Breathing Hope into Clay


  • Writer.Sung Ji Yeon
  • Photos courtesy of.Myoung-goo Ha
Every day, humanity faces adversity. Wars, hatred, despair―they all loom over us, casting a shadow of apprehension over tomorrow. Artist Myoung-goo Ha breathes messages into clay―promises of protection from these inevitable tomorrows. Or perhaps, promises to stand as a beacon of strength when you find yourself wandering. This is why someone feels a sense of reassurance, a glimmer of hope lurking by looking at his artworks.
Myoung-goo Ha

Q. Your works often depict animal forms. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw inspiration from ancient legends and folktales passed down through generations. Sometimes, I craft my own narratives, expressing them three-dimensionally and spatially. It feels as though the stories my grandmother shared with me in my youth have accumulated within my subconscious.

Q. Could you introduce your signature pieces?

One of my signature series is the “Haechi (Haetae)” series―inspired by folklore. Haechi―a mythical creature―can distinguish between good and evil, protecting people and buildings from disasters like fire. In our world today, we still face man-made calamities such as disasters, conflicts, and hatred. While it remains uncertain whether Haechi truly had an effect, I believe we should create our own versions of Haechi to prevent the misfortunes we bring upon ourselves.

Another series based on stories I’ve crafted is the “Dream Land” series. In my mid-twenties, I embarked on a journey to find my dreams in Japan. Living abroad alone was lonely, daunting, and challenging. Yet, I persisted, and though I didn’t achieve great success, I gained the ability to care for those around me. Grateful for this, I created the story of Dream Land.

“Once upon a time, there was a turtle who set out on a daring voyage across the boundless sea in pursuit of a fabled new land. Despite paddling tirelessly and scouring the horizons, the elusive continent remained beyond reach. Overwhelmed with disappointment, a spark of insight ignited within the turtle’s mind: “What if another soul faces the same plight and feels lost?” In that fleeting moment, a radiant new aspiration bloomed within the turtle―to become a new continent for those adrift like itself. And right then, a stunning, mysterious plant emerged from the turtle’s shell. Brimming with hope and joy, the turtle patiently awaits for someone to find it.”

'I engage in an ongoing conversation with the evolving piece.'

Q. How did you develop your style?

Continuously, I’ve been questioning myself. Spending over a decade abroad naturally led me to ponder my identity. There have been times when I’ve impulsively crafted artworks, only to wonder later, “Why did I sculpt it in such a form?” At the end of such queries, I concluded that the unconscious accumulation of aesthetic forms inherent to being Korean is what’s manifested within me. Upon this realization, I began delving into various aspects of Korean aesthetics―from ancient to modern.

Through such efforts, I’ve incorporated the inspiration and knowledge from interactions with other artists into shaping my current artistic world.

Q. What’s the reason for working with clay?

Clay possesses plasticity (the ability to retain a shape attained by pressure deformation)―it can be as soft as putty one moment and hard as steel the next. While it’s challenging to handle due to its natural properties, it also means each work feels fresh with every attempt. Despite being fragile upon completion, with careful maintenance, it retains its form for a long time. Choosing ceramics as my major in university introduced me to clay, and the more I worked with it, the more I became enamored with its characteristics―especially its duality.

A new continent (Dream land series 2022), 200x300x320 mm, ceramic, ottchil (traditional lacquer), gold, platinum

Q. Do you work on projects that don’t involve clay?

I occasionally engage in drawing. Besides drawings to aid in sculptural works, I often sketch to conceptualize forms and spaces that are difficult to express physically. It’s become somewhat of a habit for me. Such work prevents me from giving up on or erasing images that come to mind just because they can’t be realized. It also helps in conjuring fantastical images.

Q. What do you consider the most important during your creative process?

It is conversing with my works. When I touch clay, I engage in an ongoing conversation with the evolving piece. Since childhood, I’ve collected various dolls―endowing them with names and personalities―treating them as living beings. It seemed that the texture and expressions of these dolls changed through my mental and physical interactions with them. This experience has greatly influenced my creation process. Hence, I continue to mold, caress, and converse with clay until it transforms into an artwork. As I continue, I notice the lump of clay somehow turned into a special entity―gazing back at me before I know it.

Q. What kept you going in your artistic pursuits?

Perhaps it’s my knack for taking an objective stance that allows me to analyze myself and maintain self-assurance. It’s important to recognize that what I once found shameful and embarrassing in the eyes of others may actually be signs of immense uniqueness and potential that only I possess. For me, it’s those habits of conversing with dolls and the moments spent talking with them as I drifted off to sleep.

Haechi (2016), 300x200x500 mm, ceramic, ottchil, platinum, pearl, wood

Q. What do you hope your artwork becomes?

I’d love for those who view my works to feel warmth and tranquility. I hope my art contributes to making their everyday lives a little happier. Furthermore, it would be wonderful if they could understand the stories embedded within my works. Also, if they could gain a chance to reflect on themselves through my artwork, that would be delightful.

To continue creating such works in the future, I aim to be honest in my choices as an artist for life. Art is something deeply personal to me―it’s akin to “myself.” Hence, I endeavor to dive deep into what I think and desire, reflecting on contemporary society with such an attitude. It’s not an easy task, but I’ll persevere.

Q. What are your plans for the future?

As an artist coordinator, I plan to participate in various cultural exchange projects between Korea and Japan. Additionally, I’ll be holding an exhibition in Tokyo in Nov. 2024. In Feb. 2025, my works collected by art collector Ha Jung-woong will be showcased at the Akita Museum of Art in Japan.