Japanese Ceramics by Robert Yellin

January, 2016

Tamba Ceramist NISHIHATA Tadashi

by Robert Yellin

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Of all the Six-Ancient pottery towns in Japan, none retain the tranquil country life feel and environment as Tamba. Located in Hyogo prefecture not that far from bustling metropolises Kobe and Osaka, Tamba is situated in a valley where for a millennium the potters have used the perfect slopes of the hills to build their wood-burning kilns. This is the setting where veteran ceramic artist Nishihata Tadashi works and where his family has worked for hundreds of years.

 

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Nishihata’s Tamba ware combines all of the great aspects of classic Tamba, such as bringing out the natural warm beauty of the local clay on his jars to the Tamba-only technique of adding red-slip to works to give them a glossy lacquer façade. He also combines various glazes on his works that are then fired and given overlapping lively natural ash-glazes in various tones that create abstract action-painting looks to the clay surfaces. Nishihata truly is a master potter and has been awarded many times for his work in Japan (winning the Tanabe Museum’s Grand Prize Modern Tea Forms 3 times!), yet the real reward is seeing the glint in his eyes when he describes his work. We hope the photos seen here from a recent Tokyo exhibition will clearly show the magic that Nishihata creates using only clay, air, water, fire…….and spirit.

 

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Robert Yellin 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.japanesepottery.com, serves as a primary source of information for thousands of ceramic enthusiasts, worldwide.


August, 2015

Kimura Moriyasu—A Universe in a Tea Bowl

by Robert Yellin with photos by Ron Beimel

 

10-Medium

The Japanese say that there is a universe to be found in a small hand-held chawan, a ceramic bowl used for serving whisked green tea. This metaphor for the magical space in a bowl for gazing is similar to Blake’s way to see the universe in a grain of sand. For some of Japan’s potters, the colors and textures in a chawan actually do mimic a star-filled night sky and the unfathomable universe; oil-spot tenmoku being the most obvious style for such observations. And at the age of 80, Kyoto’s Kimura Moriyasu is one of the brightest tenmoku ceramic artists in all of Japan’s long ceramic history.

 

2-Medium

Kimura is one of three famous Kimura ceramist brothers, the other two being Morikazu (b.1921) and Morinobu (b.1932). Helping his elder brothers while still in his teens, Moriyasu has not once stepped off the tenmoku path, having mastered all the classic styles, such as the aforementioned oil-spot tenmoku and another known as hare’s-fur tenmoku.

 

1-Medium

Yet what really highlights the brilliance of Kimura is his thoroughly original tenmoku. Aptly named Tenmoku Andromeda, the radiant colors evoke a deep emotional response from viewers, often with a simple, “Wow” or a long deep breath of wordless amazement.

 

4-Medium

Tenmoku was the name of a chawan first produced in China during the Song Period (960-1279) and was first mentioned in a Japanese document in 1335 by Zen abbot, Onkei Soyu.  From the 14th century, the Ashikaga Shoguns held tenmoku and jade-like celadon in the highest esteem and this reverence reached its peak during the reign of the 8th shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1369-1395). Tenmoku also refers to the form of the chawan, with a small base that flares out into a wider opening, a form that Kimura prefers as “it allows for my colors to be seen more vividly.”

 

5-Medium

And even as Kimura enters his eighth decade he is still creating new glaze recipes that are stretching and re-defining tenmoku in the 21stcentury. One such style is called Koyama (yellow mountain), seen here with a dark-rimmed lip interspersed with black wavy calligraphic lines.

 

3-Medium

Kimura fires these in a gas kiln for about 16-20 hours, never knowing until the kiln door is opened how his tenmoku will turn out. The kiln unloading still makes his heart nervously pound knowing from 1000’s of past experiences that one magic chawan might be ‘born’ or the entire stock may be duds; the iron glazes are “that hard” to control. When Kimura speaks about this his eyes twinkle like a child. And one must always keep in mind that these chawan only really come alive when they are actually held and used.  Imagine frothy whisked matcha in Kimura’s Koyama-style chawan!

6-Medium

Other forms that Kimura creates include eared vases with white icing-cloudy-sakura petal-like effects, as well as tall jar forms where the broader ‘clay palette’ allows his glazes to take on the impressionistic feel of, say, Monet. In fact, if Monet was able to see the Kimura vase shown here he would applaud and bow in acknowledgement of an artistic creation with which he shares a similar inspiration.

 

Robert Yellin 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.japanesepottery.com, serves as a primary source of information for thousands of ceramic enthusiasts, worldwide.


March, 2011

Steve in Mishima b 1st

While riding the Shinkansen train from Tokyo on my way home to Kyoto (a few days before the earthquake), I made a special stop at Mishima, in order to visit the Robert Yellin Gallery, a must stop for contemporary Japanese ceramics enthusiasts.  Robert’s gallery is a surprisingly convenient way to see significant works by dozens of today’s top Japanese ceramic artists, all in one place.  Amongst pieces by such internationally recognized ceramic greats as Kohyama Yoshihisa, Kaneta Masanao and Kato Yasukage,  were younger artists like Kako Katsumi, whom I recently met at a group show at Takashimaya in Kyoto.

Kako Katsumi Tea Bowl REv
Tea bowl by Kako Katsumi
What is most impressive about the gallery is the wide variety of ceramic styles, from warm unglazed pieces, to soft glazed Hagi ware and stunning celadon, all displayed in a large, naturally lit room.
Robert promised to write a blog post for us about Yamada Kaku, a Mino-style artist whose studio I took Santa Fe artist Gail Rieke’s travel journal group, last November, when we were in rural Fukui Prefecture.

Robert Yellin 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.


February, 2009

Shigaraki Ceramic Artist, Otani Shiro: A recorded interview with Robert Yellin

Otani Shiro

Shigaraki has been one of the great centers of Japanese ceramics for about 800 years. The clay of this district is light colored and contains tiny bits of feldspar that explode on the surface of the pots during firing. Whereas glazed ware may be fired in a kiln for about 30 hours, unglazed Shigaraki ware is fired for five days or more. Any apparent color on the surface of the work is entirely from the fly ash and flames within the kiln. Knowing how to manipulate that natural environment into a work of art, depends on the skill of the artist. Otani Shiro is a visionary and leader whose creativity has greatly expanded the Shigaraki tradition into the 21st century. His works are in the permanent collections of museums around the world, including the Boston M.F.A., the Freer & Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian and the Museum of Arts and Design (formerly the American Craft Museum.) In this recorded conversation, author, lecturer, ceramics expert and gallery owner, Robert Yellin discusses six of Otani-san’s works, in the order they appear in this post.

Click on the play button to hear Robert Yellin’s commentary on the following photos.

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otani b

otani c

otani d - Copy

otani e

otani f

otani g

Additional Otani Shiro images

 

 

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