Wednesday, April 6, 2011


“I want to go beyond virtuosity: I want to strip my work of ‘effects’ until it stand monolithic, based on reality and yet transcending it. It must flow naturally from my materials (from the chisel and the way of the block). This is very difficult but is the only right way. It is the ultimate ideal.”

The above quote is from famed Japanese print artist, Munakata Shiko (1903-1975) from the book; THE WOODBLOCK AND THE ARTIST. Munakata was part of the growth of the Mingei movement and friends with Bernard Leach, Yanagi Soetsu, Shoji Hamada and his very good friend Kawai Kanjiro. From my perspective, Munakata’s statement, though relating to print making, could relate to any artistic or craft endeavor and is very relevant to pottery. He understood what all many potters strive for, to “allow the clay to speak”. As most know this is certainly not easy and takes a lifetime to work towards.

Munakata had a unique relationship to pottery through his close friend, master potter, Kawai Kanjiro. Over the years, Munakata portrayed the pots of Kawai in his prints and paintings, in essence, paying homage to the achievement of his good friend. During his years as primarily a print artist, Munakata excelled at ink painting as well as calligraphy and the occasional decoration of pottery piece made by various potters. His works are always bold and graphic in nature. Whether print, painting, calligraphy or pot, Munakata remained true to his ideal, his works always go far beyond simple virtuosity.

Illustrated is a close-up of a san-tsubo (three jars) kakejiku, scroll painting done by Munakata Shiko. It portrays three pots, influenced by Kawai Kanjiro, the gosu blue , the shinsa (yuriko; underglaze red) and the mentori faceted tsubo balanced against his bold calligraphy (shoga).

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