Object of the Week: Bamboo and Blossoms by Steven Young Lee
Posted on: 2019-10-07 09:43:11
Steven Young Lee (b. 1975) grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts and his Master of Fine Arts in ceramics from Alfred University in Alfred, New York. Today Lee is the Resident Artistic Director of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana, a position he has held since 2006.
The son of Korean immigrant parents, Lee creates ceramic vessels that reflect his Korean heritage and his American upbringing, as well as his experiences garnered from living in both major cities and rural communities all over the world. Lee writes, “I have experienced being an outsider in the country of my heritage to being one of a minority of Asians in Montana. My work allows me to re-interpret and confront questions of place and belonging. Having begun my artistic career learning Asian pottery techniques in a Western education system, I am also continually investigating the sources and ownership of cultural influence.” Lee is often playful with his motifs, decorating vessels with rabbits, dinosaurs, and other references to pop culture.
Bamboo and Blossoms is an example of Lee’s continuous interest in challenging perceptions and standards of beauty. With a large crack down its side, the pot appears to be damaged beyond repair. The crack, however, is intentional. Lee often either slits his vessels prior to their firing or purposefully fires the vessels so that they break in the kiln. He will then add designs to the inside of the vessel to help people understand that they are intended to see the vessel’s interior. By transforming an otherwise meticulously crafted pot into an imperfect form, Lee asks people to question what makes an object beautiful.
To create the intricate inlay design on Bamboo and Blossoms and many of his other works, Lee begins by carving the scene into the leather-hard surface of clay using a tool that makes smooth, clean lines. He then fires the vessel, which preserves the drawing, and sands off any rough edges produced in the firing. Next, Lee fills the thinly drawn lines with a cobalt and porcelain slip, lets the slip dry, and then scrapes off the extra material, leaving slip only in the drawn design. Finally, he covers the entire vessel with a clear glaze.
Bamboo and Blossoms is a recent acquisition, purchased this year with funds provided by the Social Art Club, a women’s club dedicated to the study of art in a group setting. The Club has an extensive history of supporting the Everson, including donating artwork and funds for the purchase of artwork for the collection, sponsoring films and lectures, and providing scholarships for children to attend summer art camps. The Club’s financial support has led to the acquisition of some of the Everson’s most iconic ceramic pieces.
Bamboo and Blossoms is currently on display in Mixed Doubles, on view through December 1, 2019.
-Steffi Chappell, Assistant Curator
Image caption: Steven Young Lee, Bamboo and Blossoms, 2011, porcelain, cobalt inlay, and decals, 13 x 13 x 17 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Museum purchase with funds from the Social Art Club, 2019.17. Photo credit: Ferrin Contemporary.
 Steven Young Lee, artist’s statement, https://stevenyounglee.com/about/artist-statement/