Meet the Artist: Mitch Yung

Mitch is a featured artist in River Gallery's March & April 2022 Exhibit


See more of Mitch Yung's work here

Where are you currently based, and can you tell us about your work?


This year I moved to Springfield, Missouri and have started a full-time teaching position at Evangel University.

 I have always been attracted to two things in my work- functionality and reference to historical work. I was first attracted to ceramics by seeing the work of my father around the house and the stories of his and my first professor Angelo C. Garzio of Manhattan Kansas. As a freshman at Kansas State University, I enrolled in a ceramics class to see if the stories about Garzio were true. It was there I fell in love with the spontaneity and fluidity of the potters’ wheel making functional pots. It was a couple years later while studying under Chris Staley that I began to view the potters’ wheel as a tool. Chris opened my eyes to the potential voice that I could achieve with clay. From my first start with clay, I pursued an immersion in the possibilities of clay. I looked at all types of functional pots from history, as well as other ways that clay had been a vehicle of decorative expression.

Functional ceramics has always been a constant in my work, sometimes it trends towards decorative, but I feel there is always a functional component.


How did you become a full-time artist and is it something you have always dreamt of doing?


 I believe that God's creation has been passed on to the people He created. He has given all of us talents and gifts. For me these gifts have been a curiosity and a desire to make. I have always followed my dream of making, especially three-dimensionally. I began my college experience studying Animal Science and Industry. But I soon discovered while taking my first college clay class with Ange that I realized my truest desire was then and still is to make “things”. I make things of use and beauty. Following a Bachelor of Fine Arts, I wasn’t ready to “be out in the world” so I pursued and received a Master of Fine Arts from Arizona State University. Following that my wife Marilyn and I moved back to the Midwest, settled in Branson to be near family, and decided to raise one ourselves. I set up my studio and worked part time for my parents and weaned myself into the life of a full-time studio artist within a couple years.


Where do you draw the most inspiration for your work?


My functional work is inspired by medieval ceramics, the ancient pots of the Minoans and Myceneans and the peasant ware of the Koreans; both the Onggi jars and the buncheong ware as well as the Goryeo dynasty Mishima and celadons.

I am a lover of beautiful old pots, and beautiful new pots that are not just following the current trends.

My sculptural work also comes from a love of history; the art and architecture of the ancient Greeks, the art of the Cycladic islands, the painter Modigliani, the Moai Heads of Rapa Nui and so many others. I love the way erosion sculpts the land as a river cuts a channel. I love the overlap and aerial perspective of the Ozark hills seen from a high vantage point. All these various influences combine to make my artistic expression.


How has your work/inspiration evolved or taken on new meanings over time?


I find my working to be circular over the years. It is evolving moving forward then returning to an earlier idea to push it further as my capabilities have matured.


What do you find to be the most rewarding part of the process? The most challenging?


The most rewarding part of the process is in the making and the discovery of the process. Clay is very process driven. Follow “its” rules and anything can be made, rush something and be reminded (in the way of a crack or warping or glazes not maturing, blistering, running) that you the artist must follow the rules. 

I very much dislike glazing but enjoy unloading a kiln that has something new in it. I learned several years ago that I make things because I want to and because I have to. If one becomes too business/money driven their work stagnates. Even if I am making work for the ability to make ends meet. l always have something in every kiln that is exciting and new. I always have a reason to be excited about what is in the kiln, so I want to unload the kiln for reasons other than there is something sold in there.


Tell us about your process- what materials do you use, what techniques?


The potters’ wheel is still an important tool for me. The idea of function is still an important process to me. The material (clay) is still important to me. The fluidity and mark making and the recording ability of clay is still important to me. Firing fuel burning kilns and the act of burning is still important to me. The gained technical knowledge, and the ability to reach temperatures of over 2400 degrees with wood and the recorded history of the flames and the melting process of wood ash and its effects are important to me.  All these processes that are inherent to working with clay are why I fell in love with clay at a young age and the affair with clay still continues. 

The more I know about this material opens new pathways leading me to the realization that there is still more that I want to learn about. The process of learning and discovery will always be fresh and exciting. For as long as we are learning, we are moving forward.

So, with all of this in mind, I use clay for the beauty “it” can afford when I do everything right. When “it” dries perfectly or gets blessed in the kiln. I work with clay for the one piece where everything aligns perfectly. Sometimes there may be a couple years in between before I get one.  

I love the spontaneity that the wood-kiln can afford. So, when I can I use that as a vehicle to achieve a fired surface voice. I still use an electric kiln; this has a whole other set of challenges. The main challenge with this type of firing is the flatness of just heat and no atmosphere. Anyone who has used electric kilns has struggled with this. I have been working to create work which has surfaces that are not normally achieved with oxidation firing. I accomplish this using custom clay bodies, grogs, slips, engobes, underglazes and glazes. I combine these in layers and combinations to overcome the flat lifeless surface normally produced by electric firing.


How did you start to find your own artistic voice? What advice to you have for an artist struggling with that?


How do you achieve an artistic voice? By not following trends. Look at a lot of work, especially what is NOT “popular” now. Look at history, learn from classical design and use it in a contemporary way. Reinvent history in a way that is exciting to you, not someone else. The more sources the work you make draws from, the less noticeable each of them will be in your own work. 

Realize becoming good at something takes patience and a long time to achieve, years, not hours.

Make lots of work, experiment always, always learn and never give up.