Monday, August 31, 2015


Back in 1985 I visited the exhibition; THE WAY OF TEA; AMERICAN ART FOR THE JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY, this was to be my first encounter with chadogu made by Westerners in an earnest fashion and not simply as imitators or copyists. The works were an insight as to how a group of American craftsman and artists saw and interpreted the objects that they studied and admired capturing the essence but not necessarily tied to absolute tradition. Since that time, I have encountered quite a few people whose works are inspired by Chanoyu and these individuals are from all over the globe creating works based on Japanese originals but they are a unique blend of the archetype and the individual. The illustrated Hagi tebachi is just such an object created by Scandinavian transplant and Hagi native; Bertil Nils Persson.  Bertil Nils Persson was born in Sweden in 1940 and ended up working for Royal Copenhagen in Denmark prior to a trip he made to Japan. Once in Japan he began a seven year apprenticeship in Hagi and has been at home there ever since. Highly admired for his decorative and functional work, Persson is considered one of the most popular potters in Hagi and has even received the Distinguished Cultural Service Award (2002) for Hagi City for his efforts to preserve and contribute to the Hagi tradition. I find this to be one of those wonderful vessels that synthesizes the Scandinavian and Japanese traditions effortlessly to make an individual work that is neither a copy nor a simple imitation.
You can see more of this Hagi tebachi over at my Trocadero marketplace by clicking on the link;

Friday, August 28, 2015


As I look at the works of Kawai Kanjiro, I can immediately see the pottery laws of attraction at play. His works have a simplicity and grace while his forms are strong and compelling finished with rich, honest and spontaneous glazes and decoration. It is very easy to understand the appeal of such work which in many cases translates to his two dimensional renderings just like this simple ink wash of a simple decanter and stopper with elegant and captivating decoration on the two visible sides of the pot. The image is portrayed to create depth and take full advantage of the form which it depicts looking just like it can be picked up and used. Balancing a certain degree of brevity with the essentials of the pot through ink, Kawai captures the essence of the vessel with the least amount of detail and effort much like he does with the impressive and diverse body of work he has graced us with.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Illustrated are two lean and green citadel style vases with paddled textures and an Oribe glaze with iron accents. I had posted these two vases in a previous blog post and thought to show what the pieces came out like after the firing. I  combined two of my favorite pottery making things on these pots; texture and Oribe and would like to think that the relationship they share works to full advantage with some iron going along for the ride. Both of these pots were fired on wads to keep them from sticking to the kiln shelves and I must say I am particularly surprised that given their vertical nature, the glaze did not run off the pots. I will never get used to things coming out just as I saw them in my head, nor will I start to make those assumptions and become an optimist but it is always a good day to unload the kiln when they do.
"An optimist is a man who has never had much experience." Don Marquis (1878-1937)

Monday, August 24, 2015


I am always amazed at the presentation that many Japanese artists make out of the packaging or their artwork, though simple in concept, they rarely are in execution. In order to enjoy the object, you must first peel away the layers of packaging to see the piece and for pots that can include multiple boxes and an elaborate shifuku even when the piece is not a chaire. I would hazard a guess that 85% of the exhibition quality pieces by Tsukigata Nahiko have at the very least a shifuku for the pot and quite a few also have a secondary box in either roiro black lacquer or plain kiri wood. Besides the silk shifuku, some or Tsukigata's pots come with a thick, quilted, padded wrapping cloth which bares his personal stamp, I have seen this for a number of his larger vases, tsubo and mizusashi and on the rare occassion with chawan as well. The illustration shows a custom made and fitted shifuku for a large mizusashi by Tsukigata made out of cloth which a number of his shifuku were made out of. Peaking out from the slit down the center, you can glimpse the crusty ash built up on the face of the pot attesting to the fact that Tsukigata knew how to present his pots so that they would always make an impressive entrance.

Friday, August 21, 2015


I remember back when I first read the book, PLAYFULNESS IN JAPANESE ART by Nobuo Tsuji, he discussed the purposefully altered, distressed and distorted vessels used for tea ceremony as "warped and comical". At the time I took this at face value and thought of all of the art of Japan that was playful, much with undercurrents of tremendous insight to reflect a counterpoint to the violent and chaotic times that a great number of these masterpieces were created. The simplicity and whimsy ran opposite to the age and nature of the times and the tea ceremony  served as a brief respite from the "real world"; reflection and clarity could be enhanced by the audacity and humor hidden in the art of the time. Among the real playful plastic arts of the time was the various works of Oribe-yaki where many of the design and forms seem nonsensical but upon a deeper examination there is quite a bit more to be seen and enjoyed in these spirited and whimsical creations.

Like a fat, ripe fruit just plucked from a branch, this small Oribe chaire clearly displays what Oribe is all about. Part of a complete tea set which includes chawan, mizusashi, chaire, kogo and futaoki, this modern Oribe chaire is by Ishii Takehiro, an apprentice of the Bizen master Kakurezaki Ryuichi. Reaching into the origins of Oribe, Ishii has created a chaire that is both spirited while being somewhat light hearted as not to take itself too seriously. As a singular element it is engaging and as part of a larger set it has enough presence as to not get lost in the maddening crowd.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


It is amazing what a few years and some simple advancements in technology can make on the ability to capture an image, from camera obscura to advanced megapixel sensors, technology never stands still. Not long ago I was fortunate enough to handle a very nice Kawai Kanjiro chawan for study and took quite a few photos and detail shots; the form and foot are classic and the glaze and decoration is rich and crisp showing off the best of what Kawai created in a small and simple space. While flipping through and older issue of the magazine THE MINGEI, I spotted a very similar bowl which was photographed in black and white for the publication and combined the two images to get a sense of the photographic renderings, past and present. At first glance it is easy to say the modern, digital photo is a much better representation of the bowl but I still think there are things that B&W photo has that are of value, it presents a much more focused fa├žade of the bowl as well as shadow lines and certain details that don't immediately jump out in the color photo. All in all, I'll go with the modern photo and thanks to digital photography it is easy to take literally hundreds of photos which capture all of the nuances and details that make the chawan a total object. I can only image how archaic these modern images will look when we start taking 3-D and holographic renderings of objects in the not so distant future.

Monday, August 17, 2015


I made this short video to try to convery the variations in texture, color and overall affects created with iron and Oribe on this combed slip teabowl. Though it is a simple dip and a dab of Oribe and an iron concoction, the surface has quite a wide array of variations that make for an interesting overall appearance right down to an iridescent  hue in the proper lighting. I have been pretty satisfied with this particular Oribe formula as well as the iron overglaze which basically came out of an early 19th century Japanese woodblock print book on pottery though the matrials are a bit different, it is as close to the original using Western materials. Though the continuous testing to get the Oribe where I see it in my mind can get a bit overwelming, getting the results you are after makes it all worth while.

Friday, August 14, 2015


Though I have a better camera than previously, I am still struggling with making better quality videos of pottery. I suspect if I had a full time set up and a pricey turntable and lighting arrangement, I could make better videos but for the time being, this will have to suffice. This video is of a splendid, rich Aka-Shino chawan by Hori Ichiro. As one would expect, the bowl feels wonderful in the hand and each and every facet of the bowl has been well attended to culminating in a fine and strong kodai. The videos like the slideshows are meant to try to convey the space, volume and even presence of the bowl where a single, static image may not succeed. Like most chawan by Hori Ichiro, there is nothing fussy or contrived  about this piece and any superfluous possibilities were stripped away most likely even prior to the lump of clay taking form on the potter's wheel. I hope this video, in the round gives one the perspective of the enjoyment this chawan brings in person and in hand.

"Sping, summer, autumn and winter. And spring comes around again. In the flow of time, what can I express through my ceramic art." A quote by Hori ichio from the MCAA

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


For the past three decades (!), I have taken every opportunity to acquire books on modern Japanese pottery which covers from about 1900 to the present. The vast majority of these books are in Japanese and quite a few are surveys that cover the history of the field up to the time they were written. For some reason, many of these surveys date from the 1970's and cover the traditional and cutting edge of modern pottery up until the time the manuscripts and photos had to go to the publishers and if I had to hazard a guess, 80% of these potters are unknown to most collectors today. A while back I was able to acquire a five volumes set that was published in 1970 and written by Kuroda Kusaomi, each volume covers about 50 potters and is illustrated though the majority of photos are in black and white. Each volume focuses on the major potters of the day and has a section for signatures and seals covering those introduced in each book. I love books like these that give a perspective of what the dynamics of the pottery scene was like in 1970 from those that were ultra-traditionalists, avant-garde and potters who were finding new ways out of strict traditions much like Tsukigata Nahiko who is covered in one of the volumes. I assume that the set of books and photos were probably done over the course of a year or so and despite the lack of color photographs it is obvious that 1970 was a very good year.
Illustrated is a totemic style, unglazed sculptural piece by a young potter only recently using a traditional Shigaraki anagama, most likely the first in the valley for a very long time; Kohyama Yasuhisa. To my eye, this piece gives a few hints as to where Kohyama was destined to go with his pursuit of coil-built objects as well as showing an aesthetic discipline determined to make the viewer take notice and walk away all the richer for the encounter.
James Taylor live performance from 1970; FIRE & RAIN

Monday, August 10, 2015


Illustrated is an overhead angled view of a recent stepped temmoku and medieval green jar that came out of the kiln. I like this angle, it shows off the two glazes to their truest color and it gives a perspective of the steps that were created while throwing the pot all at once. The alternating panels of glaze and the stamped decoration with inlaid glaze adds to the surface of the pot but the real interest from my perspective comes from looking back at older architectural landmarks like the Tower of Pisa from which I drew a certan degree of inspiration to come up with this form. Applying that which has already transpired to make something new can be either a pitfall or a challenge, though I prefer to try to render the borrowed into something of my own and to accept a challange rather than see it as a pitfall. I would like to think that I succeeded.

You can see more of this jar over at my Trocadero marketplace by clicking on the link;

Friday, August 7, 2015


I received these photos from a friend of mine a long while back and in the interim he has decided to stop collecting and has already disposed of 95% of his collection just prior to a change in his location and lifestyle. While collecting he had assembled a rather nice collection with a number of rather fine Tsukigata Nahiko pots of which this particular mizusashi is one of them baring the name; Snowy Egret. Though Tsukigata named his pieces on the odd occasion, I have certainly seen very few pots named and in each case, those bearing a name were exceptional examples, this mizusashi is certainly no exception. Of classical form and Oni-Shino surface, this pot goes far beyond the pale with almost the entire surface covered in a layer of natural running green ash produced during one of Tsukigata's intensive and chaotic firings. The face of the pot is covered in a rich brown triangle of ash, tamadare style where the ash built up and began to show signs of scorching from the onslaught of fire and free flowing ash. Though I have seen a few its equal, one would have to admit, it does not get much better than this for the Oni-Shino style and the charismatic and dynamic work of Tsukigata Nahiko.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


I don't make a lot of hanging vases as most people prefer vases that are free standing and don't rely on a given wall space for display. The illustrated hanging vase was made by wrapping it around an old dowel and then beating it with a paddle to create the texture and then a foot was attached and a small window cut out to allow for the flowers to go in at a point lower than the top of the vase. Though the vase can stand on its own, it is not necessarily built to do so as the center of gravity is too low, the base too narrow and the pot a bit wonky which offsets its balance. Intended to hang, the pot has a small hole in the rear near the top where a cord passes through to hang the vase from. I finished the piece off in one of my Oribe glazes and added some iron over to add movement and more visual appeal and hopefully create a  surface that is simpatico with a wide array of flowers that the vase could be used for. You can see more pictures of this vase over at my Trocadero market place;

Monday, August 3, 2015


I often wonder what it would have been like to study with Kawai Kanjiro or Hamada Shoji, two giants who helped define Japanese ceramics during the 20th century not to mention their influences around the world. It must have been a staggering experience that set one's direction into motion but what about having studied with both of these pioneers, it could only be described as the best of both worlds. One such potter who studied with both Hamada and Kawai was Okuda Yasuhiro (1920-1999) having studied under each during the lean war years. After his experiences under both masters, Okuda established his own kiln around 1949 and even Bernard Leach visited his studio in 1956. Okuda established two distinct signature styles, one a mingei influenced body of work, many of the pieces with rich and colorful overglaze enamels with fish as a central theme and the other pursuit was haikaburi style woodfired wares of which the illustrated chawan is a classic example. This chawan is light and comfortable in the hand and has a rich surface of natural ash deposited about the bowl and interior which runs toward the mikomi to create a rich pool of liquid ash. Overall it is a simple bowl with a fine form and well cut foot but perhaps it is the spirit of his masters along with a unique ability to blend both worlds into a single object that makes the work of Okuda Yasuhiro as appealing as it is understated.