Ryu Yeun-hee's Kettles, Beauty in Everyday Objects
Kettles by metal crafter Ryu Yeun-hee are best appreciated when you make them a part of your life. These classical and yet contemporary pieces will look more beautiful with each passing day.
Metal crafter Ryu Yeun-hee mostly uses non-ferrous metal, such as brass and silver. We sat down with Ryu at Gallery Doqument, which was showcasing her works, before the start of a new show. With Chopin playing in the background, the 50-something artist looked as steely as the materials she uses. Ryu said she doesn't make sketches and she works from whatever pops up in her head. Everyday objects that she makes come in all shapes and forms. In particular, we talked about her gorgeous kettles.
Q. You've been building cups, kettles, dishes, fruit plates and vases using brass, red copper and silver. And you've mentioned how you have a special place in your heart for kettles. Why is that?
A. People may think they're all similar, but kettles are actually quite difficult to make. From the spout to the handle and the lid, it takes a lot of work. When I come across people who majored in metal crafts in college, I ask them if they've made kettles.

(Left) Red copper kettle / (Right) Silver kettle

Q. At the 100 tableware exhibition at Chapter 1's Gallery Doqument, you presented 22 of those kettles. You apparently didn't have that much time to prepare for the show. How did you manage that?
A. I made different parts one by one and puzzled them together. Because the body is the most important part, I built them first, and moved on to the spouts and the handles. Then I picked pieces that I thought fit with one another. I didn't finish one pot after another in their entirety. I ended up completing several pots in one day.

Kettles and fruit plates made of silver

Q. Are there pots with the same design?
A. They're all different. I hate the sameness. No two products are the same.
Q. Your products have the classical feel but they're also contemporary.
A. When people who've only known me through my works or Instagram see me in person, they're taken aback. They assume I am a young artist, but I am not. For me working at crafts is like playing. My body may be old, but because I enjoy working so much, I think I end up making things with youthful edge.

Ryu Yeun-hee's exhibition at Gallery Doqument

Q. Kettles are tableware, and how do you balance their practicality and their aesthetics? And where do you draw your inspiration from?
A. I don't necessarily rely on inspiration. I just make things that I want to make, things that I'd like to own but I can't find anywhere else. And I don't think about practicality or aesthetics when I start working. Recently, I built a bronze drip pot to make coffee with at my studio. Because I built it out of necessity, I had a clear idea of how it should be shaped, how I should best use it, and whether the water leaked, etc. I knew these things because I'd used one before. And I don't really do designs when I am not working. That gives my work an air of freedom. I only think about things like, 'Since this is an everyday object, the handle should be this, and the curve should be that.'

Ryu Yeun-hee

“It may be an everyday object, but it can be an object of art itself.”
Metal crafter Ryu Yeun-hee
Q. My understanding of metal craft was that it had to be precise, the surface had to be clean and the line had to be sharp.
A. Does that always have to be the case? I learned the same things when I was a student. But there is no right answer. There's no rule that says you have to stick to these teachings after graduation. I can do whatever I want. I could bend things out of shape, dirty the surface or leave saw marks. It doesn't matter.

Stamps on Ryu Yeun-hee's pieces. From left, a flower, a stone rolling down the hill, a circle and a sprout. Each image represents the artist's wish for blooming and rolling success. The sprout has been in use since 1990.

Small silver plate

Q. You've once said, 'I want to put my heart into giving it half-hearted effort.'
A. I try to make hard metal seem flexible. And I often think I should really try to make it seem like I've done things a half-hearted way. That starts with communicating with the materials. They may not have life, but when I file it or hammer it, metal pieces may try to hold their ground. Then I may compromise and say, 'Okay, we will stop here.' I want to reach beyond the natural properties of metal, and demonstrate another dimension of metal as a material.
Q. What are the things you consider the most important when working?
A. I think it's better to produce works that are familiar and accessible, rather than make things that are hailed as great and profound. It's a little different than making old things. I want to be able to leave an impression on people, to share feelings with them and be close to their heart, instead of making things only for people to see. When you can produce things that are open and welcoming, then people will naturally feel close to them.

Silver tea pot with a unique handle

Q. And that's where everyday life and aesthetics meet.
A. Exactly. And it may be an everyday object, but it can be an object of art itself.
Q. What are your future goals?
A. The exhibition at Gallery Doqument with 100 pieces was a major project. People said I'd done something great, but honestly, I am not so sure. Because I am at it every day, I don't really know if it's all that demanding, or if I am producing some great works of art. What I do know is I want to keep doing this. I am in my late 50s, and it's hard to find people my age doing the things that I am doing. And there's no woman in this line of work. My wish is to keep doing this as long as I am able to move my arms. I would like nothing more than that.
Works by Ryu Yeun-hee can be found at Cho Eun Sook Gallery and Chapter 1. The prices for her kettles range from 800,000 won to 1.8 million won.

Ryu Yeun-hee at her studio ⓒ Ryu Yeun-hee

February 2019 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Photographer:Park Sungyoung Cooperation: Chapter 1

Where to stay?

  • February 2019
  • Editor: Kim Hyewon
  • Photographer: Park Sungyoung
  • Cooperation: Chapter 1
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