Grief Work AND the Art of Intention
Potter Bosco Bae blends emotion and clay
Imagine having the opportunity to grab ahold of your grief—to shape it, swipe it away, and turn it into something durable and beautiful. Potter Bosco Bae’s most recent series, called Grief Work, is exploring the different forms that grief and healing can take.
“A lot of my work nowadays is trying to capture grief and work through the myriad of emotions involved with love and loss. The work can get pretty dark, but I try to remain true to the idea that there is meaning and beauty within struggle, within hardships, and imperfection,” Bae explained.
While the acceptance and celebration of imperfection is something that Bae, a Ph.D. and professor of Religion at University of Lynchburg, has been exploring artistically for years, the expression of that has shifted since the passing of his brother last year. Bae takes inspiration from the moon jar, which is a Korean form in ceramics and traditionally combines two symmetrical bowls to create one large vessel. While the two bowls individually are perfect, they come together to create an asymmetrical, imperfect union. Traditional moon jars feature a white glaze and a very thin base, which make the vessel look like it’s floating—like a moon. “It’s minimalistic yet sophisticated in its evocation of a calm and serene ideal,” said Bae.
But he takes the form a step further.
“The moon jar, in its traditional form, is romantic, normative, ideal. My work aims to be a bit more descriptive, flawed, messy—to allow suffering to speak and find expression,” he said. “How does a form retain, embody, or convey lament?”
One of the first pieces that Bae created in his Grief Work series began with the moon jar form. Using his hands, Bae tore a hole through one side of the vessel to exemplify a piece of him that is now gone.
“After that part of the vessel was ripped out, I went to the other side and started taking pieces out to patch the hole.
When that patch was mended, of course, another hole emerged on the other side. I then started digging into the bottom and scraping out any clay I could use to patch up the side that was given up to mend the first hole” Bae said. “So, in this particular piece, you’ll see where I’ve scraped from the bottom.”
In another piece from the Grief Work series, Bae began with a moon jar, cut it apart, and reassembled it.
“After deconstructing the piece and breaking it down, there was an active attempt to try and put the pieces back together—to go back and recreate what it was before breaking down—kind of like drawing somebody from memory,” he explained. “But during that process it changed and it was clear that the reconstruction wasn’t going to be the same. The vessel was transformed into something else with only traces, shadows, or memories of what it was before.”
Metaphorically, the piece showed just how different a person can be after grief, trauma, or hardship.
“All the pieces in this series begin with the moon jar form, thrown as a singular piece, as opposed to combining two.
The piece is then altered, stressed, and it endures—sometimes it doesn’t—and accepts the distortions, rips, and unanticipated irregularities that emerge from the process. I think a lot of the uncertainties and unintended consequences from the intentional moves and gestures I put into the piece make it interesting, perhaps, even difficult, or uncomfortable to look at,” Bae said. “Grieving is an uncomfortable process in which bracketed realities can intersect and break into the forefront of our consciousness at any given moment. Grappling with difficult truths is a process of reconciling with a dissonance that jars against tacit presuppositions about ideals and expectations, whether we acknowledge them or not. Sometimes, words are insufficient and talking about it isn’t always the best way to express ourselves. Being intentional through nonverbal forms of expression can be just as, if not more, relevant in the healing process.”
This level of intention—of dissecting an emotion or experience—is what encapsulates Bae as an artist. Whether he is throwing teapots or mugs with perfect, ergonomic form, or exploring just how beautifully imperfect a piece can be, Bae reverently approaches each piece and accepts it exactly the way it is.
Nina Simone once said, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times,” which is a charge that Bae has fervently accepted. While his most recent body of work reflects his current experience of grief and healing, the journey isn’t over and his art will surely evolve again.
One thing is certain, however—it will be beautiful.
To connect with Bosco Bae, find him on Instagram at @potsbosco.
Photos by Ashlee Glenn