March 14-22, 2014
Hollis Taggart Galleries
958 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021
Asia Week New York 2014
Inheriting Heritage: The Power of Hands-on Art based on Material and Process
Over the past decade, contemporary Japanese crafts have received considerable attention overseas as well as at home. Japanese crafts including dyeing, natural lacquer work, metalworking, woodworking, and bamboo craft – which is more appreciated in the United States than it is in Japan – arose in the unique natural environment and climate of Japan, and over the centuries an enormously abundant range of materials and techniques has evolved. Among the art forms, pottery and ceramics stand out as perhaps the most richly expressive of all, with a history stretching back approximately 13,000 years and a truly diverse pantheon of artists working in the medium.
Simply beholding, all together, the works of the artists featured in the current exhibition give the viewer a visceral sense of the sheer diversity of styles and schools that exist. There is yakishime (high-fired unglazed stoneware), Shino ware (stoneware coated with Shino glaze), hakuji (white porcelain), and iroejiki (porcelain with multicolored overglaze). Some ceramicists make heavy use of glazes while others find unique and expressive ways of using gold and silver. Each artist grapples earnestly with the materials he or she has chosen, and places the techniques that he or she has mastered in the service of creative expression. Since around 1990, I have referred to the works born of this stance adopted by Japanese ceramicists and craftspeople as “Hands-on Art based on material and process.” This fundamental underlying principle is common to all Japanese ceramics and crafts.
What I mean by “Hands-on Art based on material and process” is a creative expression through sustained hands-on engagement with a certain material, and command of technique, not merely the transient use of whatever material and technique happens to be close at hand. It means absorbing, in one’s own way, the heritage of materials and techniques that have accumulated over many centuries of ceramics history, and adding new interpretations and ingenuity to turn them into vehicles for creative expression. Behind each piece lies a vast depth of history and heritage. For example, theyakishimeworks of Isezaki Jun stand on the shoulders of eight centuries of Bizen ware history, while the porcelain pieces of Yoshita Minori incorporate the 350-year history of Kutani ware, particularly the past 50 years in which the yuri-kinsai (glazed gold leaf over the surface) technique was developed. Each artist both diligently studies the relevant history and skillfully interprets it in his or her own original fashion, producing ceramic works unlike anything seen in the past. This, and not mere imitation of the past, is the true meaning of “inheriting heritage.” Another important recent development is the emergence of female ceramics masters, such as Tokuda Yasokichi Ⅳ, in what has historically been a realm of patriarchal tradition.
The majority of works in this current exhibition can be called vessels in the broad sense of the word. They feature hollow spaces, as containers should, and can be employed as vases if the user so wishes. However, they are able to stand on their own without flowers, and in fact the vessels themselves are as beautiful and spectacular as any flower. A great many of the artists featured here exemplify the notion of Japanese ceramics as “the pure art of the vessel itself.” This philosophy implies that ceramics and crafts in our living spaces are worthy of appreciation from a purely aesthetic standpoint, like painting or sculpture. However, they do not satisfy only the visual sense but also the tactile, inviting the beholder to touch them and relish their texture and materiality. Ceramics and crafts can be companions, intimate and irreplaceable elements of our daily lives. In this sense these art forms– ceramics and crafts – are the ones tied most closely and inseparably to the human heart.
Art critic and member of the International Academy of Ceramics