A brief introduction to the techniques and styles of Korean pottery

Korean pottery
Lee Kang Hyo

Korean pottery or ceramics are some of the most beautiful and highly prized in the world. For centuries, Korean ceramists have honed their craft to create exquisite pieces that are not only visually stunning but also deeply rooted in Korean culture and history. From the earliest unglazed pottery to the highly prized celadon glazes of the Goryeo Dynasty and beyond, Korean ceramics have a long and fascinating history that continues to inspire and captivate people around the world.

Korean pottery
Yoon Kwang-cho

Early History of Traditional Korean Pottery

The history of Korean ceramics dates back thousands of years, to the Neolithic period when the first examples of pottery were created. During the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC – 668 AD), Korean ceramics were largely unglazed and used for practical purposes such as cooking and storage. The Unified Silla period (668-935 AD) saw the introduction of celadon glazes, which would become a hallmark of Korean ceramics for centuries to come. The first celadon pieces were produced in Gyeongju, the capital of Silla, and were highly prized for their beauty and craftsmanship.

Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392)

Goryeo ware refers to all types of Korean pottery and porcelain made during the Goryeo dynasty.

The Goryeo Dynasty is considered a golden age of Korean ceramics, with the production of high-quality celadon ceramics being one of its most notable achievements. Goryeo-period ceramists also introduced new techniques such as iron-brown glazes and inlay decoration, which helped to elevate the art form to new heights. Goryeo-period ceramics are known for their delicate, nuanced glazes and intricate designs, which are still highly prized by collectors and connoisseurs today.

Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910)

Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) The Joseon Dynasty is another important period in the history of Korean ceramics. During this time, Korean ceramists developed new techniques and styles that would come to define the art form for centuries to come. One of the most important developments of the Joseon period was the production of white porcelain, which is known for its pure white color and delicate, translucent quality. Another important development was buncheong ware, which features a distinctive surface decoration created using a slip made from white clay and iron oxide. Underglaze copper-red decoration is also a hallmark of Joseon-period ceramics, and is prized for its intricate designs and vivid color.

Modern Korean Pottery and Ceramics

In recent years, modern Korean ceramics have gained popularity both domestically and internationally, thanks in part to the efforts of a new generation of Korean ceramists who are using their skills and creativity to push the boundaries of traditional ceramic techniques and styles.

One of the most important contemporary Korean ceramists is Lee Kang-hyo, who is known for his large-scale, wheel-thrown vessels and use of traditional techniques. Lee’s work is inspired by Korean folk traditions, and he strives to create pieces that are not only visually stunning, but also deeply rooted in Korean culture and history. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Another important contemporary ceramist is Yoo Eui-jeong, who creates intricate pieces that are inspired by nature and the natural world. Yoo’s work often features delicate, organic forms and intricate patterns that are painstakingly created using traditional Korean techniques. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout Korea and Japan, and she has been the recipient of numerous awards for her innovative and beautiful pieces.

Korean pottery
Lee Inchin

Korean pottery has a rich and storied history that spans thousands of years. From the simple, unglazed pottery of the Neolithic period to the intricately decorated celadon and porcelain of the Joseon dynasty, Korean ceramics have long been admired for their beauty, craftsmanship, and innovation.

Throughout the centuries, Korean potters have developed a wide range of techniques for creating ceramics, including throwing, coiling, and slab construction. These techniques were often passed down from generation to generation within families or through apprenticeships, and they allowed Korean ceramists to create a wide range of forms, from simple bowls and jars to complex, multi-part vessels.

One of the most distinctive features of Korean pottery is the use of natural materials, including local clays and wood ash glazes. These materials, combined with traditional firing techniques, produced a unique range of colors and textures that set Korean ceramics apart from those of other cultures.

But it wasn’t just the materials and techniques that made Korean ceramics so special. It was also the attention to detail and the emphasis on craftsmanship. Korean potters often spent months, or even years, creating a single piece, carefully shaping and refining it until it was perfect. This dedication to craft and attention to detail is evident in every piece of Korean ceramics, from the simplest vessel to the most ornate and intricate masterpiece.

Korean pottery
Lee Kang Hyo

Today, Korean ceramics continue to evolve and thrive, as a new generation of ceramists pushes the boundaries of traditional techniques and styles. Contemporary Korean ceramics incorporate a wide range of influences, from modern design concepts to global artistic trends, and they continue to captivate and inspire collectors and enthusiasts around the world.

In conclusion, Korean ceramics are a testament to the creativity and skill of Korean potters throughout the ages. From their humble beginnings to their modern-day masterpieces, Korean ceramics have always been admired for their beauty, craftsmanship, and innovation. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a curious newcomer, exploring the world of Korean ceramics is an experience that is sure to delight and inspire.

Do check our pick of contemporary Japanese ceramicists.

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