Akiko Hirai

, in Exhibition | Akiko Hirai

Exhibition | Akiko Hirai | 2023

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Join us for a guided walkthrough of the latest Akiko Hirai ceramics exhibition held at Goldmark in Uppingham. With over 300 pots, this is Akiko Hirai’s largest pottery show to date. With a queue from 8am, this was one of the most anticipated of Akiko Hirai’s exhibitions. Footage of the opening day of the exhibition in also included in our film.

Born in Japan, where she studied for a degree in psychology, Hirai discovered her love of clay in the UK almost by accident. She has since spent the last 18 years in the very same studio space she took immediately after her graduation from Central St Martins in 2003.

Pottery is now Hirai’s first love, though psychology informs all that she does. At the core of her practice is a delicate range of Kohiki domestic ware, thrown and faceted pots made from dark clay with a rough clothing of white slip. In Japan, where it was first developed by 16th century Korean potters, Kohiki is considered a ‘soft’ ceramic: though high-fired stoneware, its surface is slightly porous. Like leather or brass, with age and with use Kohiki changes colour, its white skin blushing with an acquired patina particular to its owner. For Hirai, that connection with the user is vital: ‘My pots are not finished when they come out of the kiln,’ she says: ‘This is just the start of their journey.’

Wood ash glazes are responsible for the extraordinary shifting colours across Hirai’s exhibitions, from deep olives to the palest greens and blues. Alongside her signature large, ash-pooled plates and poppy-head vases, the stand-out pots of this upcoming show are Hirai’s Moon jars – contemporary versions of centuries-old vessels native to Korea, examples of which she admired in the British Museum. A thick white glaze and the addition of copper to some of these latest Moon jars lend them the sea-worn feel of coral reefs, or of ancient, drowned vessels unearthed in some imaginary shipwreck.

Though it was in Japan that Hirai was first exposed to ceramics, it is in the UK, away from Japan’s formal pottery traditions, where she has been able to find her individual voice. We are delighted to be showing her work again.

Akiko Hirai’s pots are housed in major international public collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Fitzwilliam in the UK, the National Museum of Ireland, Germany’s distinguished Keramikmuseum Westerwald, and New York’s Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse.

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