By Taryn Newton-Gill
Dave Kim isn’t one to brag about himself. Like his pottery, Dave finds true beauty in the humble things. Born in the very old Korean city of Gyeongju, the potter (who now resides in Brooklyn, NY) spent most of his childhood hanging out around ancient temples and taking trips to history museums, where Korea’s cultural heritage melded with his innate imagination. “Ever since I was young, I was always interested and enjoyed playing with clay…later…as I started my ceramic career, Korean pottery came naturally…it still fascinates me how much I learned [and] re-learned about my culture through the process,” he says.
The first piece of Korean pottery Dave made was a moon jar. As hinted at by the name, moon jars look—well—like mini moons. They are small, white, porcelain orbs known for their clean, simple beauty and not-quite-perfect spherical shape. Their minimalistic style is reflective of Korean culture, both past and present. Dave breaks down the social history lesson best: “During the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), Korea was heavily influenced by Neo-Confucianism, which meant that instead of seeking extravagance they sought simplicity and social harmony. Even in the contemporary society of Korea that ideology remains and has been the background way of life. I’ve always found beauty in that somehow. Instead of seeking superficial values, I want to express what is within.”
Dave brings this humble beauty of Korean pottery into the twenty-first century by giving traditional moon jars a modern “spin.” (Pun intended). Instead of sticking to old-school white, Dave shakes up his moon jars with fun splashes of color like pink, while also playing with different shapes and sizes. Of course, having studied the mythical technique of moon jar making directly from traditional Korean potters, Dave explains, “[Moon jars] are traditionally made in two [spherical] parts and balance simplicity and imperfection in an inconceivable way…back when moon jars were made, porcelain was a rarity and was really hard to turn them into bigger vessels. The only way was to make them in two halves. Nowadays, we have more technology that helps us process the clay in advanced ways to help with that problem. I am often able to make bigger vessels without combining two halves, but I still combine two halves to make even bigger vessels than the traditional ones.”
If this doesn’t make Dave cool enough, he pushes the envelope even further by also making pottery you can actually use. “My aesthetics have developed through using everyday objects such as cups or bowls. I try to recreate these everyday objects with a flavor of Korean pottery. The usage of Korean pottery, ‘Moon Jar’ in particular, historically is unknown, which is another fascinating aspect. Researchers have found soy sauce, vinegar, rice and even urine. However, they are mostly being used for decoration purposes in the last century or so.”
When asked what other boundaries he’d like to push, Dave knows exactly. “I’ve tried a lot of the techniques from different parts of the world and most interesting techniques have been Indigenous ceramic processes, as they require almost no technology. One of the most interesting processes I’ve seen was Mata Ortiz pottery from Mexico. They create extremely fine lines by using a strand of a child's hair as a brush. I would love to try and incorporate that towards my work someday as I am exploring painting on my pottery.”
Looking back, Dave says that his first moon jar “embodies my sense of proudness and courage” and he has a similar message for artists just starting out:
“I think it takes courage and experience, but the journey is worth every second. I also think that as you turn something you love so much into a business, you could forget why you started it, so always try to remind yourself as you get more involved and stay true to the arts.”
On his RAW profile, Dave artfully describes Korean pottery as "simplicity that represents natural, unpretentious beauty,” and says, “these ideas that are rooted in the Korean culture [are] what I want to share through my work.” Thanks for sharing, Dave. We appreciate your humility. And don’t worry, we’re doing the bragging for you.