HERITAGE | Contemporary Japanese Masterworks

Contemporary Japanese Masterworks by Kano Tomohiro, Mamoru Nakagawa, Mae Fumio, Tokuda Yasokichi III, Tokuda Yasokichi IV, Kuze Kenji, Toshio Ohi, Tsuruta Yoshitaka.

Onishi Gallery is proud to present its newest exhibition, “Heritage,” to coincide with Asian Week New York 2012 (March 16-24). “Heritage” features eight Japanese contemporary craft masters—Kano Tomohiro, Tokuda Yasokichi IV, Kuze Kenji, Ohi Toshio and Tsuruta Yoshitaka, and three Living National Treasure artists—Nakagawa Mamoru, Mae Fumio and Tokuda Yasokichi III.

“Heritage” is a visually and conceptually diverse exhibition that offers a unique collection marked by rich expression and style. The artwork represents a wide variety of crafts, from metal-inlay and glass sculpture, to ceramics, porcelain and lacquer ware; and, the artists range vastly in age, personal background, and life experience. “Heritage” not only celebrates these individuals’ artistic talents, but also links Japan with America by presenting developments in deeply rooted Japanese cultural heritage to the New York art world.

Kano Tomohiro - Heritage

Japanese culture is characterized by a harmonious mixture of traditional and contemporary elements, by East and West, and by freedom and restriction. Since the Silk Road made Japan its eastern terminus in the sixth century CE, Japan has developed its traditions and stunning arts through a global exchange of ideas and innovations. Across centuries, these exchanges have enabled the transmission of its cultural heritage from one generation to the next.

Featured in the “Heritage” exhibition is the work of Nakagawa Mamoru, the youngest artist ever to be designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government. Recognized in 2004 for his outstanding mastery of Zongan (metal-inlay), this prestigious award was bestowed to him at the age of 56, when the average age is above 80 years old. The Living National Treasure is awarded to individuals who have abilities and skills deemed to be a critical part of Japan’s national culture. Following the route of the Silk Road, Mr. Nakagawa has made over 10 trips to Istanbul, Turkey, the cultural crossroads of the East and West, to identify the roots of his craft, nourish that craft with inspiration provided by its birthplace, and then combine that with his contemporary interpretation.

Glass artist Kano Tomohiro is another exceptional contributor to this exhibition. Raised in the favorable surroundings of traditional Japanese culture, Mr. Kano is the 14th generation descendant of Kano Naonobu (1607-1650), one of the most influential painters of the renowned Kano School. The Kano School, a hereditary family that worked as official painters for samurai rulers, dominated the Japanese art world with their aesthetic, the pre-eminent style from the mid-15th to the late-19th centuries. Artwork initially inspired by Zen-Buddhist painting featuring focused, pure, intense forms transmitted from the spiritual force. The Kano artists, however, introduced a more plastic and decorative effect that later came to dominate the designs of mass-produced Ukiyo-e prints, and that continued into modern times. Growing up in the Kano heritage that was deeply rooted in Zen Buddhism and that had endured for 500 years, Mr. Kano discovered himself in the world of glass sculpture. Mr. Kano, inspired by Zen philosophy, went back to the start of the Kano School by concentrating on his own nature, to look inside for enlightenment, and by artistically applying a Zen practice in his daily life. He says, “What I do is the result of reflection; of inspiration and spontaneity. We can find the answers in the same place that we found the questions.” His “Amorphous” series directly questions viewers and invites them to discover the universe in glass ovals, which are ephemeral, measured, and unselfconscious, without thinking of the logical order of the universe, but with an open mind, heart, and soul.

Our exhibition exalts the concept of “Heritage,” but what one generation considers cultural heritage may be rejected by the next. Only by working on culture can the cultural heritage flourish with each succeeding generation. Rather than being pressured by such serious responsibilities, however, the artists of “Heritage” follow their hearts to encounter the cultural heritage and revive it by breathing new life into it.  The endless time presented in the works of “Heritage” reminds us where we come from and where we are going, thereby helping us to affirm where we are right now.

A biographical summary of each participating artist follows:

Nakagawa Mamoru

Nakagawa Mamoru, born in 1947 in Ishikawa Prefecture, is one of the most respected Kaga inlay artists of his time. In 2004, the Japanese government designated him a Ningen Kokuho (Living National Treasure) for his contributions to the preservation of Kaga inlay, an invaluable art form. Nakagawa was the youngest person ever to earn the designation at age 56.

Nakagawa has been a seminal figure in reviving the important craft of metal inlay and has enlivened the traditionally monotone realm of metal casting with a refreshing and unprecedented palette of color. Using kaga inlay, renowned for its angled layers in which inlayed metal designs are embedded in a base metal, Nakagawa draws inspiration from the beauty of natural landscapes and his extensive travels, all of which surface as images in his designs. Nakagawa’s work has been exhibited in the Smithsonian Institute, the British Museum, the Jingu Museum in Ise, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is active in the studio today and teaches at the Kanazawa College of Art.


Kano Tomohiro

Kano Tomohiro was born in 1958 in Tokyo, Japan, and has received worldwide recognition for his contemporary glass artwork. He opened his own art school in 1996, the Glass Art Class Daikanyama in Tokyo, and has been teaching students various glass art techniques there since.

Kano Tomohiro is also known as the last and only living descendant who creates art of the famous Kano family. In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s, Kano Masanobu and his son Motonobu founded the renowned Kano school, the longest-lived and most influential school of painting in Japanese history. For centuries, the Kano school taught only those within the family their art. Dominating the late Muromachi period and the entire Edo period, the Kano family has been one of the most important art schools in Japanese art history.

Though very different in style from his ancestors’ artworks, Kano Tomohiro’s works display the distinguished talent of the Kano family. He challenges his artistic technique and expression through the delicate texture of his melted glass. He has exhibited internationally, in Germany, Spain, the United States, and Japan, and more.

Mae Fumio

Mae Fumio is one of the most celebrated names in Japanese chinkin lacquer. As one of the few remaining specialists in this art form, his contribution to Japanese art and craft culminated in his being designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government in 1993.

Mae’s innovative use of painting-like designs makes his work instantly distinguishable. He developed his skill in lacquer work in an apprenticeship with his adoptive father, Mae Taiho, who had developed a process of using dots in lacquer work to create depth in the work—a skill he passed on to Mae, and which we admire in his work today.

Tokuda Yasokichi III

Tokuda Yasokichi III (1933-2009) was one of the world’s most famous Kutani potters. Born in Ishikawa Prefecture, he was designated as a Ningen Kokuho (Living National Treasure) in 1997 for the mastery of his saiyu glaze technique. Yasokichi III innovatively developed the saiyu technique based on traditional Kutani colored glaze enameling techniques handed down from his grandfather, Tokuda Yasokichi I, and using techniques learned from his father, Tokuda Yasokichi II. With saiyu, Yasokichi III created his own visual world characterized by the delicate shading and beautiful contrast of enamel glaze colors.

Yasokichi III’s work has been recognized widely and shown in numerous museums including the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Sackler Gallery, and the Smithsonian Institute. His honors include acceptance into the Issui-kai Pottery and Porcelain Exhibition (1958), the Japan Traditional Arts and Craft Society Chairman’s Award (1977), the Grand Prize of the International Pottery and Porcelain Exhibition (1990), and the Purple Ribbon Medal given by the Government of Japan (1993).

Tokuda Yasokichi IV

Born in 1961, Tokuda Yasokichi IV succeeded her father Tokuda Yasokichi III’s position after his death in 2009. As a female artist succeeding the position in a traditional potter’s family, she is a remarkable figure in Japan and recognized in the international market. Even while she has inherited the practices of Kutani porcelain techniques and methods, her sensibility as a female artist gives her a singular perspective on tradition that is reflected in her diverse color palette and her unique interpretations of form.

Kuze Kenji

Kuze Kenji is currently the director of the Kanazawa College of Art, the only Japanese art college with a craft major. This major involves teaching both traditional and contemporary techniques and materials. As one of Japan’s leading ceramicists, he is actively involved in passing on his techniques to younger generations of artists.

Kuze incorporates a color theme of metallic gold and silver on a black surface. The color does not simply create beauty, but emphasizes the central idea of Kuze’s art as a record of past actions. The color brings focus to marks on the surface of the pieces, permanent records of fingers pressed against the clay or a spatula dragged across the malleable surface. Kuze also incorporates nature or chance into his pieces by dropping them, creating the most distinguishing aspect of his work. Over the past 20 years, Kuze has worked to cultivate his instantly recognizable style.

Ohi Toshio

Ohi Toshio inher¬its an artis¬tic tra¬di¬tion that dates from 1666. That was when the first Ohi ware pot¬ter began craft¬ing ceramic works for the tea cer¬e¬mony near Kanazawa. Toshio is the 11th gen¬er¬a¬tion in the Ohi lin¬eage. He deploys the char¬ac¬ter¬is¬ti¬cally lus¬trous effects of Ohi ware in bowls and other items for the tea cer¬e¬mony and in a vast range of other works, both util¬i¬tar¬ian and purely artistic. Born in Kanazawa, he received a MFA from Boston Uni¬ver¬sity and has taught in the United States, Tai¬wan, and Japan.

Tsuruta Yoshitaka

A white, belt-shaped slip covers the entire surface of the handsome shaped work. Due to the thickness of the engobe, the minute white grains assume a snow or sand like texture. The upper lines of the belt create gentle undulations resembling the ridge line of a mountain or the slope of a hill that encircle the vessel. While casting a quiet shadow across the surface of the piece, the light and shade of the slip, following the rhythm of the belt, conveys a sense of depth akin to a natural landscape.

Nagasaka, Yamanashi Prefecture, where the ceramic artist Tsuruta Yoshitaka has his studio, is about two hours from Tokyo by train. The area is blessed with clear air and an abundance of nature. The window of Tsuruta’s studio offers a glimpse of the majestic shape of the Yatsugatake mountains. According to the season, and even over the course of a single day, the landscape continues to change with each passing moment.

Avoiding an explanatory approach to the natural forms that have accumulated daily in his memory, Tsuruta expresses them in exceedingly symbolic and stoic terms. And rather than depicting his subject directly with a brush, Tsuruta’s decorative style, an indirect technique based mainly on masking, allows him to organize and abstract the content of his expression. Moreover, without adding an excess of color, he creates a worldview founded solely on the relationship between the black clay and the white slip.