Who is Ahryun Lee?

milan design market

As Milan Design Market, from now on we will be sharing stories of young and talented designers and talk about their design processes, methods, life to inspire others.

I`m happy to share with you the interview with Ahryun Lee, a designer/artist who loves to experiment.

You can find really useful informations about making process and how educational backgrounds effect designers.

Hope you enjoy to go into her world!

Q. Can you tell us little bit about you? what are your interests? how is your daily life?

Hi, my name is Ahryun. I’m originally from Seoul, South Korea but currently living in near Munich, Germany. I recently moved here after my master study from Royal College of Art (2016) in London, UK. Personally I would like to describe myself as a young adventurer who likes travelling with appreciation of other cultures.

For the last 4 years, I have been through a lot of changes in my life from living in different cultures, moving from Asia to Europe.

My interest is, of course, “Ceramics” which I spend my most of time, but also in general Art and Design. I like both traditional and contemporary stuff, there is always something to learn from the past so I used to go to museum where I can get inspiration from historical collection. But also contemporary pieces inspire me from its interesting narrative and visual oddity which is unusual for daily life.

My ordinary life is ... I’m a full-time creative professional, ceramic artist. I go every day to my studio and spend most of my time there like working in my own company even though the income is yet unstable what I expect for living but I love my job. I have a temporary studio where I share the space with other person but soon in 2018, I will open my own studio, I’m very excited for this to have my own space!

Except from the working time, I usually go to some galleries and museum not just only seeing ceramics but also Art and Design exhibition. From time to time I’m traveling to another country for my international exhibition. These days I start learning new, difficult language “German!”, and experiencing new culture here in Germany.

Q. Since how many years you are experimenting with ceramics?

Nearly 10 years, wow I’ve never counted it so far, 10 years ?! It’s unbelievable! I started learning ceramics in 2008, Korea. Korean education was very skill-based approach, my previous professor wanted to cultivate his students as a master of Craftsman. Teachers pushed students hard to achieve good technical skills. I still remember the time when we sit on the electric wheel almost 10hours a day to be a good thrower. This educational background affects on my previous work that every object is finely well-made in delicate white porcelain as there is high appreciation in Korean Ceramic. The principle was resisting to industrial revolution to illustrate that human can make more beautiful and better objects whilst hand-made object has higher value.

Even though I really appreciated this craft-based approach in Korean ceramics, I felt like I’m replacement of machine without any creativity and apparently I love“Colours”, not the colourless “White”. I considered myself as an expressive Artist rather than Craftsman so I decided to experience something different that I can broaden my perspective, so I decided to move to London as London has vibrant Contemporary Ceramic Art scene.

The time in UK was priceless, I learned a lot whilst deeply exploring about myself ; what I want to be, what I really like, which style I want to develop for my visual identity. My approaches widen and my work has changed dramatically more flexible and organic way of thinking; visually more vibrant and expressive.

This is the example picture of my transition in making : journey from Korea to UK - how environment change/ different culture influence on my creativity/style. (see picture below)

I’m looking forward to seeing my next development where I’m going to be while being in Germany.

Q. How did you realise it’s your field?

This question is interesting, the question means how come I decide to do ceramics as my field, right? To be honest, I meet ceramic by chance. When I was young I wanted to be a painter as I really love drawing and painting. I entered the special art school when I was 13 and I could experience different art field such as Sculpture, Design, Oriental painting, Western painting. At that time I was interested in Design department, Graphic Design and in the university suddenly I came across Ceramics and I just fell in love with doing something with my hands. Making something with hands was more like meditation process for me I really like the moment when I am totally immersed in the process without any miscellaneous thoughts.

And now, I’m having more curiosity in ceramics. There are so many things to explore in this field, ceramic is such an intriguing area from its versatile possibilities in expression. The unique materiality broadens the creative possibilities in ceramics, material experiment enables artist to create fascinating result. Therefore these days ceramic becomes more fashionable in contemporary aspects. Not only ceramicist deals with ceramics but also designers and artist use clay as material, their interdisciplinary work throws the question

about the definition of ceramics and where it goes further; staying in Craft or breaking into Art or Design?

Q. As Milan Design Market we follow your works they are impressive. Do you imagine the final shape before starting or you shape the ceramic how it goes?

Thanks for the compliment, I’m very glad that my work can give some impression to people. Normally I prefer to draw the shape of image what I imagined before making, do research about the forms, colour and texture on the surface. As we are visual people it’s always easier to do some sketch but the fact that ceramic work is material-driven, and process-based it can be always changed from the working progress. And sometimes you discover some unexpected things in the middle of making that is a fascination of ceramics.

Q. For what the contemporary and traditional terms are standing in your design?

Hmm..This is very intellectual question to think about my work. I think my work combines these two aspects ; Contemporary and Tradition.

Tradition is a root of my work because that’s my background initially influenced by Korean education. Especially regards to the technical aspect, all the technical skills what I use for my work is based on traditional technique from the past such as Slip casting, Hand-building, Throwing, Inlaying colours, Trailing slips, Glazing and so on.

Even though I develop my own techniques from research and experiment, the root stems from the existing techniques from the tradition and this is important because it enables my ideas to actualise as a piece of work.

Also, for me tradition is questionable subject to consider contemporary ceramics. Despite the fact that contemporary ceramic has potential to broaden its territories towards Fine Art and Design the dominant-stereotypical image of ceramics is confined to the traditional interpretation; Ceramic as functional pot in historical context.

I’m very interested in this traditional perspective; How tradition affects on the definition of ceramics from past to present and public’s understanding of ceramics.

A lot of people asked me if I say “I’m doing ceramics.”, they expect to see the pottery for practical use. They often consider ceramics as only mugs, plates, something functional and a hobby craft.

So my work basically throws the question about this conservative view in ceramics whilst showing the extraordinary visual language with some narrative or stories inside like what other contemporary ceramics do. My works are in between function and non-function, they could be used but normally they are not for usage. The shape of work started from the vase or vessel with functional shapes but at the end it can’t be even touched because it looks too fragile. And strong colours make the audience tough to guess that I’m Korean ceramics artist.

I’m still exploring the meaning of contemporary where ceramics is situated and what the potential is. But my aim is to challenge every conventional notion in ceramics whilst contemplating the area between function and non-function. I’d like to explore the future of ceramics, where it goes and how it can be developed from tradition to contemporary.

Q. We heard you are planing to open your ceramic studio, while waiting for that you use temporary studios. Could you give a young designers suggestion how they should start?

Making my own studio is very hard work, isn’t it? Especially for ceramics there are certain facilities needed such as good size of Kiln, Electric Wheel, Spray booth, Slab Roller etc. At the beginning a lot of money is gone for start-up and sometimes it is definitely painful. It took some time till building your own. After graduation I was sharing the studio with my friend because we need the space to keep working, I think it’s really important not to stop the work after graduation. It’s good for sharing at the beginning because you can see which tools you really need for your work. The great thing of sharing, you can discuss your ideas with your mate and support each other emotionally and physically! Ceramic need this supportive partner definitely! Building network is also essential I think for all art and design field that you can get more opportunities for collaboration in the future so I would like to suggest to experience artist-in- residency program or working with supportive association.

Q. Can you tell us about your latest collection?

My latest collection is “Imaginary drinks : memory of the taste”, which I show in last Milan design week ; “Passeggiata: An Airbnb Experience of Milan”with Cabana Magazine.

“Imaginary drinks” is an interesting project; questioning about how we remember the taste in our memories and how the senses can be visually translated in the object. The concept of my design stems from the memories of my childhood that how I built up memories and perception about the taste. In my childhood tactility was the important aspect to get to know about the world so touching sensibility was the beginning idea to develop this project.

"Tactile sensation" is a perception of understanding the things around us and it creates visceral reaction. The surface image of bottles is reminiscent of liquid inside and it brings imagination for the user to think about what is inside. These extraordinary bottles are quite fun and quirky but also it brings curiosity about the object between function and non-function. This artistic object is situated beyond functionality and suggests the potential how the ordinary object can be evolved.

Material : porcelain, high-fired colour stain, stoneware glaze, 1260c oxidation firing


Ahryun Lee



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