When we visit ceramic artist Phill Kiho Kim’s PKK Ceramics Echo Park studio, he explains how his obsession with coffee led him to ceramics, then coffee and back to ceramics. The culmination of Kim’s passions manifested when he combined the two, most recently when he made a full set of cups, plates and bowls, for Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski’s coffee bar Go Get Em Tiger (GGET).
At his studio, Kim spends long hours throwing dozens of cups, while listening to Brazilian tropicália music. He tells CH, “It can be frustrating, the level emotions that I go through. I am always working to achieve a certain confidence with this work, but I love this medium. I love this process. I love everything about it.”
Coffee has always been important to Kim; he has worked at Intelligentsia and helped launch the the coffee program at Gjelina Take Away. An offer to consult on a coffee project on Martha’s Vineyard prompted a move to the East Coast; splitting his time between the summers on the island and working New York City. During his time in Martha’s Vineyard, Kim began to focus his attention on ceramics. As part of the community studio there (at a historic landmark on an old horse farm) Kim was obsessed with making cappuccino cups. “I really wanted to get that one thing right before I moved on,” he says. One of his first clients was a small farm stand in Chilmark. Kim then bought a wheel in Western Massachusetts and drove it back to LA.
“There is a vibrancy in LA. I am glad I came back,” says Kim. He started working at Dinette in Echo Park and made cups for them, telling us, “The community and the camaraderie in the food world in LA is so cool.” After some six months, Kim says there was enough momentum to take a risk and open PKK Ceramics, “I took the plunge. It’s not easy to live off of your work,” he tells us.
Most of Kim’s pieces, made with a mixture of porcelain and stoneware, are unglazed on the outside. “I love that raw texture with simple white glaze on the inside. I have to fire it a little higher to seal it,” he says. “I want it to have that wabi sabi feel, that is raw in texture and tactile in sensation.” For the GGET pieces Kim weaves in a subtle gesture, rather than loud contrasting colors. He bought pigments that are the Go Get Em colors: teal, yellow, red and a little bit of blue. To infuse the color, Kim gets a small ball of clay and dips it into the pigment. Then he slaps the pigment ball onto a mound of clay. Then he makes a mark of where the pigment starts and, while the wheel spins, he controls the placement of the color. This process, a form of marbling, helps Kim achieve the desired minimalist effect.
Blending two of his obsessions was an ingenious way for Kim to thrive creatively, and for PKK Ceramics to succeed. “Coffee has always been the fuel, in so many symbolic ways,” he says. “It was how I was making a living and now it is blending together.”
Images by Alan Gastelum