Sunday, February 7, 2010

Park Jong Il’s Chatchan and Chawan

For a tea ware artist to create truly significant work, they must know Tea. Does the one who drinks tea in a serious manner have a responsibility to know and understand tea ware?
When I sell my work in Asia, I have the opportunity to talk with the customers directly. On my first encounters, now some years ago, I was surprised at their knowledge of the ceramic process as opposed to Western customers who more commonly simply bought what they liked. The Asian customers ask questions, “Is this wood fired or gas fired? What temperature do you fire at? Is that natural mountain stone in the clay body? Even, “How many times have you drunk maccha?” The latter question was a test to determine if I really understood Tea. But in the West, I very seldom get questions like that.
I created this blog for selfish reasons, one can never know enough about Tea and writing about it helps. In addition looking carefully at someone else’s work may serve to educate us all.
Park Jong Il’s ‘chatchan’ teacups and ‘chawan’ tea bowls are the foundation of his work – of any tea ware artist’s work..
Jong Il’s are all simple functional ware and rely on “outer powers” for many of the effects achieved. The clay body, glaze, kiln, even wheel and other things have as much to do with the work as he does. For me, that is one of the signs of a good tea ware artist. They are one with nature and use nature in their work.
I will begin with some of his teacups. For many reasons, teacups do not receive the same respect as tea bowls. First, they are small. Second, they are usually not expensive. Third, Korea’s who drink tea use chatchan every day as common ware. Fourth, there is a mystery surrounding tea bowls that has elevated their status beyond imagination. A simple Korean or Japanese chawan made today by a known artist may be sold for thousands of dollars. Even an unknown tea ware artist may receive hundreds or even thousands of dollars if the look is right. While a teacup made by the same artist remains reasonably priced. The time and effort to create a chatchan or a chawan are similar. For an experienced tea ware artist it takes just seconds more to form a chawan. It is no wonder that some tea ware artists have decided to only make chawan. But the reason for this is not only financial. This issue will be explored more fully on
Park Jong Il is a complete tea ware artist. As you are seeing, he produces a full line of tea ware. I apologize that I do not have examples of a greater selection of his chatchan. You have seen his porcelain and in doing so have discovered that he uses more than one clay body. Many ceramic artists use just one clay body. Park Jong Il uses many clay bodies as each clay body contributes to the final result.

Jong Il's chatchan are beautiful.  The four cups to the right measure approximately 2” x 3” or 5 cm x 7.5 cm.  The left one is slightly smaller.  All have a similar clay body that is rich in iron.  Brown is one of the preferred colors for maccha but these are for infused tea that looks good with many colors even clear glass – an admission difficult for a potter to make.
The cup to the left is glazed with a simple glaze revealing the dark body.  At first glance one might think that the four cups to the right are all glazed the same but on closer examination there are two sets.  All four are tum bung or dipped into slip buncheong* but both the slips and glazes are slightly different.  You might ask why an artist would take the time to use different slips and glazes to create similar results.  The answer is in the word ‘artist’.  Artists see beyond “first glance”.  The more we look at these two sets of chatchan the more different they become – beautiful.  Aesthetically chatchan follow similar principals as chawan.  In essence they are chawan in miniature and should be enjoyed in the same manner.

Jong Il’s chawan are simple and spiritual, reflecting the man and his approach to Tea and tea ware.  This bowl is quite deep, even deeper than an ‘ido’ bowl and fits the hand beautifully.  It is glazed with a simple “dry” glaze composed of feldspar and ashes. 
On occasion tiny natural stones in the clay body interrupt the ‘sharkskin’ surface and gently influenced the rim.  The bowl is quiet and humble and a great color for matcha. 

But maccha looks great with a variety of tones of several colors so it becomes a matter of taste, personality and mood as to which chawan one selects for their bowl on a particular evening.  It is like selecting which tea to drink that morning with which teacup, or which teapot should be used with which tea?  So a collector of chawan, who is truly into Tea, and enjoys maccha, will have many tea bowls in their collection and may pay considerable sums for them.  Korea’s Human National Treasure in pottery, Kim Jong Ok,  receives as much as the equivalent of $7000 USD for a single bowl.  I know others who have received even more.  But most artists, including Park Jong Il, have more modest prices.
The above bowl is glazed with an unusual slip glaze on an iron rich clay body.  Park Jong Il uses several clay bodies as each has its own voice in the final result.  This piece is more heavily reduced than the first and iron is pulled from the glaze and clay body creating a very different result.  This bowl is masculine, the previous bowl more feminine.  Both were quickly formed.  Yet both chawan maintain a quiet, strong presence and reflect the personality of the same maker.

I call this a gama sabal or kiln bowl.  So called because the kiln had as much to do with this tea bowl as the potter.  It captures the perfect balance between the inner and outer powers necessary to achieve quality chawan.  If this bowl were glazed with a ‘shino’ glaze, the Japanese would call it “rat shino” because of the color change caused simply by the change of gray reduction to white oxidation on the same piece. The term ‘reduction’ refers to the reduction of oxygen during the firing.  When oxygen in needed, and not present, oxygen is ‘pulled’ from the oxides in the glaze and clay body causing them to change color.  This is the same effect that’s necessary to produce copper reds and celadon chungja glazes*.   But surprise, this bowl is glazed with the same slip and glaze as two of the chatchan above and is ‘buncheong’*.  It was dipped into a thin clay slip tum bung over a darker clay body. 
In the beautiful chawan above, you can almost see the reduction smoke and flames swirling around, now frozen in that perfect moment.

This ‘gqey yl’ or brushed slip ‘buncheong’ piece is simply beautiful and is decorated using one of the old ‘buncheong’ methods for decorating with white slip.  Slip in this case was applied with a rough brush.  The slip was applied without hesitation – direct and in one movement.  The ‘line’ of this bowl also reflects the quickness of forming – both turning or throwing and trimming on a wheel.  In Korea, trimming is as important to the forming process as turning.
The interior, here with some remaining maccha, shows the uneven reduction often prized by tea ware connoisseurs.  This bowl “moves in its stillness” and is a good example of Jong Il’s work.
I’m sorry that I don’t have photos of all sides of these chawan including the bottom of the foot.  The latter two photos were taken in Jong Il’s Tea/gallery while the first two photo are from his collection. 
My next posting on Park Jong Il will be on his kiln followed by his family.

*‘Buncheong’ powder, is a relatively new term for a group of slip decorating processes used in Korea between 1392 and approximately 1592.  The use of these methods had already been slowly dying in favor of porcelain when Hideyoshi’s samurai warriors invaded Korea during the Imjin War (1592-1596) insuring the demise of these ‘buncheong’ processes.  Approximately 70,000 prisoners were taken to Japan as captives. These included artisans of many kinds, men, women, and children.  Included were hundreds of Korea’s most important literati.  Included also were approximately 2000 ceramic artists.  The war is nicknamed the Pottery War by some scholars.  Captive Korean potters began many of Japan’s now famous pottery villages.  One prominent expert on both Korean and Japanese arts and culture told me that if we were to remove all the Korean influences from Japanese ceramics, it would be like removing all African American musicians from the Jazz Hall of Fame.
The Japanese call the various Korean buncheong processes mishima and have identified more than 20 different types. 
*The “secret color” of celadon is achieved by the use of iron in the clay body and/or glaze and the proper amount of reduction during the firing.  In celadon the oxidation would have been yellow while the perfect reduction becomes “kingfisher blue” cheongja or what we know as “celadon”.  Over-reduced the celadon turns gray.  During the 1300’s Chinese scholars declared that one of the finest things under heaver was Korean celadon – everything else was Chinese.  To learn more about celadon check the website  
As for Korea’s use of copper red; Korea used copper red on pottery two hundred years before China.  Koreans have been masters of reduction firing since the bronze age. 
*I have changed my spelling for powdered tea from "matcha" to "maccha".  While both spellings are used on a regular basis by different authors, "maccha" is the preferred spelling by the Japanese and it is presumed at this time to be a Japanese word. Ref:  What word do the Chinese use for powdered tea?
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Park Jong Il's Ch’at gi and Ch'akwan

Park Jong I'ls ch'at gi or tea sets like all of his work are very Korean.  Usually simple, always functional.  They remain elegant.
This tea set includes from the left tea cups ch'at chan a small serving dish, tea pot ch'akwan or ch'at chonja with side typical Korean side handle a cooling bowl mulchikim sabal or kwityaekurut stand for tea pot lid, water discard bowl kaesukurut on which a ceramic tea scoop ch'asi sits, tea caddy ch'aho. The tea caddy is not used for storage but for serving or ceremony.  Tea scoops are most often made of bamboo. Finally a small heater and pouring bowl.

  This porcelain set includes-from the left- a tea caddy 
-->, a small flower vase, two cups with stands, a tea pot with the typical Korean side handle, a cooling bowl  (behind), a water pitcher for transferring water, a stand for the tea pot lid and a water discard bowl.  I'm sorry that I don't yet know all the terms in Korean.

This tea set grouping is less elaborate but includes a small tall handled tea pot, cooling bowl (that is particularly important for green tea), a stand for the teapot lid and two cups with stands.  Most Korean tea pots for infusing tea are small and are used for multiple infusings during the sitting.  


You have seen other examples of Park Jong Il's tea pots in earlier postings.  This moderately sized tea pot ch'akwan or ch'at chonja is a classic Jong Il. Simple in form, the spout is perfectly placed with the opening at water level.  The tall arching handle was formed as a ring on the wheel cut and placed on the vessel.  A whimsical figure sits as the handle for the lid.  

This teapot is unglazed with subtle wood ash flashing and back handle.

A little whimsy doesn't hurt this small teapot with wood ash flashing.
Park Jong I'ls work, for the most part, is not flashy but simple, natural and functional work.  They are made to serve.  I really enjoy seeing Park Jong Il's tea pots and pouring vessels and am impessed by their subtle variety when viewed as a group.

As stated earlier, Park Jong Il's work is related to his life, simple, direct, honest and natural -  humble and un-adulterated.  Perhaps there are some who will find Jong Il's work too plain or boring.  But each piece is born from a natural approach to living and is created effortlessly as he peacefully sits at his wheel.  In Seon (Zen) there is a saying that at the end of the road lies effortless peace.  What more can be desired? 
On my next posting, I'll finally look at some of his ch'at chan and chawan.  
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Monday, February 1, 2010

Park Jong Il: Handling Water

  The way a tea ware artist decides to handle water is an important part of their production.  Park jong Il uses several systems.

   This water tray is usually used for tea cups ch'at-chan and the serving of infused tea.  It is a simple servant, unglazed except for the fly ash that might settle on it during the firing.  It is composed of two parts the 'bowl' that they call da-hae or 'tea sea' often referred to in English  as an 'ocean' and the da-sun or 'tea boat'.  Traditionally with unglazed teapots one not only washes the cups on the da-sun but also pours hot water over the unglazed teapot during the brewing process and the excess water collects in the da-hae.  The teapot ch'akwan or ch'at-chonja is unglazed except for the fly ash as well.

   Park's da-hae system is simple and direct.  The teapot and tea cups are accompanied with a tea cooling bowl mulshikim sabal, a stand for the lid of the tea pot and a tea scoop or chasi.  Most often tea scoops are made from bamboo.  We seldom find a tea ware artist that makes his own tea scoops.  I first mistook his ceramic tea scoop for a tong rest.  Tongs are used to pick up teacups for washing and heating.

  A  third water system is a 'water tray' also known as a gee myun da-hae here seen with a teapot and cups, a tea caddy, hot water ewer, cooling pitcher and small brazier.
Each piece is natural, humble and a true servant to tea.

   I have not seen any other potter use a tall water tower that is a version of a da-hae like Jong Il's.  It is called a kkokkiri da-sun or trunk/nose da-sun.   Usually placed in a bowl it is is used both for washing a number of bowls and a number of cups stacked inside each other.  The hot water on the cups heats them, a common practice.

 Park Jong Il's work is particularly prized by Seon Zen monks and tea masters who look for the natural.
   Many Korean artists believe that tea ware should be simple because in essence the purpose of tea ware is to serve.  They should have personality but not be too proud or boisterous.  They should invoke a quiet sensitive state of mind.  The tea ware should not overpower the tea.  The work should be natural because all the contrivances we can come up with to “enhance” tea ware pale in comparison to what happens naturally in a simple wood or even gas firing.  It is easy to create flamboyant, whimsical or outlandish work we call tea ware.  Far more difficult is creating tea wares that truly serve.
   More importantly, Park Jong Il's work is directly connected to his life.  In part that is why I selected Park Jong Il to introduce first.  The life and work of a good Korean potter are one.  Hamada Shoji once said, “I think there are hardly any pots in the world through which a people’s life breathes more directly as Korean ones, especially Yi dynasty wares.” From Hamada Potter by Bernard Leach.  I believe that Park Jong Il embodies that same spirit.
   We have some good comments on this post.  I recommend that you read them.
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