In September 2012, I decided to move outside of my comfort zone and take a pottery/ceramics class. In addition to learning the art, I began studying the history and the work of ceramic artists. I discovered that the historical flow of knowledge and influence began in China then moved to Korea and finally to Japan. I choose to spend some time studying Japanese ceramics because I could more easily find translations and information. As I studied, I was struck by the many similarities between ceramics and quilts. There is the art vs. craft debate. Despite names like “bowl,” “jar,” or “vessel,” that imply some sort of practical function, pieces are created with the idea that personal fulfillment and self-expression are often more important than practical utility and commercial success. There is also the tension between the traditionalists and those who breaking away from tradition. And finally, there is the educated vs the self taught debate. It is my hope that this provides food for thought.
Kishi Eiko (1948-) took archeology and anthropology courses in college, studied dyeing and painting and art history before taking up clay. She has no formal ties to a ceramic tradition. This independence has enabled her to develop a unique style. She uses a technique of her own invention, which she calls “color inlay” and usually works on two pieces at a time for months at a time. This piece took three months to make. “It is only in making my work that I understand where the piece is going.”
Katsumata Chieko’s (1950-) work reflects a distinctive ceramic education. All her formal training took place in France, where she traveled with a plan to study industrial design. A meeting with Texas-born potter Fance Franck inspired her to pursue a ceramic career. Her love of ancient artifacts bearing the marks of time owes something to the sixteen-century Japanese tea-ceremony masters and the aesthetic of wabi sabi. Yet Katsumata uses colors that are far removed from those traditional Japanese ceramics. “I am attracted to things…that convey the passing of time.”
Yabe Makoto (1947-2005) lived and worked full-time outside of Japan. He began studying ceramics at 18 and completed his training at twenty-four, following a four-year apprenticeship with Shikokai, a small avant-garde group. He moved to Massachusetts in 1977 and remained in the U.S. until his death. Yabe experimented with the demanding nerikomi marbling technique that originated in Tang-dynasty China ((618-907). His work reflects the struggle between functionality and expression. “Mostly, it doesn’t come out as I expected!”
A great book to lean more about contemporary Japanese ceramics is Contemporary Clay: Japanese Ceramics for the New Century by Joe Earle (2005, MFA Publications). I look forward to your thoughts.