2009年06月08日

In Conversation with Mihara Ken, June 2009

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(Mihara Ken, second from right)

It is 2PM on the opening day of Mihara Ken's Yufuku exhibition, and famed collectors and critics alike flow in and out of Yufuku's doors. It is hard to think of any other ceramic artist in Japan today who attracts the sort of visitor flow as Mihara san, bar Kakurezaki Ryuichi - a new exhibition of previously unreleased works is an event in itself, and are the cause for much excitement in the eyes of fans of ceramic art. Over half of the 30 works are sold by midday, and none of us, including Mihara-san, have time for lunch.

"This is only a beginning," Mihara quietly tells me before the show, and rightfully so. This exhibition marks a departure for the artist. Since releasing his much-acclaimed Kigen series in 2007, Mihara was caught under a flurry of media attention, and was placed under great pressure to create larger and more ambitious work for a global audience. Two major exhibitions in 2008, his SOFA NYC solo exhibition and his Japan Ceramic Society Award Exhibition, required Mihara to create approx. 100 mid-sized to large works in a span of 6 months. Yet his new firing method, which required multiple and extensive firings, took the artist double the time to create a single work. To meet his deadlines, Mihara had to do something he disliked most - recreate forms from his past in order to satisfy demand.

"I tried to think of the JCS Award Exhibition as something like a 'Greatest Hits,' but after awhile, I realized that I was simply letting my creative processes into auto-pilot." In particular, his "origami" forms were immediately eye-catching, and demand for this style continues to this very day. Not surprisingly, his SOFA and JCS shows were grand successes, with the artist selling out all 100 works in a flash. Acquisitions by the Metropolitan Museum, the Yale Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and the Eastern Hiroshima Museum of Art, along with his receiving the Grand Prize at the Tea Forms Exhibition (Tanabe Museum), the Contemporary Tea Ceramics Exhibition (Musee Tomo), and the Japan Ceramic Society Award, all in a span of two years, were great honors, but the extensive accolades would eventually take a toll on the artist.

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"I needed to recharge and understand what I wanted to express in the future, and so after August of 2008, I didn't touch a drop of clay until January of 2009."

Mihara's career was hardly a guaranteed success. He first touched clay in college, and was taken by the works of Tomimoto Kenkichi and Kato Tokuro - artists that, at first glance, appear far different from Mihara. Mihara would begin his career under the supervision of Mingei artist Funaki Kenji - yet Mingei and Mihara seemed also to be worlds apart. "I was, in a sense, attracted by the aesthetic simplicity within Mingei. But it was not like I was infatuated with creating functional vessels. Instead, from early on in my career, I tried to figure out how I could close the top of my pots and turn them into non-functional works. Early in my career I became fascinated with the Sodeisha spirit, and their works had a profound influence upon my aesthetics. But as I was a young potter, I needed to make a living. Hence, my works retained an element of functionality. But what was most important to me was creating a silhouette that was borne naturally from within me."

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Tomimoto Kenkichi, Kato Tokuro, and the Sodeisha. What each artist or group have in common is the underlying theme that ceramics is a means for self-expression. And for Mihara, the same holds true. Yet moreover, the artist that he is most often compared to is Kamoda Shoji (1933-1983). This is no coincidence. Like Kamoda, Mihara intentionally chooses to discontinue a certain theme (for Mihara, a form, or for Kamoda a patterned motif) and create a new one each and every year. Thus it can be said that the two artists were forever evolving, and like Kamoda, Mihara is brave enough to move forward to challenge new forms without dwelling on former glories. Yet this is not the only similarity. In fact, the technique of covering his ceramic surfaces with silica slip before his 2nd firing is a technique that was pioneered by Kamoda in the 70's. Says Hanazato Mari, curator of Musee Tomo, "I am aware of only two artists in Japan who use this technique -Kamoda and Mihara."

"I began this technique as I wanted to create a barrier between the fire and the actual clay surface. I didn't want the fires to hit the clay directly. Rather, an indirect firing could produce even more weathered and dramatic results. This was my intent," says Mihara.

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"I was afraid to move on after 2008. I had used up my energies in trying to form and fire enough works for two very large exhibitions, and I reached a point where I could not freely create new forms and experiment. So for 2009, I decided that I would only pick up clay when I was absolutely ready to create something new from within me. I had an image in my mind of rounder, more simplistic forms. I wanted to shave off all excess and unnecessary fat from my ceramics. And at the same time, I wanted to experiment again with the new firing technique that I had started with the Kigen series. But this time, I chose to change the timing of reduction and play with slight variances in temperature for each and every work depending on the size and shape of the piece to be fired. By this experimentation, I was able to achieve new landscapes that I could not previously achieve. But again, this is only a beginning. I still don't have a title for the new series. However, I now know which direction I want to take my works. I think no. 5 (see image below) is a good example of a simple form, yet intriguing enough in its slight tensions and curvatures. This is where I'd like to take my works. And this exhibition is the beginning of my new journey."

Mihara Ken's work mirror the mind and soul of the artist. They ripple with an assured serenity, brim with spiritual simplicity, and limn a silent poeticism found in the calm of open oceans after the passing of a storm - much like the oceans of Sugimoto Hiroshi's photographs. And they are moving works that are borne from the depths of Mihara Ken's imagination. His ceramic journey has only just begun.

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From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

The Yufuku exhibition can now be seen in its entirety via the following link. The show ends June 13th.
posted by Toku Art Limited at 00:14| Comment(0) | Mihara Ken (Sekki) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする
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