In 2007 we first visited the Mashiko studio of internationally renowned Japanese potter Ken Matsuzaki ahead of our first ever exhibition of his work.
Matsuzaki had never been filmed in his studio, and few people outside of Japan had ever seen the master at work on the wheel. We had to capture some few precious moments of his throwing.
Ken Matsuzaki’s simple but beautiful throwing space, replete with traditional kick-wheel
Ken was hesitant at first, but eventually agreed to let us shoot him throwing his chawan teabowls. Back then we had no in-house filmmaker, so it was up to Jay Goldmark – our chief photographer and now current MD – to juggle two unwieldy cameras, filming at one moment and stepping back to photograph the next.
Matsuzaki throwing the final chawan, the rest being thrown ‘off the hump’
What we came away with was very special: over a quarter of an hour of Ken throwing chawans ‘off the hump’ – from a single, large mound of clay, rather than individual clay lumps – at his beautiful kick-wheel. The footage has proved controversial, and remains one of our most commented-on films. For some, the ‘imperfection’ of the forms is too much; for others, a breath of fresh air.
characteristically loose chawan forms epitomising the traditional Japanese studio ceramic aesthetic
What remains undeniable is Matsuzaki’s wonderful calmness and the assured technique that controls such seemingly loose movements as clay is drawn up and hollowed out each time. Every chawan is begun differently, a reaction to the transforming ‘hump’ that changes as each previous chawan is wired off. The result is a series of bowls that each have a definite and distinct personality, a rhythm and flow that is totally their own.
(above) Matsuzaki’s wood stacks, fuel for future anagama and multi-chamber wood-firings; (below) local woodland with Mashiko buildings in the background (left) and Ken removing a vase from his kiln (right)
Matsuzaki’s technical ability is the result of years of training. Ken was born in 1950 in Tokyo. Growing up, his life was filled with art and culture and his family’s influence began to show when, around the age of 16, he developed an interest in ceramics. In 1972, after graduating from Tamagawa University’s College of Arts, he began a 3 year apprenticeship with National Living Treasure Tatsuzo Shimaoka, who had been apprentice to the father of modern day studio ceramics, Shoji Hamada.
(above) nearby waterfalls and mountainside landscapes inform much of Matsuzaki’s work; (below) a ‘kuro’ – ‘black’ – Oribe chawan
Nearing the end of his apprenticeship Matsuzaki asked Shimaoka if he would consider extending it for another 2 years as he learned to develop his own style, creating his own motifs and a palette of glazes that would form the basis of his work for the next 15 years. Today, he continues to throw and fire from the small pottery town of Mashiko, his pots drawing influence from many of the old traditional Japanese kilns while retaining a contemporary and modern touch.
a Ken Matsuzaki yohen Shino chawan – ‘yohen’, literally meaning ‘altered by the flame’, refers to wood-fired work with natural ash glaze
Since filming in Japan we’ve had 5 major exhibitions of Ken’s work. His pots continue to surprise, delight, and overwhelm us.