Steven Young Lee | Episode 245
Steven Young Lee has been the resident artist director of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana since 2006. His work has been collected by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum, the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art, the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul, Korea, as well as many private collections.Steve received his BFA and MFA in Ceramics from Alfred University. Originally from Chicago, he lives in Helena with his wife, Lisa and their son and daughter Gavin and Florence.
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What was it about the position of being a director that attracted you so much?
I was really drawn to The Bray for a number of reasons. I’ve never seen anything like it, I had never been there before I had been a resident. The mission of The Bray really focusing on the artists and the people who want to make the work and supporting that as much as possible. That might be the resident artists or the students, who ever that might be, but it is really about supporting the work. I think that is a really unique idea. You get these people who are really hungry and want to grow and you give them space to work and you support them, then amazing things can happen.
What was your biggest surprise becoming the director?
One of the biggest surprises I had was how many people it connects you to. There is such a big Bray community. There are so many people that you become connected to in a kind of close way. There is the Helena community who just love the place and feel really proud of it and they want to know you and the people here. Then you go to NCECA and meet all those other people the were part of The Bray or residents. It was kind of an overwhelming number of people that you suddenly have a relationship with. It has been a bit of an adjustment but it has been a wonderful part of being at The Bray.
What is one of the toughest challenges of being a director and an artist simultaneously?
Probably just that statement right there. I think time is always the biggest thing. I think theoretically it’s an amazing idea.You have someone who is an artist, who has the same concerns and questions that the artists who are working there have and they are helping to administer the foundation. I feel my role as an artist helps me to better understand the needs of the organization. I think what happens is administrative needs always have a deadline or a clear response that is needed, you have to answer emails, send in the grant, or do this thing. But in the studio you don’t always have that. A lot of times when you are in there working, you don’t always have a deadline. Sometimes you just need to be in there exploring and it’s easy for the artwork to get pushed aside because of that. If you are confronted with clear deadlines and clear expectations then a lot of times it’s easy to just push away the very valuable time to just explore in the studio. So that’s a balance and we have such a great staff that it has made it possible to do both things.
What does it take for a potter or an artist to find their voice, to become genuine?
I think one of the top things is you kind of have to work hard. To me, there is no way around it. If you want to be an artist and you want to be in ceramics and you really want to do well, I think if you don’t work hard then you should quit because there is just no way around it. You need to have that drive and you need to have the time committed to really exploring whatever the ideas are that you are trying to pursue. I think just being honest with yourself. For a lot of us that’s the goal, you are always trying to get to a point where you are being really honest with what it is you want to do and what it is you don’t want to do. That’s the journey I feel like I am on.
Going back in your history as an artist,what is one thing you would do differently and one thing that you would absolutely not change?
I kind of wish earlier on in my education I would have traveled a bit more which I was able to do later after I left grad school. I lived in China for a year. That was a pretty life changing experience for me. I wish I would have learned that earlier and really understanding a bit more a diverse world view and seeing how other people think and what their values are. I think I would not change that year that I lived in China. It was probably one of the most life changing experiences I’ve had.