Steven Young Lee’s broken ceramics are surprising with designs to make viewers think, not just about what they see, but about perfection, tradition, culture, value and so much more. That is a tall order for a piece of porcelain. Fortunately for the public, Lee has put a lot of thought into his career, and artistry.
Who is Steven Young?
Steven Young Lee is an Asian American ceramic artist who was born, and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. He is currently the the Resident Artist Director for the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, in Helena, Montana. Lee has studied the traditions of
porcelain from around the globe. In 2004, he accepted a fellowship in Jingdezhen, China. The city is considered to be the birthplace of porcelain.
Embracing Deconstruction Ceramics
His art often examines the inherent worth of brokenness. Guessing how the porcelain would respond to various cracks, and tears. When things didn’t happen as he expected he plunged forward with the unknown, and continued to to create more dynamic, and exciting pieces.
“Vase with Landscape, and Dinosaurs,” 2014, is typical of his deconstructed, or broken works. In this piece he employs a couple techniques that exploit the element of chance. The most obvious example is the hole in the vase. While Lee can decide how to rupture the malleable materials, he can’t control how the vase will fall, and eventually harden in the fire. Chance also comes into play with how he uses his glaze. If you look closely you can see that Lee allowed the glaze to run. This effect blurs the design, making it look like watercolors running.
Your First Reaction May Be
People have a hard time wrapping their head around Lee’s sculpture. They often ask if he meant for his work to look like it does, or if the finished piece is just an accident.
Lee frequently drops cultural touchstones from his youth into his art. Images of dinosaurs, Bruce Lee, and Godzilla interject a sense of whimsey into his work. They create an easy association between the viewer, and the artist. Finally, these images help modern audiences relate to the past in a new way. Tony the Tiger is an easily recognizable image from modern pop culture in the same way that a windmill was a cultural symbol to people from the Netherlands centuries ago.
There is a profound beauty to Steven Young Lee’s art. His broken vessels give viewers space to contemplate not just views of his art, but also our own views on humanity.How culture shapes us. How a constant striving for perfection can hinder our path. How a clay vessel still has worth, even when it no longer serves a functional purpose.