Wednesday, April 11, 2012


“Delicious food requires plates of a comparable level of beauty; without them it is incomplete. And so I came naturally to a critical interest in chinaware and lacquerware for table use.”

This comment by Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959) is in my mind what best highlights his talents.  In a conversation I had with a major curator of a major museum, he admitted that he was just unclear as to why Rosanjin was considered so highly and his pots were fetching such high prices, this was in the early 1990s. If you think about it, deciding his actual place in art history can be debated. Was Rosanjin a great designer, potter, chef, calligrapher/painter, literati philosopher or arbiter of taste or truly, all of these? The answer to this question is above my paygrade, but I can say that by looking at Rosanjin’s works, it is certain he understood and appreciated what had come before as his work taps into that sense of timelessness. It is neither old nor new.

Having seen quite a few Rosanjin pots over the years in private and public collections, as well in numerous catalogues and books, the real brilliance of his work is his ability to conceive of the pieces in situ, in use for food, varying ritual punctuations, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, etc. as the finishing touch to his works. Rosanjin had the nearly unique ability to envision his creations as they would be used, in places where they would fulfill specific functions as most pots are meant to do. If you think of a Rosanjin Bizen mallet vase, though timeless and subtle in its beauty, if you add a floral arrangement to the piece, acting almost as a visual prop, it is transfixed into a myriad of altered aesthetics depending on season, arrangement and arranger, but at its core, it seems complete. Though many critics consider his versatility and originality his real gifts, from my perspective it is the fact that few, if any other potter can live up to Rosanjin’s unique ability to create a pot that is finalized by the addition of what is “missing” and that is how he conceived the piece. In an odd way, it is like the negative space that highlights many great painting masterpieces of the Muromachi and Momoyama periods.  It would seem that Rosanjin was seeing the big picture long before that was an essential part of our modern lives.

“There is nothing so delicious as freshness.”   Kitaoji Rosanjin

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