Kim Syyoung, widely considered as the ‘alchemist of flame’, began his works by reproducing black ceramics. However, in the past thirty years, he has gone beyond simple reproductions and focused on the transformation that occurs in combining fire, a force of nature, with matter, in this case the minerals in the soil. The most important stage of his work is the firing.
Born in 1958, Kim Syyoung first encountered Japanese ceramics and black ink through his father, a calligrapher who had worked in Japan. In Yongsan Technical High School, he discovered the wonder of fire transforming materials in the blast furnace. Since then, he has studied fire extensively by majoring in Metallurgical Engineering at Yonsei University and studying a Masters degree in ceramics at the Graduate School of Industry, Yonsei University. As a member of the university mountaineering club, he naturally became familiar with soil and rocks, and in particular was directly inspired by distinct rocks of the Alps that are rich in minerals. He became determined to explore these materials through pottery when he viewed a ceramic from China’s Song Dynasty, a National Treasure of Japan.
In 1988, Kim Syyoung built a traditional wood fired kiln and studied soil and fire in order to reproduce black ceramics in black and reddish brown; a Korean tradition that has almost disappeared since the Goryeo dynasty. In 1997, he met the former director of the National Museum of Korea, Chung Yangmo, at his first solo exhibition held at Jamsil Lotte Gallery, and this friendship enabled him to enrich his work academically and historically. At this point of his life, he was reproducing not only Korean traditional black ceramics but also Clay Flower Tea Bowl of the Song Dynasty, one of Japan’s National Treasures.
For Kim Syyoung’s black ceramics, firing not only creates ceramics; it is also a process for awakening various minerals hidden in the soil. He repeatedly forms and dissolves the kaleidoscopic patterns and colours on the surface of black ceramics, called ‘clay flower,’ by varying the soil components, fire temperature and accordingly the fire environment being clear or cloudy. For 15 years after the initial period when he focused on the reproduction of traditional black ceramics, he mostly worked on controlling the moment the clay flower is formed and creating the appropriate fire environment.