On Saturday 3rd June 2017 the Goldmark Gallery hosted an exhibition of 5 top up-and-coming Japanese potters from the town of Mashiko. The show was organised by Ken Matsuzaki and the Mashiko Pottery International Association, with official support from the Japanese Embassy in the UK. Below are a few words on why we think this exhibition offered something different, special, and unexpected.
large wood-fired vase by Shikamaru Takeshita
The Japanese have a saying that calls the ceramics town of Mashiko to mind: daidō shōi – ‘big similarity, little difference’. In the eighty years since the legendary Hamada reinvigorated its trade in clay, generations of potters have established their workshops here as they strive to make a name for themselves. Each strikes out to find an individual voice, to offer a ‘little difference’ in a town of tradition, but what remains at the core of every Mashiko potter’s work is that ‘big similarity’ of spirit: a desire to use local materials; to extract as much potential from those materials as one can; and to merge the essences of art and craft, form and function, into a coherent whole.
Nuka bowls by Yoshinori Hagiwara
Looking around this exhibition, one would be hard-pressed to find five more wildly distinct potters to represent this common cause. Between them, not only are we treated to enormous variations in form and touch, surface and character, but find that their breadth of inspiration is international.
Tenmoku vases with decoration by Yoshinori Hagiwara
Yoshinori Hagiwara takes the conventional glazes of Mashiko – black Tenmoku, russet Kaki, and turquoise Nuka – and modernises with geometric designs that recall the abstract patterns of Staffordshire slipware. Dots and lines find a natural rhythm on guinomi and small vases, while the lustrous surfaces of persimmon platters are softened by mossy Yōhen ash.
(below) large ‘Kaki’ (‘persimmon’) glaze bowl with Yōhen ash by Hagiwara
sake ‘Monsters’ with accompanying guinomi by Natsu Nishiyama
By extreme contrast, the gutsy, jagged, carved and torn pots of Natsu Nishiyama reincarnate the do-or-die spirit of Peter Voulkos. Her sake ‘monsters’ combine Jurassic dinosaur bodies with dainty beaks and curled up feet, while her jungle-green Oribe, cresting and pooling into opaque aquamarine blue, is a thing of prehistoric beauty.
(below) Oribe dish by Nishiyama
hand-painted textured sake set by Toshihiko Takeda
Elsewhere in this show intercultural flavours become more pronounced. Aboriginal arrowheads straight out of Australia dance across Toshihiko Takeda’s hand-painted cups and vases, their surfaces textured like hessian cloth. Thrown and twisted with mathematical precision, these pots juxtapose ancient motifs with forms that would feel at home in a catalogue of Scandinavian design.
(below) hand-painted vase by Takeda
hand-carved vases by Taketoshi Ito
In the work of Taketoshi Ito, the shadows cast by his intricately carved vases are as beguiling as the pots themselves. With smoky, metallic glazes he captures the ornate opulence of Persian and Moorish silverware, tempering their extravagance with a minimalism of black and white surfaces.
(below) incense burner by Ito
square-lipped pouring bowls by Shikamaru Takeshita
And in the large, quiet pots of Shikamaru Takeshita one can see the silhouettes of big-bellied African water carriers and Japan’s own Jōmon pottery. His square-lipped pouring bowls are refined with a touch that belies the coarseness of his clay, while blushing wood-fired porcelain bottles shimmer with pink and purple pearlescence.
(below) porcelain bottles by Takeshita
This exhibition offers a feast of differences, for eyes and hands alike. Yet it is the origins shared by each potter’s work that seem more vital than their many points of divergence. As Pot Shop assistant Claire described when unpacking these pots, huddled tight within their tomobako boxes, each of these makers has been given a lump of earth; that each one has produced work so wonderfully their own says as much about clay’s infinite possibilities and the native imagination of Mashiko as it does their personal knowledge, skill, and vision.
wood-fired guinomi by Shikamaru Takeshita
To steal a phrase from the great potter Takeshi Yasuda, Mashiko is a town of people ‘playing with mud’: what a privilege to witness so varied and tangible results as these.
Pots from this exhibition are now available online, with more to appear in the coming weeks. If you see anything you like from this page or would like to know about / see more from this exhibition, simply call us at +44 (0)1572 821424 or email [email protected].