Friday, February 17, 2012


Last weekend, my wife and I made a trek into NYC for a very specific reason, we were on our way to see the collection of Alice and Halsey North. For those unacquainted, the Norths are pioneering collectors and advocates for modern Japanese pottery. There is a wonderful catalogue of part of their collection by Joe Earle, entitled; CONTEMPORARY CLAY; JAPANESE CERAMICS FOR THE NEW CENTURY which gives a glimpse into the collection and its importance.

From the moment they open the door to their home, it is immediately apparent, the Norths, live with their pots. Directly adjacent to the door is a gridded shelf system that hangs on the wall like a kakejiku scroll painting, though this kakejiku is filled with dozens of small pots, many of which have larger versions about the apartment. As you walk about, it is obvious that the collection revolves around the Sodeisha movement and more sculptural pottery, though Hamada, Shimaoka, Warren MacKenzie, Randy Johnston and a number of the traditional potters are represented. The Sodeisha trio; Yagi Kazuo, Yamada Hikaru and Suzuki Osamu are represented as well as a number of other sculptural ceramists; Fukami Sueharu, Morino Taimei, Kondo Takahiro, Yaki Akira, Kohyama Yasuhisa and many others. The surfaces and traditions run the gamut from Iga and Shigaraki, Kohiki, Bizen, Mashiko, Seiji and surfaces characteristic of the new movement in Japanese ceramics.

As you take in the collection, the Norths point out their favorites and why many of the pieces speak to them. It is obvious, the pots and environment co-exist in an intimate and casual manner. The dialogue between viewer and clay is an ongoing exchange that animates the living space and creates a meaningful conversation among the pots as well.  As I mentioned the focus of the collection is more sculptural, but there are a number of functional pots intermingled throughout the home. Besides the MacKenzie, Shimaoka and Johnston pieces, there are pots by Tsujimura Shiro and sonYui, Otani Shiro, Kakurezaki Ryuichi, Mori Togaku, Kaneta Masanao and quite a few others. Actually, the blend of sculptural and function is well balanced and they share much more than material in common, they are the voice of Alice and Halsey Norths vision of pottery for the new century.

If taking in the North collection wasn't enough to make our weekend, the MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art) had a phenomenal exhibition of 20th century Chinese painter, FU BAOSHI (1904-1965). The large exhibit had works from early to late in his life and in a variety of styles Fu is well known for. A few of his large scale mountain scrolls and "The Mountain Spirit" were just ethereal and beyond words. For more than a thousand years, the Japanese had used Chinese art (and painting) as an inspiration, this exhibition clearly showed the indebtedness that Fu had for Japanese painters and paintings, particularly, Hashimoto Kansetsu, Takeuchi Seiho and Yokoyama Taikan. All in all a wonderful exhibit, a wonderful invitation from the Norths and a weekend that will linger in my memory for quite some time.

The top illustration is of a Japanese inspired alcove housing a bold weather beaten calligraphed plank by Tsujimura Shiro over a textured vase form by Sakiyama Takayuki (b.1958). The Sakiyama is a large, following piece which commands its space and echoes the environment of sea and sand of his home in seaside Izu peninsula.

(Picture taken and used with the kind permission of Alice and Halsey North)

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