Like a mysterious, simmering cauldron, there’s always something bubbling in ceramicist Raina J. Lee’s kiln. The results never fail to surprise, whether it’s foaming glazes that crackle like the surface of the moon or the swirls of dreamy pastels and nebula neons. The Los Angeles-based artist fully embraces her craft’s alchemical elements, reimagining classical forms with otherworldly glazes. “For me, making ceramics is just a big experiment with every possible surface, technique and color,” she says.
This affinity for the unusual feels natural for the longtime video game aficionado. “The intense colors and shapes are inspired by video games, science fiction books and places with extreme natural landscapes, such as Iceland, Nepal, Utah and California,” she says.
When developing silhouettes, Lee sometimes looks back in history, reconceiving traditional forms from Korean moon jars to Chinese scholar’s bowls from the Song dynasty before interpreting the shapes in her own way. Then come the mad scientist glazes, which the ceramicist gleefully enjoys making herself. “I find it interesting to juxtapose these really wild colors and textures on these very classical shapes, giving them a very modern context,” she says. Layering glossy with matte and craggy finishes, she tests different applications. The best part happens when the final vessel emerges from the kiln, as “you never know exactly how the chemicals are going to interact,” notes Lee. “But that’s where the surprise is.”
The time afforded Lee during Los Angeles’ pandemic lockdown has allowed her to experiment in other ways—exploring matters of scale. This includes intricate pottery for ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. Combined with sculptural plantings, these pieces will “look like a garden-scape,” but with the miniature, lunar-like hills and craters of her signature volcanic glaze.
On select occasions by appointment, locals can explore more pieces in Lee’s charming tree-house showroom. Perched in the backyard of her Mount Washington home, the whimsical gallery embodies her new life in clay. Like video games, her work has become “this place to go and have weird, interesting experiences every day.”