Yoshisuji Keiji — Buddha Potter

A Guest Posting, by Robert Y.e.l.l.i.n.

yoshisuji cha

Down a deep mountain road in Mori-machi, Shizuoka prefecture is a 150 year-old rustic yet dignified house that stands as the last vestige of civilization before nature takes total control.  This is where Yoshisuji Keiji is to be found.

I drove that road this autumn and found Yoshisuji–a yakishime potter–in a small room reading books on Buddhist art, his quiet, outer country ceramic life in deep conversation with his inner wondering spirit. I made the long drive to visit Yoshisuji for two reasons.  First,  I find his work to be beautiful in its intense natural ash-glazing and austere forms.  Secondly, I admire his searching for the roots of not only Japanese ceramic art, but of Japan itself, in his creations.

Let’s take a look at his sutra container. The first sutra containers were made of cast bronze and were buried for the first time in 1007. Their form is unforgettably simple and elegant.  In ceramic art dating back 2000 years to the earliest Yayoi period works , we find extraordinary simplicity in form.  Contrasted with the highly sought after complexity of most potters’ works today, the spiritually imbibed pots made long ago resonate with a simplicity that is truly majestic.  Not to imply that  simplicity is easily achieved.  On the contrary, it is reached only after years of study and repetition.  Then one must learn how to forget it all!

yoshisuji front

Yoshisuji, in making a sutra container, is looking for the beauty of form that spoke to the ancients, and thus will only deepen his own original forms.

yoshisuji vases

Yoshisuji’s sutra container is on my desk as I write this. As with any lidded vessel one is initially inclined to have a look inside. When the scalloped lid is removed a soft golden orange hue is emitted from the Shigaraki ‘clay flavor.’ Yoshisuji uses only Shigaraki clay and wishes to differentiate his works from traditional Shigaraki in a few ways.   One way is form.  The other is his multiple firings.  In fact, this piece was fired four times. This creates an amazing landscape of texture and color. On the sutra container it has a lichen feel with its crusty outer surface.  Then we see the front with its dripping flow of natural green ash glaze.  All of this creates a mysterious aura about the work as if it had been exposed to the elements for centuries. This is true of many of his works, including his sake vessels, which I find truly delightful to use.  “Use” here also means to simply gaze upon.

yoshisuji bajohai

I also like to gaze upon his flask on a pedestal (henshohei) that recalls Sueki henshohei from the 6th and 7th centuries. This one was fired only two or three of times resulting in a lighter ash covering. The inner circle is a focal point on these works and and shows again that empty space creates the entire form. The Zen allusion of the enso circle points to cycles of the seasons, of the day, of leaving the house each day and returning, of life and death. It is no wonder that Yoshisuji lives at the edge of civilization; he looks in one direction to see the mundane world of man and the other direction to relish in nature.  He places his own insights into his work with his hands, then gives it over to the universe of his anagama kiln; man and nature working together to bring about timeless beauty.

yoshisuji 4

Yoshisuji Keiji turns another page.

Robert Y.e.l.l.i.n. is one of the world’s authorities on Japanese ceramics.  A resident of Japan for nearly 30 years,
he has played a central role in the introduction of cutting-edge Japanese artists to the world as an author, lecturer and gallery owner.  His website, http://www.e-yakimono.net, serves as a primary source of information for thousands of ceramic enthusiasts, worldwide.