Work by artist and Loomis Chaffee art teacher YoonJee Kwak has been accepted into two international biennials this year.
She received an honorable mention in the Chungju International Craft Biennial in Korea, an exhibit that is taking place through October 15. She also was accepted into the Jingdezhen International Ceramic Biennial in China, which has yet to be judged. The show starts December 15.
“Both of these biennials are highly prestigious in the ceramics field, and I am honored to get the exhibition opportunity,” YoonJee said on Tuesday, September 12, from her studio in the Richmond Art Center (RAC). In each case she submitted a piece whose shape draws inspiration from a Korean Moon-Jar. Both pieces are from YoonJee’s “Patterned Memories” series.
YoonJee uses coil-building techniques in her work.
“While I slowly build up clay coils from the bottom, my hand marks remain on the surface,” she says in her artist’s statement on her website. “It records elements of movement, time, and my feelings. The attractive characteristic of coil-building is that it allows artists to observe progressive growth through the process of the work. The process is very similar to raising a plant from seedling to blossoming. As a plant needs water, sunshine and time to grow, my works need patience and time.”
Small strips of clay — or coils — are hand-formed, pushed, and pinched. They are mixed with longer ones to form beautiful, well-crafted pieces. Instead of a potter’s wheel, the hands do the work. A piece may require hundreds of coils, thus much patience.
Art has long been meaningful to YoonJee, who graduated from Kaywon High School of Art in Bundang, South Korea, in 2007.
“I have been exposed to a creative, artistic environment under my mother’s influence since I was a child,” YoonJee said. “I think my interest in art is inherited from her.”
YoonJee said her mother’s dream was to become an artist.
“However, she had to give it up due to family issues,” YoonJee said. “Her father passed away right before she could attend college. To take care of her family and improve her financial situation, she decided to get an office job in a book publishing company instead of pursuing art education.”
As for YoonJee, after high school she earned a bachelor of fine art, ceramics, and glass from Hong-ik University in Seoul, South Korea, and a master of fine art in ceramics from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, N.Y.
She also was an adjunct faculty member in the ceramics program at RIT until 2017, when she was accepted into a two-year artist residency program at the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana. The foundation, founded in 1951, is dedicated solely to ceramic arts. After her time at Archie Bray, YoonJee became a long-term resident artist and instructor at Pottery Northwest in Seattle. She came to Loomis Chaffee in the summer of 2022.
She has the best of both worlds at Loomis, she said, because she is able to work from her studio in the RAC while also teaching ceramics. On Tuesday one of her works in progress was in front of her while many other finished pieces adorned the studio.
“As a professional artist and also an educator, it is an essential part of my job to be in a diverse community with fun and interesting dialogue, and that is the Loomis Chaffee community,” YoonJee said.