Wakimoto Hiroyuki, Bizen master ceramic artist
Wakimoto Hiroyuki was born on Tsushima, an island off the west coast of Kyushu. He studied painting at an art college, but though he loved to make things, he never studied ceramics in school. It wasn’t until after graduating from college and working at an unrelated job that he decided to pursue ceramics as a career. He quit his job, came to Bizen and apprenticed with a master potter. After years of apprenticeship, he became independent. For the past 20 yeas he has run his own kiln, just outside of Imbe, in a small farming town near the Inland Sea. Wakimoto-san has been very successful in creating original Bizen works. In addition to solo exhibitions in Japan, he has had a one-man show at Touching Stone Gallery in Santa Fe for each of the last 7 years.
Bizen ware has been fired in this district for the past 800 years. It is unglazed ware, which means that all of the aesthetic affects on the surface of the pots occur as a result of the movement of fire and ash in the kiln. The platter shown above shows several affects that are distinctive of Bizen ware. First of all, the charcoal grey color results from the placement of the piece towards the bottom of the kiln where it came in contact with accumulated ash that actually encrusted on the platter surface. Unglazed Bizen ware is fired up to 6 times as long as glazed pieces in other ceramic traditions.
Because the piece is placed very near the burning wood at the front of the kiln, random fly ash from the fire adhered to the surface and then vitrified. The resulting golden color, referred to as goma (sesame), occured as the red pine ash chemically reacted with the minerals found in the clay body. Where red pine plus Bizen ware results in creamy golden color in Bizen, it results in a greenish color on Shigaraki clay and a deeper green on Iga clay.
The 3 circles (botamochi) are created by placing a few pieces of rice straw directly onto the plate’s surface, then placing a cookie-shaped wadd of very brittle clay on top. During firing, the cookie acts as a resist, and keeps the surface of the pot that it covers free from fly ash or scorch marks. The naturally light color of the clay can be seen in between each of the burnished marks left by the rice straw.
Though the piece below was too far from the front of the kiln to show the sesame color affects of fly ash, it was close enough to be scorched red by the fire’s flames.
This following piece was placed at the back of the kiln, so neither fly ash nor scorch marks are prominent. What is prominent are the hidazuki marks achieved by wrapping the piece in rice straw, a custom that originated in the early days of Bizen ware, when potters wrapped pots in straw to prevent them from sticking to other pots. Since the late 1500’s, when Bizen ware was elevated from exclusively functional peasant ware to also include tea ware, hidazuki marks became a sought-after ornamental affect.
Wakimoto-san is well known for his composite pieces, where a piece is cut into parts that are then fired in different parts of the kiln, then reassembled.