Akiko Hirai, 'Summer Evening Moon'. Red Slip; white engobe under feldspathic glaze. 45(h) x 40cm. Photo: courtesy of the artist.
A large dark spherical vessel, blackened in firing and encrusted in parts on its surface, shines almost pale with reflected light in an illuminating exhibition of Moon Jars at the Korean Cultural Centre, London.
London-based Akiko Hirai is one of five contemporary ceramicists in the show and her vase, New Moon Tsugomori, exudes a presence and mystery that can be felt palpably. In the catalogue Hirai says: ‘The allure of the Moon Jar form for me lies in its imperfection, which reflects nature’s irregularities.’ Another of her vessels in the show, Summer Evening Moon, glimmers, its ethereal white-grey-blue colour, subtle pouring marks and delicate pitted surface evoking the mysterious reflected light of the summer sun in a pale full moon.
The Moon Jar was first championed in Britain by the great studio potter Bernard Leach who brought one back from a trip to Korea in the 1930s. In Korea Moon Jars are believed to have been made by unknown craftsmen at the Royal Kilns in the 17th and 18th centuries and were used for storing food or displaying flowers.
Yee Sookyung, 'Translated vase, The Moon', 2012. Ceramic fragments, epoxy resin, 24k gold leaf. 138(h) x 143(w)x 141(d) cm. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art Collection. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Hyundai.
These large white porcelain vessels symbolised Neo-Confucian ideals of austerity, simplicity and humility. Leach’s Moon Jar, now owned by the British Museum, opens this exhibition and stands as a mark of how it has inspired ceramicists here.
Adam Buick is one such potter who was so inspired by it that he wanted ‘to capture the ephemeral qualities that the moon jar form resonates.’ So East meets West in his Porcelain Jar with Landscape Inclusion, its pure white form interrupted by a deliberate piercing, its fragile crevices laying bare the clay beneath the glaze. Buick explains, ‘When making you cannot control perfection nor contrive imperfection but somewhere in between lies beauty. This balance or tension is often what gives a piece presence.’
Gareth Mason, 'Consumer'. Stoneware, Porcelain. Ceramic detritus, layered oxides, glass, glazes and vitreous slips, gold lustre. 70(h) x 62(w) x 51(d) cm. 2008/2013. Photo: Matthew Collins.
The show also includes work by Korean Yee Sookyung, whose Translated Vase, The Moon, comprises fragments from smashed kiln rejects of reproduction old Korean ceramics. The reclaimed porcelain chunks are pieced together with the seams embellished in gold leaf creating a moon jar that resembles cellular organism, reflecting the microcosm in the macrocosm.
Meanwhile, Gareth Mason breaks all the rules with jars such as Consumer, combining porcelain, clay, ceramic detritus, layered oxides, glass and glazes to create battered and bruised vessels which seem to oppose much of what the Korean moon jar stands for, while presenting his own personal and very honest take on the form.
Jack Doherty completes this insightful exhibition with a lunar cycle of 12 vessels ascending in scale, their surfaces drawing the eye into a cosmic mystery beyond their physical presence.
Gill Crabbe is the RA Magazine sub-editor, freelance journalist and an artist living in UK and Finland.