Beth Lo and Steve Lee team up for a collaborative ceramic show | Arts & Theater
Beth Lo of Missoula and Steven Young Lee of Helena represent two different generations of ceramic artists. Their new exhibition at the Radius Gallery, “Intersections,” pairs them side by side and in cups they worked on together.
They have long had an affinity for each other’s art, Lo said, as Asian Americans who have a “quirky approach” to Asian ceramics and aesthetics.
Seen Together, gallery co-owner Lisa Simon said it gives viewers “a greater appreciation for the depth of their bicultural identity that influences every aspect of their creation.” Lo’s work addresses food, parenting, and “how children absorb cultural values through etiquette, language, food”, and Lee’s is steeped in historical references, including a technique of incised design which is the greatest innovation of Korean ceramics.
Cooperation between States
Lo came to the University of Montana in the 1970s, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who raised her in the Midwest and studied with Rudy Autio.
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Lee grew up in Chicago, the son of Korean immigrant parents. He came to Montana for a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts in Helena; which happens to have begun its rich history of resident artists with Autio and Peter Voulkos. He started as resident artistic director of the Bray in 2006.
Lee said he had “always been a fan of his work, even before he came to Montana.” She was a board member at the time and they got to know each other. “Friendship began to overlap with work” in an organic way, through collaborations on containers and mugs, years ago.
At the Radius lounge, they take the form of a set of cups. Lee would make one in his signature style of decorative lines and etched patterns, and have it dropped off in Missoula, where Lo would paint it with figures – children swimming, in the mountains, eating and drinking.
She loves his craftsmanship and sense of design, which provides him with a “great canvas to paint on,” she said.
During this time, he must guess how it will fill the surface. “Each time it’s a bit of a surprise to me,” he said, “She’s so smart and creative, and always comes up with these kind of really great riffs” on the set he created.
Collectors seem to have the same kind of anticipation. Simon said both are internationally known and in high demand. The gallery started receiving inquiries last summer when it announced the exhibition.
“By the end of opening weekend, both artists had sold over 75% of their work,” she said.
Lo’s solo pieces in the show come from the past few years and cover a range of his recurring motifs and themes.
One series, “99 Years,” pays homage to Lo’s mother, Kiahsuang Lo, who painted in a traditional calligraphic style. The two collaborated on pieces, with Kiahsuang decorating the surfaces of Lo’s ceramics. Kiahsuang, who lived with Lo here in Missoula, died in 2019 two months before she turned 100.
In this series, she makes a sculpture for each year of her mother’s life – each one is a take-out box like you would get at a Chinese restaurant. The box was invented in America, she said, and is a symbol of “two cultures coming together” and growing up in America with an Asian background and “an Asian diet, so to speak.”
They are hollow, constructed of slip-cast white porcelain cast in a mould. On the surfaces she painted landscape scenes in honor of her mother’s favorite style. She even chose to copy her mother’s favorite paintings – the traditional way of learning is to reproduce masters.
Colors are limited to blue and red, a deliberate allusion to the flag and her own life raised in the United States with Asian parents.
In a different set of “take-out box” sculptures, she created a Chinese-style bucket painted with a child eating a burger, and a fast-food burger-style take-out box decorated with a child eating Chinese food. . These all sit individually on wall plinths – for another series she stacked them and then painted them, which gave her “lots of puzzles to solve” as she tried to solve 2D images on 3D surfaces which can be read from several points of view.
Several larger pieces in the central pedestals of the gallery fall under the theme of giving and receiving. While artists often “feel like they’re giving,” there’s also the opposite: she takes things from her mother’s and son’s lives for her art; she needs time in the studio to work. Lately, she’s been using her work more for fundraising and creating some that directly address the idea. Large jars have faces on both sides, with hands arranged to express either gesture.
She also shares bowls and platters with a “Year of the Tiger” theme for 2022; and cups of children swimming, their heads rising carefully above the lip of the object—that is, above the water.
Steven Young Lee
Lee shows representative works of his style that he has shown around the country, and more recent works in stoneware.
Its decorative designs are precision engraved with an X-ACTO knife, carefully spaced and, like ink-on-paper work, must be executed in one stroke.
The designs come from his extensive research into different time periods, whether Asian or European, a process of “grabbing and cutting and pasting” patterns and seeing how they evolve. He might come across a banana leaf motif popular in Southeast Asia that finds its way into German ceramics after being imported and imitated.
“The model becomes the vehicle in which information flows,” he said. For him, there is also a sense of connection with craftsmen centuries ago who thought the same as him: “How do you trace a pattern? »
Another “unplanned synchronicity” between Lo and Lee is a peculiar three-color palette, Simon said. “They both make works in ‘red, white, and blue’ to acknowledge their American identities, even when the shapes distinctly derive from Chinese and Korean patterns.”
In Lee’s work, it takes on the form of porcelain, etched blue lines, and a copper oxide underglaze that hovers and fades into blurred shapes. He said historically it was less common than blue because it’s volatile in the oven – sometimes it’s very red, other times not so much.
He started working with blue and white decades ago. The particular glaze he uses makes the blue coloring appear to be pulled in and out.
“I like that atmospheric quality, where it’s not just a static line,” he said. Instead, there is depth in the blue haze, the white crackle effects on the surface, and the red haze effect.
For a gallery exhibition in New York in 2013, he created a wall installation with three panels of 100 cups each, in rows of 10 by 10, with one “panel” per color. He hinted at color field painting, flag themes and pixelation, as the cups bore designs from around the world.
As he transitioned into a new role as the Bray’s Director Emeritus and Special Projects Manager, he also experimented with sandstone, based on a Korean style called Buncheong.
He loves the energy and personality that came through back then. Particularly for him there is more asymmetry in shapes and designs than his main style.
One has an imprint that functions as a handle – he picked it up while still wet. The designs are different, with fun and deliberately goofy elements – one mug has a Godzilla-like dragon spitting fire across a cityscape, inspired by how a child might draw one. They have flatter sides, thanks to a paddle.
Another has a ninja drawing, an obsession from his youth that came back to him recently when he wore a hoodie with his mask on.
“That’s exactly how I dressed when I was about 8 years old,” he said.
Some bottles have fish, others a smiley face (or scowl) depending on the side.
The plates have a solid depth all the way to the rim, the kind you want if you were eating on your lap. They were partly inspired by a French potter named Jean-Nicolas Gérard, who came to Bray. Lee took one of his plates and brought it home. Everyone in the family used it regularly and always looked for that particular one, he said. So he studied it, and why it worked the way he did, and reverse-engineered it.
This anecdote points to an area that is very important to him: “All these pots are made to work, and therefore they are not only a means of transporting images. The pots are made with great care so they will hopefully work in someone’s home or kitchen,” he said.