For decades, Pratt Institute School of Art and Design alumnus and professor emeritus John Pai, BID ’62; MFA Fine Arts (Sculpture) ’64, has been creating intricately welded sculptures. Pai has lived a varied life, moving at a young age from war-torn Korea to America, where he fell in love with art and enrolled in Pratt. Going on to create a long career as an artist and educator, which has included leading Pratt’s sculpture program, Pai’s unique path to a life as an artist is reflected in his work. With the release of the new book John Pai: Liquid Steel, published by Rizzoli Electa in October 2023, readers are invited to take a look into the process by which Pai found his voice. 

In the words of poet and critic John Yau, who wrote the introduction to the book (and who noted, years before its publication, the “strong need for a comprehensive monograph” of Pai’s work), Pai “is an improvisational sculptor, and close in spirit to a jazz musician . . . Pai has made inimitable forms that are simultaneously simple and elaborate, pared down and tightly raveled.”

Here is an inside look into the monograph, highlighted by Prattfolio in the magazine’s Spring 2024 New and Noteworthy section, with quotes of Pai’s excerpted from the book.

A man in a blue shirt wearing large black goggles and white gloves holding a hand-torch, working on a metal sculpture in a white-walled room with unpainted wood upholding it.
John Pai working on Unstuck in Time, 1980. Photo by the artist. Courtesy of Rizzoli Electa

“Welding was a means by which I could construct concepts in the most minimal forms.”

A round metal sculpture of interlocking wires creating a round exterior with an abstract shape in the center. The sculpture is photographed on a pedestal over a black background.
John Pai, Convolution, 1976. Photo by the artist. Courtesy of Rizzoli Electa

“Beginning with a point in space, welding tight formations of short steel rods, by eye, I often allowed the patterns to suggest directions. Sometimes they would lead to coherent forms and other times they would pull me into complex mazes from which I would have to extricate myself.”

A metal sculpture of interlocking wires shaped as rectangles, collecting into an abstract shape. The sculpture is photographed on a white pedestal over a white background.
John Pai, A Slice of Wave to Go, 1980. Photo by Geoffrey Quelle. Courtesy of Rizzoli Electa

“The cube as a unit and a symbol of equilibrium (point zero) began to emerge. I began with a linear cube somewhere in space and welded continual cubes in all directions.”

A pine cone shaped metal sculpture of interlocking wires. The sculpture is photographed on a white pedestal over a white background.
John Pai, Shared Destinies, 2014. Photo by Geoffery Quelle. Courtesy of Rizzoli Electa

“If you look at the structure, there is an inner and an outer layer. They both depend on one another for their existence. Everything that happens in one layer is translated to the other.”

A man and a woman sitting on a living room couch, surrounded by artworks.
John Pai with his wife, Eunsook Pai, in 2023. Photo by Geoffery Quelle. Courtesy of Rizzoli Electa

At times, I look around my Connecticut home and wonder how reminiscent it is of my childhood home in Ilsan.”

Three solid metal sculptures, each being a distinctly curved and augmented pillar on a black pedestal in a white room.
John Pai, Apparitions, 1987. Photo by Deberah Johnson. Courtesy of Rizzoli Electa

“In villages and at temples throughout Korea, there are wooden sculptures called jangseung. Villagers will often pray to these spiritual totems for blessings and protection.”

A metal sculpture of thin interconnecting cylinders, held up by three cylinders on the ground, while numerous others extend into the air. The sculpture is in a white room, casting shadows around the floor and wall.
John Pai, Rooster That Becomes a Tree, 2002. Photo by Geoffrey Quelle. Courtesy of Rizzoli Electa

“At the end of World War II, there were no forests in Korea because so many trees had been cut down by the Japanese and Koreans to build and for everyday tasks. Each time I go back to Korea it is strange to see the trees and hills in the mountains. Now there is a commitment to planting as many trees as possible.”

A metal outdoor sculpture in an urban environment on a mound of grass. The sculpture is made up of metal wire which curves up from the mound to the sky.
John Pai, Notes from the Stars, 2007. Photo by Geoffrey Quelle. Courtesy of Rizzoli Electa

“This piece was inspired by my childhood memories of evening skies in Ilsan, Korea, lying on my grandmother’s lap and listening to stories as the stars engaged in conversation in the sky.”

A black and white photograph of a smiling man in a button up shirt in a large design workshop, behind a table full of screws, rulers, and other design tools.
John Pai as a professor at Pratt Institute, c. 1970. Courtesy of Pratt Institute Archives

“I was asked recently to write about my years at Pratt as a student and later as a member of the faculty and administration. I didn’t have to search my memory very hard before I began to hear the buoyant notes from Antonín Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, “from the New World.” . . . Each time I hear his New World Symphony, it feels as if a huge curtain is drawing open onto an infinitely immense new world. Pratt always had this effect on me. The world opened to me like a new dawn.”