Artist Heesoo Lee (previously) uses multi-layered techniques to form intricate trees, complete with leaves and branches, that seem to grow out of her functional ceramic vessels. Lee’s careful use of color establishes a seasonal mood in each of her works, some evoking the warm tones and fallen leaves of autumn, while others capture the barren beauty of winter. Each woodland scene is drawn from Lee’s imagination. The artist shares that she happened upon her current style of work by chance: her background is as a painter, and she used clay more as a smooth canvas until one day she was working on a tight deadline and was attempting to repair a broken pot, which inspired her to build three-dimensionally.
Lee explains that she uses translucent porcelain because its “beautiful clarity and color and is the perfect canvas for the bright underglaze and glazes I use.” The artist begins by forming each tree individually, starting with the closest and largest trees as she builds perspective by filling in the background with progressively smaller trunks, each of which is individually formed with a clay coil. Next, for her non-wintry pieces, each leaf is individually formed and applied to create the dense foliage that further increases the sense of depth on the surface of her ceramics. After an initial firing, Lee applies colored details using painted underglaze, which must be applied without overlapping different glazes to prevent discoloration after firing. Lastly, she chooses from a range of finishing glazes, selected depending on the desired effect, like an icy blue vernal pool or clearly defined leaves.
Lee shares that she first came to the United States, looking for freedom and adventure and with little knowledge of English, first living in Berkeley, California. She started re-exploring ceramics outside of the strictures of traditional Korean ceramics, rediscovering her love of the tactile medium after studying painting in college. Lee has been a working artist alongside her partner, a fellow ceramic artist for many years, and cites her time in residence at the Archie Bray Foundation as a seminal experience:
My work, mostly in medium-range porcelain, expanded beyond painted surfaces, my mainstay for many years. I pushed my work beyond the motifs I had been using for many years–flowers, mostly–and built larger than I had before. I was inspired by my children, the landscape of the places where I lived, and my own childhood in Korea, and reflected these themes in my work. I found that working in a place like the Bray, surrounded by other artists who created a supportive, inviting, and welcoming community, gave me the freedom to grow as an artist.
Lee lives and works in Helena, Montana, where she has a home studio and kiln. You can see more of Lee’s in-progress and finished work on Instagram, and she also keeps her Etsy shop updated with new pieces available for purchase.