A New Take on Blue + White

Exploring the work of ceramicist Steven Young Lee.

Landscaped, 2009 (porcelain, cobalt inlay)

Birds and Butterflies, 2011 (porcelain, cobalt inlay, decals)

Today I wanted to share a ceramic artist who stopped me in my tracks—literally! Both at the very beginning and on the last day of my trip to Korea, I treated myself to a stay at the Four Seasons. My thinking was I needed a soft landing pad going in, and a little pampering after the end of a long journey (which ended up being both prescient and lucky because 1) I did, and 2) the spa at the Four Seasons Seoul is without doubt the best, most insane spa experience I’ve ever had in my life, but that’s a story for another day).

One morning after breakfast, I walked past a huge display case featured in one of the hotel’s restaurants. It showcased two beautiful blue and white ceramic pieces, but with a twist—the otherwise “traditional” forms appeared to be melting, or partially shattered. It was so unexpected and playful and just cool looking that I snapped a few iPhone pics, along with the artist’s name, so I could look him up at home. Here are the pieces I spotted in the hotel:

Aren’t these beautiful? It’s hard to tell in the photos, but these pieces are very large! In the last photo you can kind of see my reflection to get a sense of the scale.

A few weeks after getting home, I finally got around to searching for the artist’s work online. Say hello to the ceramics of Steven Young Lee! Steven is a Korean American ceramicist currently living in Helena, Montana, where he is the Resident Artist Director at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. I think you’re going to enjoy browsing some of his work below. These pieces are not necessarily new, but they’re certainly new-to-me, and I delighted in seeing Steven’s work each morning at the hotel. Take a peek and read on for the inspiration behind his “deconstructed” and “traditional” series:

Gold Butterflies, 2011 (porcelain, cobalt inlay, gold luster, 2011)

Altered Landscape, 2010 (porcelain, cobalt inlay)

I love his pieces like the above that take traditional forms but use juxtaposed imagery on them. Another example is below; this jar is named “Granary,” as in cereals. Take a closer look—get it?

Granary, 2008 (porcelain, cobalt inlay, decals)

Landscaped, 2009 (porcelain, cobalt inlay)

East/West, 2010 (porcelain, cobalt inlay, glaze)

Landscape, 2011 (porcelain, cobalt inlay)

Platter, 2012 (porcelain, cobalt inlay)

L: Birds and Butterflies, 2011 (porcelain, cobalt inlay, decals); R: Peonies, 2012 (porcelain, copper inlay)

Another Time and Place, 2010 (porcelain, cobalt inlay)

This last one really made me smile. Imagine having it in your home—guests would just assume it’s another traditional blue and white piece, with only the most observant realizing there’s a freaking T-Rex on it. Artwork as a powers-of-observation (and cool friend) litmus test!

I hope you enjoyed browsing these and it gave you a little hit of inspiration today! You can see more of Steven’s work on his website here. He’s also been featured in Smithsonian magazine, and the New York Times.


All via Steven Young Lee; images used with the artist’s permission.


  1. 8.9.18
    Kay R. said:

    So beautiful!

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