Monday, May 16, 2011


A little over two years ago, I was surfing around the internet looking at pictures of Japanese pots. I stumbled on a website that specialized in shuki; guinomi and tokkuri. On this site was a group of eight guinomi, unlike any I had seen before. They were glazed in wet and luscious Oribe green and were all frenetic in appearance. Most were mentori style with abrupt planes of angles, the others spontaneous and loosely thrown, all begged to be picked up, handled and used. The potter responsible for these pots is Kowari Tetsuya(小割哲也). As I searched around the web, I found more of his highly articulated and animated works; guinomi, yunomi, hachi, chawan, mizusashi, even lamps and sculpture. I was hooked by the diversity and variety of his work and specifically the way in which he handled clay. Sometimes when I am looking at Kowari-san’s works, especially his Oribe pieces, Jazz springs to mind. The forms and surfaces have that flowing improvisations I think of from good Jazz, along with a sense of syncopation in the way surfaces and forms run from smooth to rough and from curve to angles. This work has a rich visual vocabulary and an endless dialogue with the viewer.

Kowari-san (b.1970) graduated from Meiji University in 1992 with a degree in architecture from the engineering department and finished his graduate work two years later in 1994. In 1997 he started ceramics with his father, Kowari Yoshitsugu, who is a self-taught and basically set about teaching himself pottery without any formal apprenticeship. Within three years, he had his first major exhibition of his works in 2000 with exhibits at the Osaka branch Takashimiya and at the Shizuoka Prefectural Fine Arts Museum.Since that time, Kowari-san has had a number of exhibitions and shows and has also been published in several books including Kuroda Kazuya’s (of Kuroda Toen Gallery) publication on Heisei Era potters.

His studio and kiln, MUSHIN-GAMA are in the southern shadow of Fuji-yama at Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture. There he built his studio and both a gas kiln and an anagama 5 meters in length. He fires his kiln twice a year. The kiln takes approximately five days to fire and another five days to cool. Unfortunately, Kowari-san’s kiln was damaged in the recent earthquake, but he is in the process of repairing the damage. He also fires his gas kiln more frequently for various pottery including his Oribe style pottery. He uses a variety clays from Shigaraki, Iga and Mino and from these, he makes his Anagama-Shino, Shigaraki, yakishime ware, kohiki and Oribe ware. As mentioned before, Kowari-san makes a lot of sake related pieces; tokkuri and guinomi as well as a broad range of table wares, tea ceremony pieces, vases, tsubo, lamps and sculptural works.

Being self-taught, Kowari-san’s approach to clay is both based in tradition but free of the normal constraints of a specific tradition. He studies “Momoyama to make modern Shino and Oribe” as well as looking to potters who ushered in the revival of the Mino traditions. “Arakawa Toyozo and Kato Tokuro are grand, I love and respect them very much.” He understands their contribution to the revival of the modern Momoyama aesthetic and uses these archetypes as a springboard for his modern interpretations of this ideal. He also is very conscious of the West in terms of pottery. He is fond of Voulkos as a western potter for his pushing clay boundries and regards Bernard Leach highly for his impact on the West as well as the East.

Illustrated are three chadogu (tea ceremony piece) by Kowari Tetsuya. The first piece is a tall and highly animated Oribe mizusashi. The piece is made from a rough clay and has accents of iron running through the rich Oribe glaze and the form is further accented with spontaneously attached lugs just below the mouth of the pot. The whole pot seems to have just happened and is both fresh and modern with that hint of the Momyama aesthetic.

The second illustration is of an Anagama-Shino chawan. The broad form with lazily roving lip, make me immediately think of the works of Kato Tokuro and earlier Momoyama chawan. The chawan has been glazed in an iron glaze and Shino and has been further activated by a generous coat of natural ash glaze running down the face and interior of the chawan. Like most of his work, the kodai, foot is quickly and unhesitantly addressed. It is modern in its approach yet is very much in harmony with the overall bowl. The shape is strong and the surface is rich making for a very contemplative keshiki (landscape).

The last illustration is an Oribe mentori chawan. The rough clay of this chawan has been heavily faceted, creating a chawan which is right at home in the hands. The faceting create a wonderful posture and the bowl appears to be moving forward despite resting securely on the kodai which is again, in harmony with how the chawan was made. The chawan was glazed in Kowari-san’s Oribe glaze and was fired on its side using clam shells as props to hold the bowl off the kiln shelf. The glaze ran around the pot to culminate in Oribe bidoro drip just at the center of the piece and the clam shell impression have formed wonderful pate de verre style accents created from glaze and calcium residue of the clam shells. The way the pot was fired is written on its face and makes for a great narrative of modern pottery. Though this chawan draws from various archetypes, it is a thoroughly modern bowl created using the Momoyama ideal and Kowari-san’s own creativity. It is a great addition to the Oribe tradition.

After searching around the web, I was able to not only find galleries who carried Kowari-san’s work, but I also found his website;
I emailed Kowari-san and found out that he could write very good English, which is a good thing. Even though I can read kanji, my written Japanese is very poor. He graciously sent me pictures and agreed to answer some of my questions for this short post. As both collector and potter, he must have sensed my enthusiasm for his work and Kowari-san has been very open about his pottery and how he works. Should you decide to email him, please tell him, Craig Bird sent you!

(Pictures used with the permission of the potter and a private collector.)