Nancy Kwon creates ceramics, textiles and works in glass that are rooted in tradition and ritual. From ancient Korean stoneware and hemp burial gowns, to Etruscan votive offerings and Neolithic petroglyphs, her pieces are informed by a long tradition of ceremonial objects created from organic materials. “My process often begins with extensive research into historic artefacts,” she says. “Part of that is to do with my Korean heritage; my practice has allowed me to learn more about the history behind the objects and rituals I grew up with. But I’m also interested in how different parts of the world became fixated with similar things, like Neolithic petroglyphs. I want to play a part in the creation of these objects, and become a part of that history. It helps me to look at myself from a distance – myself beyond my life in this body.”
Kwon’s practice has expanded to encompass experimenting in materials other than clay, including glass. She also experiments with the traditional Korean textiles of ramie and hemp, known as mosi and sambe. “These textiles interest me because they are both derived from plant fibres, so truly reflect the soil quality, climate, and conditions of where they come from,” she says. “I am drawn to the lightweight, transparent quality of ramie for the way it interacts with light. And hemp is culturally significant to me because it has a history in Korea of being used for burial dress for the deceased, as well as for mourning clothes. I am drawn to the painstaking process inherent in working with handwoven textiles – the labour that is present in the art.”
Kwon studied film at the Pratt Institute in New York, and media design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She now lives in LA, where she works from her home studio. She begins each day by drawing rough sketches on newsprint fixed to the wall, which she refers to as she proceeds in clay, welcoming divergences from the original sketches into the process. She mostly favours working with a coarse clay body for the freedom it offers to create larger builds and unusual shapes. Her pieces are often unglazed, with layers of slip creating subtle variations in the surface. She has held solo and group shows in LA, including Built In – a group show held at the Neutra VDL House – as well as a solo show at Stroll Garden.