Kim Syyoung, widely considered as the ‘alchemist of flame’, began his works by reproducing black ceramics. However, in the past thirty years, he has gone beyond simple reproductions and focused on the transformation that occurs in combining fire, a force of nature, with matter, in this case the minerals in the soil. The most important stage of his work is firing, and its key element is fire.
Born in 1958, Kim Syyoung first encountered Japanese ceramics and black ink through his father, a calligrapher who had worked in Japan. In Yongsan Technical High School, he discovered the wonder of fire transforming materials in the blast furnace. Since then, he has studied fire extensively by majoring in Metallurgical Engineering at Yonsei University and studying a Masters degree in ceramics at the Graduate School of Industry, Yonsei University. As a member of the university mountaineering club, he naturally became familiar with soil and rocks, and in particular was directly inspired by distinct rocks of the Alps that are rich in minerals. He became determined to explore these materials through pottery when he viewed a ceramic from China’s Song Dynasty, a National Treasure of Japan.
In 1988, Kim Syyoung built a traditional wood fired kiln and started on the path of becoming a ceramic artist. He studied soil and fire to reproduce black ceramics in black and reddish brown, a Korean tradition that has almost disappeared since the Goryeo dynasty. In 1997, he met the former director of the National Museum of Korea, Chung Yangmo, at his first solo exhibition held at Jamsil Lotte Gallery, and this friendship enabled him to enrich his work academically and historically. At this point of his life, he was reproducing not only Korean traditional black ceramics but also Clay Flower Tea Bowl of the Song Dynasty, one of Japan’s National Treasures.
For Kim Syyoung’s black ceramics, firing not only creates ceramics; it is also a process for awakening various minerals hidden in the soil. He repeatedly forms and dissolves the kaleidoscopic patterns and colors on the surface of black ceramics, called ‘clay flower,’ by varying the soil components, fire temperature and accordingly the fire environment being clear or cloudy. For 15 years after the initial period when he focused on the reproduction of traditional black ceramics, he mostly worked on controlling the moment the clay flower is formed and creating the appropriate fire environment.
The former director of the National Museum of Korea, Chung Yangmo, describes Kim Syyoung as being a monkish potter. Kim, who has majored in engineering, approaches his work from a scientific angle. He has dealt with and meticulously adjusted 1,300℃ of fire every day for 20 years. He uses a kerosene kiln since its fire and internal environment are easily controlled and it is the most similar to a traditional wood fired kiln. After producing around 3,000 kiln works, Kim Syyoung finally created his own clay flower unique in color and texture. These were displayed in the forms of Tea Bowl and pots at his solo exhibition at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in 2010; the subtle changes that emerge from darkness conveyed a sense of mystery and solemnity to its viewers.
Thereafter, Kim’s work has conveyed a different sense of beauty. He began to pursue free and dynamic shapes in ceramics rather than rigid ones. The high temperature of 1,300℃, long firing time and repeated firing in the kiln significantly influence not only the surfaces, but also the shape of the works. In the process of shaping, connecting the top and the bottom of a pot leads to unpredictable changes in the shape, and the work is further distorted in the high-temperature kiln. Through this process, Kim Syyoung created the moon-shaped jar, and this has become the starting point of his dynamic creations; his ceramics have become more and more unstructured.
Recently, Kim Syyoung started a shaping technique that responds to the weather of summer and winter, and has continued to collect various soils based on geological research at home and abroad.
Kim Syyoung’s artworks, the integrated result of a 30-year study on fire and soil, will resound deeply with viewers.