APIECE APART WOMAN
LA ceramicist Mirena Kim creates work that bridges the gap between art and craft, work that has its place at the dinner table and in gallery settings, and that’s informed by some mix of minimalist art, experimentation, and a lack of preciousness. Kim emigrated to the US when she was six, then spent a childhood in California, never “quite knowing where to fit in — everything was new, strange, and out of context.” Beyond culture shock, it instilled an inner curiosity that remains with her still, and which sparked our conversation at her LA studio.
Mirena wears FELINA OFF THE SHOULDER DRESS in cream
We were taken by something you share in the About page on your website: “I sat down at the wheel and I was instantly captivated by the motion, speed, and emotional highs and lows of the process.” Can you elaborate — particularly intrigued by these highs and lows.
I saw a photo of a potter’s studio recently, and on a wall above the wheel someone had tacked up a sign that read “Speed Kills.” That’s a bit of an inside joke among potters, as we’ve all lost many, many pots because we were going too fast. Wheel-thrown pottery is truly one of that hardest skills to master. Even before you get to actually trying to create a pot on the wheel there are about a half-dozen steps to master. Even after 20-plus years of throwing, I still have days when I could cry. Maybe the clay is softer or harder than usual, or maybe I’m not feeling my best. On the other hand, when it’s all working right, and the pots just seem to fly upward on their own, it is truly wonderful…it is bliss. But that feeling doesn’t last too long, because now the piece has to survive trimming, bisqueing, glazing, and firing at high temperatures. When the piece is successful, it’s a small miracle. You can understand why so many potters are superstitious and build little kiln gods and such.
We’ve been thinking about beauty and use: Can you share a bit about your perspective on how you envision your pieces having a life of their own beyond your studio?
I try not to have any expectations of how my pieces will be used or even viewed after they leave my studio. But because some of my pieces are functional, I do put some effort into making sure that they perform technically. A cup should work really well as a cup. A plate shouldn’t feel too heavy even when it’s loaded with food.
What designers, philosophies, or design principles most inform your practice?
You wouldn’t know this at all from seeing my very messy house and studio, but I’m actually quite drawn to Minimalism. Ellsworth Kelly. Donald Judd. Tadao Ando. Dan Flavin. I love the restraint, the careful choices, and the singularity of intent.
Do you ever go through times of feeling stagnant or stale in your style or work? If so, how do you combat those periods?
Thankfully, I have not yet gotten to that point where I feel stagnant. Studio ceramics as a career comes relatively late in my life, and I’ve had a lot of years daydreaming about what I was going to make and how. Those plans are mostly in my head, but if they were an actual notebook, let’s say, I’m still only on page two.
Can you share more about your perspective on having a self-made career and working independently? How have you made it work?
I just turned 52, and I strongly believe that my age has been a huge factor in whatever success I’ve had so far. With at least three careers behind me, I’ve had a lot of time to learn the myriad skills needed to run an art business. And it’s not just the skills — it’s the actual experience of knowing that things will almost always work out fine. It sounds like a small thing, but it is vital to any venture. I’m not so happy about my age when my joints ache, but I’ll gladly trade experience over youth any time!
'"With at least three careers behind me, I’ve had a lot of time to learn the myriad skills needed to run an art business. And it’s not just the skills — it’s the actual experience of knowing that things will almost always work out fine. It sounds like a small thing, but it is vital to any venture"
Do you have a personal mantra?
Forgive yourself and others.
What are some of the cultural touchstones of your life: songs, artists, books, films that played a part in shaping who you are today?
I’m a dabbler. I love everything, low and high art, outsider, insider, street, you name it. But if pressed I will provide this list of odds and ends: Disco, Joni Mitchell, Patsy Cline, Laurie Anderson, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Henry James, the Bronte sisters, the Eagles.
What do you make for dinner by yourself?
Leftovers. Like a lot of moms I’ve survived on bread crust trimmings, the fatty ends of bacon, broccoli stalks…
Describe a personal daily ritual.
My most treasured time is “coffee time.” My husband always brings me a cup first thing in the morning (even when we’ve argued the night before!), usually in one of my handmade mugs. We sip, slowly wake up, and talk about the business of running the household. It sounds so mundane but it’s actually such a sweet, quiet, and lovely time.
Do you have any sort of beauty routine or favorite practices?
Just what my mom taught me: wash your face before going to bed, keep your fingernails short, don’t wear too much perfume.
What is next for you?
I’m not sure if this can actually happen given my workload, but I’d like to paint more. Oil on canvas.
Mirena wears CAPELLINA CONTRAST YOKE TUNIC in black
Photography by YE RIN MOK | Films by CLAIRE COTTRELL | Styling by ALEXA HOTZ | Interview by LEIGH PATTERSON