Artist Focus: Seoyen Choi
Ceramicist Seoyen Choi has worked with Studio Kō since the shop first launched in 2018. Born in Korea and raised in Japan, Choi returned to South Korea to pursue a degree in ceramics and textiles. Now, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two lovely children, continuing to create magnificent ceramic pieces. Here’s a sneak peek into her life as an artist, entrepreneur, and mother:
Your artistic career started by studying ceramics in Korea. Why did you decide to go into the field of ceramics?
Ever since I was little, I loved crafting things with my hands. Growing up watching my mom make things by hand influenced me a lot. And that eventually led me to choose ceramics and textiles for my major in college. I was attracted to textiles a lot more in the beginning, but as soon as I began working with clay, I was fascinated by the texture and how it felt in my hands. Later, when I first learned wheel throwing, it just felt so familiar - it was meant to be.
What brought you to Los Angeles and how has your experience been so far?
I came to Los Angeles to learn English at first, and then I met my boyfriend, who is now my husband and I decided to stay. It was pretty difficult to overcome the cultural/language barrier, but soon I was able to merge into the diverse culture of LA. A lot of people here come from different cultures and backgrounds and they respect the differences. I think LA is a very special city in that sense.
Did you experience any stylistic or technique changes after you moved to Los Angeles?
When I was throwing in Korea, I mainly focused on technical execution. Korean consumers value the perfection and functionality of ceramics, which required very skilled techniques. This, along with growing up in Japan, shaped my craftsmanship and pushed me to make each piece as accurate as I could. When I came to Los Angeles, my focus shifted from producing a perfect piece to creating pieces of my own, unique style. This free-spirited, liberating culture in Los Angeles allowed me to think outside the box. Oh, and also the sunny weather of California added brightness to my pieces as well!
It must be a challenge working while raising two kids. What does your typical day look like?
Before having kids, I had the flexibility to work whenever I wanted to. Now I work according to my kids’ schedules. I typically wake up around 6 am, send the kids off to school, and start working. In the evening, I continue my work after the kids go to bed, and some days, I stay up until 2-3 am working on pieces. This lifestyle gets tiring from time to time, but my kids keep me motivated.
Where do you get inspiration for your artwork?
My main source of inspiration comes from nature. Our family often goes on camping trips. While my husband goes fishing, the kids and I enjoy the surrounding nature; the rocks, lake, and river. Even in my daily life, nature sparks new ideas. When I go to the park with my kids or when I am gardening in my backyard, I have the ‘Aha!’ moments.
Once you get your inspiration, how does that develop into artwork?
While many artists take a picture or draw out their thoughts, I save a photographic memory in my head and then display the thoughts when I work on my pieces. I add and subtract colors and textures according to my inspirations. I tend to hold on to ideas for a very long time. For example, I have memories from when I was 5 years old that are still in my head, waiting for the perfect time to become beautiful artwork.
A distinct trait of your pieces is the layering of different glazes. Is there a reason why you prefer such a method?
When layering glazes, each piece reacts differently. The fire, clay, glaze mixture, runniness; every other factor create a one-of-a-kind work. I enjoy the uncertainty each piece gifts.
Many pieces you have created now have new owners. Were there any pieces that you had a hard time letting go of?
The most unexpected pieces were the ones that I had the strongest attachment to. I think it’s because I know that I will never be able to replicate them. Still, I am happy that they found their perfect new home, where they will bring joy and peace to many more people.
Korean moon jars have been trending lately. Even out of your pieces, your moon jars are one of the best selling. Why do you think such a phenomenon is happening?
The Moon Jar is a very humble object. Whichever owner it meets, or however it is used, it adapts to any environment. The circular moon shape also provides comfort and inclusivity. Post-pandemic, people have been seeking tranquility within fullness. I think the moon jar fulfills the need for comfort that people longed for.
You’ve been working with Studio Kō ever since we launched. How did it all begin?
I first met Ibi, the founder of Studio Kō, at a studio of some other Korean ceramicist. When I heard her vision of Studio Kō, I was so thrilled and hoped to grow together, aiming for a similar goal.
Is there something special about Studio Kō that you continue to work with?
Studio Kō sees beyond my pieces and also recognizes who I am as an artist and as a human. I think this allowed me to build a deeper, more personal relationship with Ibi and her studio. When I was going through a hard time, the faith and consistency Studio Kō provided helped me to push my limits.
As a Korean artist working in America, do you have a calling or motivation?
Prior to my life in Los Angeles, when creating pieces, I purposefully worked not to focus on my Korean identity. However, as I lived abroad and acclimated into local culture, I started gaining more interest in my Korean roots. In the journey of finding my self-identity in my new community, I realized how much I valued my strong, natural Korean identity. Now, I aspire to reflect my culture through my artwork. If someone gains interest in Korea through my pieces, that would be a fulfillment of my calling.
Do you have any future goals/visions?
Finding the balance between being a mom and also being an artist is quite difficult sometimes, but I hope to keep a balance, do wonderful job raising my family, and continuing to grow and evolve as an artist.
Studio photography by Sihyun Kim