Chon Han Bong (Cheon Han Bong) is one of Korea's best potters. Especially magnificent are his Sam Do Style teabowls. One had the opportunity to drink many bowls of matcha (Kor: malcha) from his Sam Do bowls and the experience is always memorable. It was an unexpected treat when Greg Demmons brought one of Chon Han Bong's Sam Do Style bowls over to drink matcha from. After our tea meeting he left this bowl behind for me to inspect with a closer eye...
The eyes are drawn to the streaky, thin, gye yal (brush mark) which skirts across the outside wall of the bowl. The eyes see what the fingers feel- senses are in harmony as one holds the bowl in cupped hands. The gye yal offers the fingers soft bumpy ridges with which the fingers embrace. The sharp gye yal fades invisibly into the upper and lower side wall, its border is ambiguous and hard to define leaving the mind in an expansive state. The side wall of the bowl above and below the gye yal are only defined by the subtle sensation below ones fingers. Near the rim it feels of soft grainy sand under the glaze. Near the foot it feels of slightly courser grainy sand under the glaze. The colour of the outer sidewall also dramatically changes as the bowl is rotated counterclockwise in ones hands. One side is pink-reddish and slowly the more greyish-blue side is revealed as the bowl is rotated. These colours offer a wonderful contrast, warmth and cold, sunrise and sunset, yin and yang.
At the bottom of this bowl is a simple "haes moo ri" style foot that is characteristic of Chon Han Bong's Sam Do teabowls. The simple style and execution of the unpretentious and smooth cut foot is exactly opposite what is found on the rest of this bowl. This technique of a simple foot is done for a few different reasons. Firstly, it allows for the focus of the bowl to be elsewhere. Secondly, it offers an element of contrast. Thirdly, it reminds us of the unpretentious and simple life.
Conversely three marks of beautifully imperfect beauty grace the outside wall of this bowl. Two blotchy fingerprints are found near the foot and connect us with the potter. These fingerprints give the bowl a feeling of being in the present while connecting us with the past. These marks on the bowl are just as unique as the fingerprints themselves. These prints break and muddle the continuity of the gye yal of the side wall. Like a monk breaking though his koan it jolts us into a relationship of what this bowl is. There is a beautiful patch of thicker white glaze on the edge of the foot and another smaller slightly thicker greyish white blob on the sidewall near the foot. These blobs of glaze give the bowl more life, more uniqueness, more strength. If you look closely you will also see a faint gye yal fade into the rim of the bowl. It certainly encourages you to look inside...
When gazing inside the bowl your focus is immediately drawn to the characteristic Sam Do Style stamped flowers in the shallow of the tea bowl. These flowers are especially interesting and contain three elements which make them especially beautiful. First, the flowers seem to be haphazardly scattered and often overlap. This element conjures the image of the potter acting in a carefree fashion, and gives the bowl a free feeling. The flowers also fade in and out and do not always offer a complete imprint. This feature also has the same effect as above. The flowers are also covered by the five stack marking that occur in the wood kiln- also a very free feeling effect that brings into touch with the potter.
Other interesting aspects of this exceptional bowl include the seemingly random blotches of ghostly white. These both offer contrast while bridging and harmonizing the colours of the patterns and marking and the base colour.
The small divots that encircle just above the flower stamps act to give the bowl movement. More importantly they influence the whisking action of the matcha creating micro turbulence and in the end a better bowl of tea.
If you look close enough at the characteristic Sam Do style white diagonal white dashes you can even see mico cracks in the glaze. Also of note is how the double lined upper border of the inner sidewall fades from two lines into one. It does so so harmoniously and so subtly that an untrained eye would easy miss it, lost in the complex patterning of the Sam Do Style.
This bowl is an overall beautiful visual and tackle experience...
Did I mention that it makes good tea.