Art & Seoul: Armstrong professor showcases ceramics in Korea

(June 27, 2013) Armstrong ceramic and ceramic sculpture professor John Jensen has been molding, building, and firing at the university for over twenty years. Along the way, he has honed his own craft and has become known for his work in portraiture, from his famous “face jugs,” with protruding visages to his depictions of past Armstrong presidents hanging in Burnett Hall.  During a recent visit by Chiyoun Lee, the head of the ceramics department at Hanyang Women’s University in Seoul, Korea, Jensen's work made a lasting impression. After Lee returned to Korea, she invited Jensen to lecture, teach, and sculpt for two weeks at Hanyang.

Making the most of his time in Korea, Jensen also lectured at Kookmin University in Seoul, a school of roughly 22,000 students.

Pottery runs through nearly every aspect of life in Korea. Handmade work appears on tables both at homes and restaurants, and many potters flourish in successful studios. The universities have large ceramics departments. Even the president of Kookmin University is a ceramicist.

“It was ceramics on a massive scale,” said Jensen.

At Hanyang, which has about 7,800 students, Jensen was a rock star. He made presentations on his own work and its evolution, and he performed pottery wheel demonstrations for large ceramics classes. While there, he also exposed the students to his own techniques and unique sculptures, exhibiting to them ceramics as an art form.

“The stuff I do is different, in terms of mixed media and painting,” explained Jensen. “They are more tradition-based, so they are glazing everything, but they really responded to the portraiture and the realistic nature of what I do. It's unusual in the sense that it is almost like modern art to them.”

For two weeks, Jensen worked on pieces on the classroom stage or at the wheel, all with a sizeable audience of young artists. He would work on a sculpture in the class, and then take it back to the studio to continue. In the short time he was there, Jensen completed a sculpture, two pots, and a face jug depicting Kookmin University's ceramicist president. He also gave one-on-one critiques for some of the students.

“One class was doing a project on hyperrealism in clay, so I could show them how to work on some of the details,” Jensen said.

Many things in Seoul and at the university inspired Jensen. He incorporated ceremonial garments and Korean folklore into his sculpture, which he left at Hanyang as a gift to the school. He was also inspired by the multitude of blooming flowers throughout the city and plans to involve Armstrong students in making hundreds of ceramic flowers for the burgeoning sculpture garden on campus, to commemorate the students of Hanyang.