  But that is another story that has been told elsewhere.

 My Old Korean Buncheong ‘Gqey Yl’

Even though both China and Korea used powdered tea before the Japanese the Japanese are responsible for the elevated position Korean chawan hold in the tea world.   But, why do older and even some contemporary Korean chawan hold an elevated position in the chawan world?  A complete explanation would take many more pages than I care to write for this post.  However, historically at least, the Japanese simply couldn’t make teabowls as 'natural' as the Koreans.  Even the great Japanese Intangible Cultural Asset Hamada Shoji, under whom I studied, agreed.  He simply said, “You can’t make loose work in a tight society.”  
Perhaps that is why the Japanese, during their occupation of Korea, had Korean potters make chawan for export to Japan.  Some of those bowls remained in Korea and this is one of them.  During this discussion you may even discover why I imagine this teabowl remained in Korea.   
I obtained it a few years ago, at very little cost, from a very reputable antique gallery in Insadong, Seoul.  I have also seen similar 'occupation' chawan offered as authentic historic buncheong chawan from the “buncheong period” of Korean ceramic history - 1392-1592 by less reputable dealers in the same area of Seoul.
For a 'complete understanding' of this bowl I suppose history is important but this is not a dissertation.  I simply want to look at the bowl.  In any case some 'history' has already crept in.  
Before I begin the main discussion, I want to say a little about buncheong and gqey ylThere is considerable confusion leading occasionally to misrepresentations of buncheong by otherwise knowledgeable tea people both here and in Korea.  So I want the reader to understand this particular type of buncheong.  
What is ‘buncheong’ and what is gqey yl?  To avoid a very lengthy history lesson, buncheong, is a relatively new Korean term for a group of ancient Korean ceramic decorating processes that use mostly white slip in a number of ways under a clear glaze.  'Slip' is essentially clay in the consistency of paint due to the amount of water present.  White slip, containing porcelain clay, was primarily used.  ‘Gqey yl’ is a term used to describe buncheong when a brush is/was used  to apply the slip.  Does this explanation sound too simple, it is.  But it will have to do for this post.  Someday I’ll do a post here or on another blog explaining 'buncheong' in more depth.  But for now, let's look at this bowl.

 Click to Enlarge All Images
It measures 5.5in or 14cm wide and 2.25in or about 6cm tall.  A smaller chawan.  The form is Japanese, not Korean.  There are a number of authentic Korean chawan forms but this is not one of them.  At first glance it is a common bowl - at first glance it is not even that attractive, mostly because of the foot and unusual lip roughness.  In my opinion the foot is little too weak, and with the exception of the off centered trimming, it is also a little too tight.  

What a way to begin to describe a chawan - by pointing out what I believe to be its faults.  The bowl is a 'product of its environment' and there are other “faults”, so lets get them out of the way before I really tell you what I think about this bowl.

 While vases and bottles are formed from the exterior, bowls are formed from the interior so let's look there first.  The white slip was applied quickly with a broad but not rough brush.  A yellow stain of unknown origin mars the surface.  Next to it, we find a drop of slip.  

The origin of the yellow stain is not known.  Most likely the drop of slip is the result of dipping the rim of the bowl very gently and carefully into the bowl of slip, after brushing, just to be certain the rim of the bowl was covered.  This extra dipping of the lip accounts for the unusual drip markings across and around much of the rim.  These markings are unusual and probably undesirable by a Japanese chawan connoisseur even 100 years ago.
Turning again to the interior of the bowl we are confronted with a number of interesting 'events'.

I first notice the contrasting color of the center circle with the rest of the bowl.  This is caused I believe by captured 'reduction' or lack of oxygen in the 'foot well' under the bowl.  Some Korean chawan styles, and many chawan from Hagi, Japan2 call for a notch in the foot to allow oxygen into this area thus preventing this type of color change.  Next, we see three 'wad' marks where small wads of clay were used so that another similar bowl could be stacked inside this one during the firing3.  A true chawan connoisseur would say these wad marks are too large.  You might also notice two other 'events'.  First, the tiny bare clay spot nearly in the center of the bottom where a piece of slip in drying did not adhere properly and came off sometime after firing.  Second, another drip of white slip; this time the slip had more water content and splashed flat just off the upper left center bottom.  It was just thick enough to cover a sliver of the captured reduction.  One can not leave the interior of this chawan without commenting on the slight glaze crawl and slight green tint to the transparent glaze where, for a number of possible reasons, the glaze application was a little thicker.  Overall the glaze is applied very thinly.  Each of these events adds immeasurably to the story of this chawan.

Let's take another look at the foot.  Earlier I said it was a little too weak.  But this photo doesn't suggest that.  That is because the foot is inconsistent being straight on one side and concave on the other.  When holding this bowl in my hands the foot is a little too weak.  Again, due to the above camera angle the image shows the foot as being slightly convex when in reality it is ranges from slightly concave to straight. (below)

The artist used a gubsuay-kal or 'left bent' knife made by hand from a flat strap of thin metal especially to trim the foot quickly.  Tools of this type are 'must have' if you are serious about creating chawan.  The foot ring is trimmed part way down the side of the bowl.  In this case, it is trimmed to the area the artist decided to cover with slip.  It is not unusual for an Asian ceramic artist to trim more than a Western ceramic artist.  In Asia, trimming is simply another forming process.  I have seen highly skilled Korean and Japanese masters trim their bowls from the bottom of the foot to nearly the edge of the lip to get a desired form.  The clay body contains particles of both mountain sand and stone.  Mountain sand is 'toothy',  It is not like river bottom sand that is rounded by the water and acts like minuscule ball bearings during the forming process.  No 'grog' i.e. pre-fired and pulverized bisque clay is used because, "Grog is dead clay and absorbs water" (again Hamada). 

A closer look at the foot and edge of the slip reveals both the stone in the clay body and the 'drier' consistency of the slip when it was applied.
I suppose it is time to discuss what I really feel about this bowl rather than what I see in this bowl.  Have you ever picked up a pebble that you liked more than a diamond?  Have you ever thought that old coins were more attractive than new coins?  Have you ever met a person who on initial meeting wasn't attractive but became so after you got to know them?  This bowl is like that.  I don't know if I have ever been so 'critical' of a bowl that I really like.  In spite of its flaws or perhaps because of them this bowl has presence but it is not boisterous.  Simple, naive, un-agitated, the bowl is here to serve.  What more should we ask of a chawan?  
Addendum: Alas!
Well that is what I said in February 2012 when I wrote this.  Since that time, I’ve been thinking about this bowl from time to time.  One thing has been bothering me.  It is not necessarily bothering me about the aesthetic qualities of the bowl but rather its real history.  Above I wrote, “The artist used a gubsuay-kal or 'left bent' knife made by hand from a flat strap of thin metal especially to trim the foot quickly.”  It absolutely was trimmed by a metal gubsuay-kal.  But before metal kals, bamboo gubsuay kals were used.  That issue continued to ‘eat at me’.  So the last time I was in Korea, I met with my friend Cheon Han Bong.  Cheon Han Bong, an Intangible Living Treasure, was one of the artists who reestablished teabowls in Korea.  My question was simple. “When did ceramic artists start using metal gubsuay kals in Korea?”  I expected to hear him answer, “Many years ago.” or “Around 1930.” or even 1940.  But he simply said, “Around 1970.”  1970!  That means this bowl is not a bowl made during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the first half of the last century.  That means the gallery where I purchased it and another gallery where I saw a similar piece authenticated on paper that their bowl was from the occupation period were wrong.  The second gallery was committing fraud.  It is a good thing  didn’t pay much for this piece considering the price of chawan.  I still ‘like’ or as delineated above 'dislike' the bowl but for different reasons. 
When I started this blog, I said it was an “Interior and Exterior Journey”.  This experience in particular has been an 'interior' one.  The journey continues. 

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1 Queen Min is also known as Empress Myeongseong 
2 Hagi is a Japanese pottery village founded by Korean ceramic artists during or just after the Imjin War.
3 Potters of this period in Asia did not use kiln shelves so several teabowls were stacked inside each other separated only by specially prepared wads consisting mostly of refractory clay and usually some organic matter like rice flour or sawdust.  Many contemporary recipes for these wads can be found online.          

Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Autumnal Chawan

It's early November, the leaves have turned to amazing tints and shades of red, yellow, orange and gold and the winds of autumn are beginning to chill the air.   I’ve been thinking about how this time of year seems to compel us to merge hot tea with bowl and about the fire and energy that creates that merging moment.  Every time of year is the perfect time for tea but the cool breezes, colors and haze of autumn, in my part of the world, seem to make the merging of tea and teabowl even more necessary. 
To illustrate this, I’m turning once again to a bowl by the renowned teabowl artist Min Young Ki.  He created a magnificent bowl that warms me just thinking about it. 

This bowl was born of fire and seems to keep the warmth of that flame within its soul.

The kiln that produced it seems almost haphazard.  Made of stone, clay and brick, the dome is cracked, yet there is nothing haphazard about the work that emerges.   Still, like most Korean teabowl artists, thousands are made, few chosen for the honor of serving tea.

Among all the teabowls that were selected, this teabowl is the epitome of autumn.  Let’s look at it again.

The bowl exudes warmth, not scorching HEAT, “warmth” with all the ramifications of that word.  You can almost feel how this bowl fits your hands and radiates that warmth into your bones. 

The natural feldspathic glaze creates a haze across the bowl.  We can almost see leaves drifting in the distance. 

Like autumn the weather changes.  Some days are warmer than others. . .

. . . and slowly the cool breezes of winter begin to appear. 

Like earth the foot is dark and strong holding above it all of autumn in a magnificent bowl.  
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