Friday, December 3, 2010


Arakawa Toyozo ( 1894-1985) is arguably the greatest Mino potter of the 20th century, known for his wonderful Shino, Ki-Seto and Seto-Guro masterpieces. Though known as this masterful potter, there is another facet of his artistic endeavors that one rarely sees excepting the occasional illustration in a catalogue or book. From early on, Arakawa painted in ink and watercolors, including a scroll of the famous Mutabora-gama which was his impetus for the rediscovery of Momoyama Shino.

Arakawa has left a fairly large number of his painted pottery, from stark and expressive sometsuke wares to colorful underglaze and overglaze enamel painted pottery running the gamut from traditional Japanese subject matter of flora and fauna to his own unique Nihonga inspired paintings. Some of these pottery works are iro-e style porcelains while others are seen in almost Rimpa, Ogata Kenzan inspired designs on slipware together with iron (tetsu-zu) designs on slipware and on and under Shino glazes.

Back before his discovery of the Mutabora-gama, Arakawa had been an assistant/student of Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959). Rosanjin was a strict task master, a powerful ego and an artist of numerous talents which included pottery, calligraphy, painting and the designing and decoration of lacquer, metalwork lamps, furniture and seal carving. It was in this fertile and multi-disciplined environment that Arakawa was exposed to Rosanjin’s exceptional calligraphy and paintings (panels, screens, scroll, shikishi, etc.) that he also adapted to his pottery. With the literati tradition that Arakawa was exposed to under Rosanjin, it was only natural he would use his pottery as canvas as well as creating two dimensional arts as well.

There are quite a few scroll paintings (kakejiku) and shikishi (board) paintings left that illustrate everything from his friends, adventures, flora, fauna, pottery and his own artistic unique renderings. All of the works I am aware of were painted in sumi ink or watercolors. His style of painting can be divided into three main categories; simple Momoyama inspired “ink traces”, Rimpa and Nihonga inspired designs with color and definition, but not overly detailed and lastly, his detailed and precise painting showing highly rendered images. The same three broad categories are also seen on his pottery, to included precisely rendered enamels designs and patterns on porcelain. His paintings are all very expressive, individual and free spirited.

I have seen several Shino chawan and several other pots that were accompanied by kakejiku depicting the pot along with a short narrative. There are also pieces that have shikishi that were included along with a wide variety of pots. The illustration is of a Shino chawan and narrative by Arakawa Toyozo. It depicts a typical Shino chawan with underglaze iron decoration of mountains and pine trees. No doubt this once accompanied the illustrated chawan but has now been separated from the piece.

The relevant question, where is that chawan?

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