A Guest Posting, by Robert Yellin
Steve here: Robert. You introduced me last year to Kazu Yamada-san. I am delighted to have you share this very talented person with our readers.
Robert: Thank you for asking! I have been following the work of Kazu Yamada’s since I first saw a green Oribe guinomi of his in the late 1980s. As many know, Oribe is a Mino style, from an area in Gifu prefecture, not far from Nagoya. Under the Mino umbrella we find the glazed wares of Shino, Black Seto, Yellow Seto and Oribe. Yamada does them all, along with natural ash-glazed Shigaraki and Iga styles. He has also created his own glaze styles.
One that he calls “kakuyu” is a red dripping glaze over a white slip.
Another is the fiery red, dancing enbu-Shino. Both styles are dazzling. I cannot think of any other ceramic artist in Japan who masters more glazing schemes than Yamada.
Ironically, Yamada was born in 1954 from a potting family in Tokoname, an ancient potting town that has nothing to do with these styles. Tokoname is one of the so-called ‘Six Old Kilns’ of Japan that dates back millennium. After graduating from the Osaka University of Fine Arts he set up his kiln in the snow country of Echizen, also one of the ‘Six Old Kiln’ styles. However, Yamada doesn’t fire in the Echizen style either! In the 1970’s, his father, Kenichi, joined other potters who were invited to set up their kilns in a newly developed potting village in Echizen. Though his father decided to stay behind in Tokoname, Yamada went ahead and took over the new studio. The flames had been lit.
Though Yamada makes all sorts of forms, he excels with chadogu (tea ware), and especially chawan (tea bowls.) This black Seto is perfect for the cold winter season as it invites inward reflection and provides visual warmth. Yamada has given it a sculptural feel with the faceted sides and has purposely left a patch of clay bare, a lovely contrast and an important focal point. That is because this tsuchi-aji (“flavor”) of the natural unglazed clay is paramount for any fine piece. Usually on a glazed work it can only be seen on the exposed kodai (foot) of the bowl. Yamada’s thoughtful artfulness placed it on the side for all to enjoy without having to turn the bowl over. However, when you do turn it over, you’ll find a foot unlike any other in Japan today. Carved to a creative new form, incised, stamped and perfectly balanced, the kodai on a Yamada tea bowl, regardless of the style, is always a focal point, a topic of conversation for Tea enthusiasts. It is the key place that truly shows the brilliance of Yamada’s work.
Look at the movement on the Oribe chawan (first photo at top.) It appears as a bamboo node growing out of the forest floor. The sway, ‘attitude’ and incised lines are all in perfect harmony. This took great skill to achieve. It is a delightful summer bowl.
Yamada also makes various works for flowers (3rd photo from top.) Here is a fine three-sectioned incised Iga vase, as well as tableware and, of course, vessels from which to enjoy sake.
Ceramic artists are said to be at the top of their game in their 50’s, which places Yamada at the pinnacle of his career. Many years ago the great 20th century artist, Kato Tokuro (1898-1985), saw Yamada’s works and remarked, ‘this lad is quite good.” Ain’t that the truth!
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