Japanese Contemporary Ceramics

The thirteen examples of Japanese contemporary ceramics from the Carol and Jeffrey Horvitz Collection on view at the Center for Visual Communication display new forms created by artists with a deep respect for earlier craft and tradition. The ancient and contemporary meet as vessels and sculpture.

Starting in 2008, the Horvitz collection has introduced contemporary Japanese ceramics to thousands of visitors and to the Japanese art departments of American museums. The response exceeded their expectations, as public display has encouraged more collectors to purchase contemporary Japanese ceramics than ever before. The Horvitz collection currently has several different exhibitions installed in art museums in the United States and Canada, and there are continuous loans to twenty museums, with over nine hundred ceramics lent in the past decade.

Japan has many more potters than anywhere in the world. Their technical abilities and stylistic approaches are collectively finer than Western counterparts. In Japan many potters enjoy an elevated status in which their names are widely known and they can support themselves with their craft. Conversely, many potters from the Western Hemisphere mostly support themselves by teaching and do not have as many opportunities to sell their work on a large scale.

The Japanese cultural interest in the art of ceramics centers around the centuries-old tea ceremony (chanoyu). The tea ceremony was established in the sixteenth-century by Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), who is noted for the concept of wabi, chanoyu (wabi-cha). Participants in the tea ceremony are hold the tea bowl for lengths of time, observing it in a meditative and focused way. Chanoyu became an art form that embodies the Japanese spirit, where beauty is seen with the heart and imperfection can be viewed as beautiful. The way tea is served promotes an active calm, stillness within the present moment.

Japan was opened to the West in 1854 by Commodore Perry, and Japanese ceramicists exhibited their work in at least ten expositions internationally between 1871-1904. The worldwide view of these pieces showed a taste for traditional designs, with porcelains being favored. The start of modern Japanese ceramics was established with a growing individualism during the Taisho Period (1912-26), and flourished during the Mingei, Japanese Folk art movement, (literally, “hand-crafted art of ordinary people”) in the late 1920s.

The Horvitz Collection has many fine examples of pieces for the tea ceremony, like teabowls and water jars (mizusashi); the ceramics seen at the Center for Visual Communication exemplify the individual creator fired into clay form.

Four ceramics on view by Wada Morihiro (1944-2008) provide a glimpse of his organic and abstract use of shapes in the final structure of his pieces. Many pieces have multiple clay slips worked all-over in repetitive patterns and abstract designs creating his signature outcomes, fracturing traditional motifs.

Matsui Kosei, a Living National Treasure executes his pieces in the neriage style, multi-colored marbled ware. Neriage style has its historical origins in Tang China from the seventh-tenth centuries. By banding and combining differing colors and clay types together Matsui created a uniform style. He first saw examples of the neriage ware in the Tokyo National Museum, which has early Chinese examples from the Tang and Nothern Song periods.

Lake Biwa, a short distance from Tokyo, is home to Japanese husband and wife potters, Hoshino Kayoko and Hoshino Satoru. They share a studio on the first floor of their self-built house. Kayoko uses white and red clay from Shigaraki but the red clay is no longer the same as it was in the past. In the United States clay is mixed from powders, but the Japanese have relied on clay from a regional source they dig up themselves. Sources of the clay are drying up and like many other natural resources. Kayoko’s sculptures evoke ancient ceremonial implements, creating abstract forms but also include an ideal of the surrounding landscape of Mount Horai. She has said that she tries to express the monumentality of her surrounding landscape in her work. Satoru sees his work as a collaboration between the natural world and humans, which he finds intrinsically Japanese. In 1986 a landslide destroyed his previous studio, hence his practice of respecting nature, “If you ignore it, a disaster will happen.”

With fellow ceramicists, Yagi Kazuo (1918-1979) and Suzuki Osamu (1926-2001), Yamada Hikaru (1923-2001) formed the avant-garde ceramic group, Sodeisha (Crawling through Mud Association). The group was formed with two other artists in 1947 but these three remained creating a fifty-year alliance lasting from 1948-1998. This period of artistic exploration gave rise to artists breaking from past traditions, searching for edgy and new creative ideas. Yamada was trained early on as a wheel-based potter by his father, and in 1955 he exhibited his first ceramic form with a closed mouth, turning away from the idea of function and highlighting form. His later sculptures have webs of perforations providing secondary “borrowed landscapes”.

Fujino Sachiko began her artistic studies as a fashion designer. She later became a ceramic student of Tsuboi Asuka (b. 1932), an influential female ceramicist who founded the Women’s Association of Ceramic Art, “Joryu Togei”. Fujino’s technique of folding and tucking her clay work reflect her knowledge of the folds of fabric.

Sakiyama Takayuki has his home on the Izu Peninsula. Here, the rugged coastal beaches leave behind patterns comparable to raked Zen gardens inspiring him to recreate the same spiraling beauty in his works.