Our time in Karatsu was wonderful – it has remained a very special place for me since I visited many years ago. We explored the castle, admired the cherry blossoms and walked along the seaside through a pine grove, then moved in earnest to the ceramic shops. Karatsu is a foremost clay centre in Kyushu and there were outstanding works we wanted to buy but many were beyond our means, but not all! Some of the pieces were the cost of an upscale car+ and we were thrilled that collectors saw the value of the works and didn’t blink when buying them!
While there, we visited Takashi Nakazato’s ‘compound’ about 10 minutes outside of Karatsu. We had met Takashi at Shigaraki where he was working with Ryoichi Suzuki. More about them below.
Takashi had just returned from Tokyo and was kind enough to serve us tea in beautiful tea bowls and show us about his wonderful studio and retail area.
鈴木産 と 仲里 産
Ryoichi Suzuki and Takashi Nakazato
Ryoichi Suzuki and Takashi Nakazato, friends for 25 years were ‘collaborating’ on a project. According to Ryoichi, – he was not sure what they were doing, but he would take his lead from Takashi as he had an idea of what he wanted to do. They would ‘talk about it’ and decide what they were working on.
Ryoichi is a sculptor and his preferred medium is stone although he knows much about clay. He and Takashi first met at Anderson Ranch in Colorado where Takashi goes at least once a year to work at whatever he wants to do and where he is always welcome. He had been at Anderson just before he came to SCCP this year and Ryoichi briefly left Shigaraki to travel from Karatsu with Takashi by car back to Shigaraki. In retrospect, I think this was in part because Takashi loves to cook and wanted to be able to travel to buy the freshest food available! He seemed to know where to buy the best of everything. Takashi had been to Shigaraki a number of times, but it was the first for Suzuki. Takashi also takes apprentices at his compound in Karatsu for up to three years from Anderson Ranch.
The two of them are early risers and I would occasionally stumble into them in the kitchen where Takashi frequently cooked them breakfast – he was a meticulous cook and paid the same attention to his meals as he did to his clay, and if we were fortunate, he would offer samples.
The two of them worked from eight until five, stopping for a good lunch and then for wine in the studio about five and have dinner over the next couple of hours – sometimes longer, depending upon who was visiting , what they were preparing and cooking. There was always much beer, sake, good food, conversation and laughter.
We were grateful to Ryoichi for his understated manner, patience and constantly interpreting the Japanese conversations, as well as translating directions on how to cook noodles, udon, gyoza, or what was Takashi cooking on the studio heater all day?
Ryoichi grew up in Tokyo and moved to Salt Lake City about 40 years ago after falling in love with skiing, and earned his living as an sculptor for most of his life, quite an accomplishment. For the last 8 years, he has been teaching sculpture at Utah State University as an Associate Professor of Sculpture and is now on sabbatical where he spent some months at SCCP. He will go on to Carrara, Italy, where he has been before, to carve marble at the end of April. While he seems Americanized he very much has his place in the Japanese world.
The nearest I can get to being closely accurate (using online sources) is that Takashi Nakazato’s family is the fifteenth generation (including his children and grandson) of potters in the Karatsu area. Takashi was very modest with us and didn’t speak about his lineage but his family is said to be responsible for the revival of Karatsu ware and to say he and his family are revered in this area is possibly an understatement. His father was granted the ‘National Treasure’ designation and Takashi was offered the same but as Suzuki explained it, he felt the process has become too political in recent years and he would not accept it.
We truly enjoyed watching the two of them working together, chatting, cooking and engaging with each other on a daily basis. When Deb, T and I left for Karatsu, Ryoichi and Takashi were busy finishing and piecing their sculptures together, taking photos before driving to Tokyo to deal with the galleries and hopefully, pending exhibits. It was such a pleasure to have met the two of them and get to know a little about their work and lives!
And, thank you for reading and commenting….
I have so appreciated the private emails and the public comments about my thoughts on this residency. I look forward to working in my studio soon, using some of the things I’ve learned. There is lots more to tell I haven’t touched on – not to mention Kyoto, Nara, Kanazawa and Tokyo. This week is the official week of the Sakura or Cherry Blossom Festivals and it is indeed a celebration here! I’m looking forward to being home and enjoying ours as well….
Saying our goodbyes….
For me, this is the most challenging part of a residency… saying goodbye to the staff who have made things comfortable for us to work successfully. A residency is meaningful in part because of the staff and their assistance while here has been invaluable and very much appreciated.
Saying goodbye to resident artists and guest artists we have worked side by side with; formed relationships with; and shared strategies with not to mention evening meals and conversations throughout the weeks is difficult for me. Fortunately, we have exchanged emails so we can keep in touch.
Then, my assessment of what has worked for me? What would I have done differently? What do I want to move forward with? Questions it takes time to answer and the answers are not readily accessible… nor, is it important to know right now… the answers will come.
Talking with Debra…
Some of you are aware of my residency travelling companion and good friend for forty plus years, Debra Sloan. Our time has been intertwined with learning, discussing, arguing, bouncing ideas off each other and valuing our exchange of thoughts and ideas. I am very fortunate to have this friendship on personal and professional levels.
Debra approached this residency as she has others we’ve done together, with gusto and preparation. She is a hard worker, maximizes her time, and takes the ideas around her and synthesizes them into her works. Our week of museums in Tokyo at the beginning of February resulted in her working with historic ideas in her playful yet detailed manner. She particularly like the Noh masks and became interested in the East-West face and her first project was trying out the different clays making little figures with demon faces.
She then worked with roof tiles, a long time interest she has explored at St. Ives, Hungary and in Vancouver. Photographing many outstanding Japanese examples, she began to appreciate, over the weeks, how the role of the traditional figured Japanese tile differs from that of the traditional decorative European roof tile. Japanese tiles, with their demonic faces, or family crests appear protective and the actual roof tiles are substantial, whereas surviving European tiles seem to be the result of decorative impulses based on old myths.
Her first roof pieces were of the beloved family dogs, with a protective attitude. She didn’t like how they turned out in the gas firing so they went into a wood firing but they won’t be out of the kiln until after we leave! So, will we ever know what has become of them?
While on the bus to the Miho Museum, I asked Debra what was most important to her about this residency? Her husband Terry listened quietly as we chatted – it is lovely to have him here on this last leg of our journey – jet lagged though he is. I also asked her what she thought was important we know about her? In her clear manner, she said this is a big question, but she hopes her work will speak for itself. She sculpts intuitively sometimes beginning with historical references, or working from themes and ideas she has identified. Using representational figures, animal and/or human, she builds interactive tableaux attempting a visual dialogue with surface layering and patinas, and through animating expression. Finally, she does not forget that these pieces also need to act as three-dimensional art, and their overarching forms should have sculptural value.
I find and know that many of our fellow artists find Debra’s works thoughtful, the detail and form marvelous and the humour they exude delightful. I am excited by what she does, how she continues to evolve and am in awe of her work ethic and know she will continue to provoke and stimulate her viewers.
And… a dinner to celebrate and say goodbyes
And… we are off to Karatsu on Kyushu!
Rainer Mehl, Kitsilano graphics teacher and tour organizer for the Kitsilano Japan tour for many years, and I talked at the Kitsilano 100th Anniversary weekend last May. While catching up, I said I was attending SCCP the following year. He had never visited Shigaraki and thought it might be possible to come with a group of students while I was here, and he made it happen!
He arrived with 20 boys and girls and French Immersion teacher Ann Port. He had kept the planned visit a secret from them and all, especially Anne, were surprised. Many of the students had no art background but were very interested in the facilities and work the resident artists were doing, some not much older than them.. I believe there are no programmes like SCCP in Canada although there are smaller facilities that do offer residencies, and of course some university arts programmes.
They were a great group of young people – inquisitive about the artists, interested in things Japanese and also enjoyed the lunch at the on-site restaurant Rainer’s wife had arranged with Eri Noto at Brown Rice and Water. It was lovely to see them and I am very appreciative of the effort it took to get here. They are on their way to a home stay, the last leg of their visit! How fortunate they are to have teachers who take them on an adventure such as this and I am sure it will not be the last time many of them visit Japan after this introduction.
Meet Ariel Gout
I asked Amy Kennedy (blog post on February 28th) what we should know about Ariel Gout. Ariel has been at SCCP since January 4th and Amy joined shortly after and they have become friends. Words such as “inquisitive, hard working and particularly sensitive to working in the 3rd dimension” and “Ariel’s forms have improved so much in such a brief period of time ” were voiced. Arie’s works are currently on exhibit in ‘Submarine Landscape’ at SCCP.
Amy’s comments were intriguing since Ariel has been working in clay only since her arrival at the residency! Ariel is from originally from Paris, France, and her business card indicates she is a citizen of Berlin, Paris and Boston. Her recent background is in in painting and drawing, receiving a Studio Art Diploma from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 2009. She then moved to Berlin in 2010 and has completed residencies in the Virginia Centre for Creative Arts, Woodstock and three other states as well as New Mexico, France, Spain and Berlin. Check out her work at her website: www.arielgout.blogspot.com
Upon arrival at Shigaraki, all residence artists are required to have an interview with the SCCP Admissions Committee (it is necessary but a little intimidating) to tell them what we require, what we hope to achieve and how we plan on doing this. We submit these plans in our initial applications. Ariel said she wanted to transpose the lightness of the negative space of her ‘Palm, Pebbles’ installations into three-dimensional clay sculptures. She had doubts about being able to achieve this since the expectation is that artists accepted here have some knowledge about how to proceed and it is made clear that the technicians role is not to teach, – but they will and do facilitate the working situation.
Ariel has a deep love for what she does and is particularly in tune with the Japanese aesthetic and culture, so she began her work and was soon ‘captured by clay’ a feeling many of us are well acquainted with! Ariel’s experience in Japan has been important to her as she worked intuitively, taking time to think about her work in relation to the sensibility she has experienced with beauty and nature around her while here.
She is not sure what is next, but will return to Berlin, a city of new growth and take some time to think about her next steps. She says her real desire is to return to Japan, further study ceramics and the Japanese language.
Click read more to view photographs…
The past few days have been busy days for firing the kilns – a community group was firing the large anagama, resident artists Takashi and Suzuki were firing a smaller anagama (it still takes three days) and an independent artist was using yet another! Debra was firing a bisque and I was firing the .4 meter gas kiln. Since Deb and I were in Kyoto, our kilns were cooling and all will be revealed later. Additionally, there are guest artists who seem to come and go and while working with large forms also requiring very large kilns. The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Centre (SCCP) is a well used and much appreciated site in this community by all levels of ceramic practitioners and is the most comprehensive ceramics centre in Japan.
Introducing Oscar and Rebecka …
One of the pleasures of being at the SCCP is getting to know other resident artists such as Rebecka Larsdotter and Oscar Ek from Sweden. In a conversation with them, it is readily seen they support each other in expressing what each wants to achieve at the Shigaraki residency and in their future as artists working and making a living together. However, Oscar and Rebecka approach their work very differently.
Rebecka has a Masters in Ceramics and Oscar a Masters in Design and the two of them were awarded a working grant by the Swedish Art Committee to explore their ideas in China and Japan for a period of six months. They spent three months in Jingdezhen before coming to the SCCP. They will then return to Sweden to work in their studio putting into practice what they have learned in their community.
Rebecka says she doesn’t like to say much about her work but wants her work to express her feelings and for people to respond to her expression. She wishes she was a painter though her background is in ceramics, but she says she lacks the confidence to use painting as a medium. As she feels totally comfortable in working with clay, manipulating thick slabs she subsequently paints with richly coloured clay stains on the clay surfaces. She does much of this in the studio with resident artists about but through the night, she prefers working on her own, sometimes calling Oscar to help while she tears the large oloured slabs, working collage like pieces together, and painting the clay edges for her paintings. She has been working on this concept for the last four years. While the clay is still moist and colours vibrant, a photographer comes to the centre to take high resolution photos of her work. Her hope is to have quality posters printed of these photographs on her return to Sweden.
Oscar is a designer – he says he’s really in-between a designer and a craftsman, so a blend. He doesn’t see himself as an artist. As a designer, he can explore well- designed technical work with a strict aesthetic. He loves precision and likes to work with more industrial methods such as jiggering plaster molds and subsequent casting. His goal here is to focus on learning from Japanese ceramic history, specifically techniques as the Japanese approach is so distinctly different from other traditions. In researching historical methods such as production work, stacking , glazing with his aesthetic precision he is reinterpreting historical work in a contemporary style that is his own.
Oscar and Rebecka are a good team and spend much of their time in dialogue with each other – it has been a pleasure to watch them work and their progress with such different, yet compatible perspectives.
Most of us are leaving the residency the end of this month so we are working intensely to complete our work. I am in the midst of glazing which is fraught with complexities in my studio at home but the process is amplified while working elsewhere. They have the usual electric and gas kilns and additionally, anagamas (climbing wood fired) kilns. Wood firing in an anagama kiln has a long tradition in Shigaraki and shortly after I arrived here, the technician Yoshiko-Rakusai, a ceramacist herself, persuaded a potter who was firing to place a small piece of mine in one of the anagamas. I quite like the result!
While I am very fond of this surface for non-functional work, I feel I need to have a smoother surface for functional ware – something that doesn’t particularly concern the potters here. I made a trek to the glaze shop with technician Akira and two visiting artists, Ryoichi Suzuki and Takashi Natazato who were buying clay and engobes, and I made my selection – so the dye has been cast. Debra has been good enough to put some samples of mine in a glaze kiln she is firing today, so I’ll see the results tomorrow! Below is the work I have yet to glaze! Lots to do…
My glaze firing is on the 20th so I do have some time and hopefully some confidence in what I am doing. I’ll keep you posted.
On another note, I’d like to tell you about another studio artist, Amy Perejuan Capone.
Amy Perejuan Capone and the Making of an Ultra-light Plane
Amy was glazing some ‘parts’ to her work and she echoed my thoughts about the process being fraught with anxiety. I well know your work lives or dies with the results.
Amy is an artist from Fremantle, Australia and has been at Shigaraki since the beginning of January. She has been making an ultra-light glider plane out of clay – no mean feat. I think it’s amazing! I asked her about the genesis for doing this.
She said she didn’t know where to begin or why she was doing this project. She had flown an ultra-light herself with her dad as a young girl, but things became a little complicated between them in her late teens – not an unusual father/daughter story.
She went on to art school which she felt didn’t really help to expand her ideas, then technical school where she focused on making objects for use in everyday life, and the meaning they held for her. A residency in Greenland focused her on the relationships between people, climate change and forces that disrupt our ways of doing things. She came to realize the plane symbolized her adventurous dad (and a number of his flaws) and offered her an opportunity to explore breakages and the disruption of relationships including the one with her dad. She recognized her father’s dedication to flying and an adventurous life has given her a different window on the world.
She has reconnected with her father – he has sent her plans for the plane, technical dimensions and they are working together on this project. She doesn’t know the function of many of the parts she has constructed, but she will talk with him about their purposes while putting it together with him when she returns to Fremantle. The work will be on exhibit this coming December and while she’ll try to have it completed by then she feels fine if the framework is skeletal as this is a work in progress. She plans on having a performance component to the exhibit where video and audio processes will document involvement with the aircraft and her dad.
Amy started this process with gusto at the Shigarakii residency and it has required a level of sustained focus while maintaining a constant pace with our friend the clay. I admire her adventurousness, tenacity and the thought behind this fantastic project.
Read more about Amy at www.amypcapone.com or Instagram @wilhelm-wandering.
and a Photo of Barbara Tong with her Work in the Studio
Debra and I have been travelling with our friend Daphne from Vancouver for the last week – totally away from our work in the studio, but so wonderful! We started in Kyoto (last weekend was the beginning of the garden festival) and went to the Tofokuji-Temple Garden where this particular garden is open for a mere 15 days this year. It was a very different Zen garden (to me) but designed by the landscape architect who had designed the Ryoan-ji Temple garden. I had visited Ryoan-ji twice before but it was so crowded on this day, I was happy I had seen it in a more meditative atmosphere.
We moved on to Okayama to visit the Korakuen Garden, said to be the third best garden in Japan – I don’t pretend to know how these judgements are made (we saw a couple having their wedding photos after their Shinto ceremony) and spent the day in this amazing space! What rich experiences for us.
Then on to Imbe, about ½ hour by train from Okayama, to see the Bizen pottery all of us are exceptionally fond of – and we spent a day there. It took us a bit of time to get around because we find it all so interesting and we need to take our time! Many of the galleries and museums ask that we not take photographs, so catalogues, on-line references, or if one is lucky, the purchasing of a piece of work as each of us did, keep the works fresh in our minds.
The last night of our travels was spent on Naoshima, sometimes called the art island, at Benesse House. To me, the architecture of Tadao Ando and the Chifu Museum art installations were worth making the trip to Japan. We could have spent days there as we just scratched the surface and I feel so much the need to return.
We finished our journey in Kyoto where visited Gallery 13 Maroni to see the ceramic work of Shigaraki resident guest artist Barbara Tong, from Hong Kong now living in London, England.
There is lots more to say, but I will let my photos tell you of some of our journey.
Barbara has made miniatures, approximately 4-5 cm each of landmark buildings in Kyoto. She is a mixed-media artist, not primarily a ceramacist but has fallen under the spell of clay, and she plans on similar projects with other large cities around the world, concluding by amalgamating her works in a future exhibit. The detail of her miniatures is charming and really quite wonderful.