The Ceramic Groves of Sugiura Yasuyoshi


Filled with shadows and shrubbery, a forest is a mystical place. Dark and imposing is its energies, and the same elements are imbued in the ceramic groves of Sugiura Yasuyoshi's (杉浦康益 1949- ) new work, currently on display at Yufuku Gallery.

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For his debut exhibition at Yufuku, Sugiura presents the viewer with 3 new styles of works. One is his Kodachi (ceramic forest) series, which feature rippling, twisted branches of trees stacked up on top of one another. This work was first introduced to the general public in 2006 at the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in 2006, yet our exhibition will be the first for Sugiura to bring this work within a context of a gallery space. "Strength in numbers" is one of Sugiura's mottos, and 50 or so of these groves spring from the air and nearly touch the ceilings of Yufuku.

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The 2nd new series that Sugiura introduces is his Kabe (wall) series, which were influenced by the decorated walls of the residential homes of the people of West Africa, in particular Burkina Faso.

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One can almost feel the scorching sun and the dry red dust of the region in the works' rustic slip colors. The rudimentary, geometric shapes of the enameled designs are also drawn from Sugiura's African experience. These works are intended as sets in twos or threes, and are symbolic of an aesthetic simplicity that Sugiura has forgotten over the years with his pursuance of nature's complexities, as evident in his highly successful ceramic flowers.

A departure from traditions tried and tested is a gargantuan task for any artist. Sugiura, now 60, is already a well-established ceramist, and the veteran has a loyal following of collectors and is respected among the academics. Yet what is the virtue in endless repetition of mere technique? Where lies the urgency of now? I find that both immediacy and vitality are two aesthetic aspects that can be lost by an artist when creating the same styles over and over again. Sugiura had realized this, and it took a great leap of courage to want to break free from his own stylistic tendencies and create a new ceramic path.

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Like the Kierkegaardian tale of Abraham, it is in fear and trembling that one is tested by the faith in his own aesthetics to move ahead and attempt to sacrifice Isaac, or in Sugiura's case, his ceramic flowers. Yet like the "knight of infinite resignation," Sugiura has mustered the courage to move ahead, and this, I believe, exhibits Sugiura's depth as an artist.

From his wall series, I find the highlight to be this set piece below.

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The pieces pulsate with a breezy freedom that is evident in the wet glow of the glazing. Unlike the other wall works, this set has been made using the technique of "kaki-otoshi," and the diamond motifs are far more laid back and loose. In a sense, the kohiki white slip and the kaki-otoshi technique is reminiscent of the slip work of Sodeisha's Yagi Kazuo.

Lastly, Sugiura creates yet another playful pile of works in his tsumiki (woodblock) series.

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Inspired by the parched red bricks he saw in Africa, each work is slightly different, with steps, bumps, belly-buttons and legs added to each clay block.

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Fans of Sugiura could be seen picking and stacking block by block to ascertain which piece they would ultimately bring home with them.

Sugiura Yasuyoshi says that "the next 10 years of his career will be extremely important," as he intends to create works that will aptly mark the "curtain call" for his career as a ceramist. In this light, I believe his current Yufuku exhibition will be remembered as the turning point in his career. Sugiura's works continue to evolve, and I will not be surprised to see if his future finds him combining his various elements together to make an intriguing, vibrant symbiosis. Let us wait and see.

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(Sugiura Yasuyoshi sitting with work)

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

P.S. I recently returned from the opening ceremony of the Paramita Museum Award Exhibition, where Yufuku artist Nagae Shigekazu (長江重和)has been nominated for the grand prize. Other nominees affiliated with Yufuku are Kishi Eiko (岸映子) and Ojiro Kaoru (小塩薫). I look forward to writing about the show in the month of July. Please stay tuned!
posted by Toku Art Limited at 13:38| Comment(0) | Sugiura Yasuyoshi (Ceramics) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Conceptualizing Space - Sugiura Yasuyoshi's 1st Yufuku Exhibition

I extend my deepest gratitude to all the visitors to our recent exhibition of new works by Mihara Ken. Quite surprisingly in this economic climate, Mihara-san was able to achieve his 3rd consecutive show which has sold out (the other two being SOFA NYC and the Japan Ceramic Society Award exhibition, both in 2008). Congratulations to Mihara-san!

From his week, Yufuku Gallery and Toku Art will be proud to present our very 1st exhibition of new works by ceramic artist Sugiura Yasuyoshi (杉浦康益 1949- ), which opens on July 2nd at Yufuku Gallery and closes on the 11th.

Sugiura is oft associated with his ceramic flowers that are part of his "Ceramics of Natural History" series (see below).

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This series is what captured the imaginations of many important ceramic collectors and critics such as Madame Kikuchi, owner of Musee Tomo, and Hayashiya Seizo, the leading ceramic critic today.

It was his ceramic flowers which placed Sugiura's name on the list of nominees for the Japan Ceramic Society Awards. Virtually every year in the past 5 years has Sugiura's name been mentioned as a key nominee, and in fact, he received the 2nd highest number of votes in 2005 (which was won by Ichino Masahiko) and in 2008 (won by Mihara Ken). Coincedentally, both artists are represented internationally by Yufuku.

This consecutive string of defeats, in a sense, was a deep disappointment to the artist. Yet this year, Sugiura returns to the ceramic stage with his first exhibition at Yufuku Gallery. Should the viewer expect more flowers? Far from it.

Rather, this show marks the first time that he will be displaying his large-scale and symbolic "Ceramic Forest" series within the context of a gallery space. This series was one of the highlights of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial held in Niigata Prefecture in 2006 (see below), and the artist just recently rebuilt this gigantic installation for the 2009 Triennial, which opens next month.


This work took approx. 2 weeks to stack each and every ceramic "block" that represent a grove or cluster of ceramic trees. Sugiura asked the current students of his alma mater, the prestigious Tokyo University of Arts, to help him in this greatly ambitious outdoor installation, and the results were stunning.

Each block is colored differently, and looks like this up-close.

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For the first time, he will be exhibiting these works indoors within the gallery floor of Yufuku. The energy that will fill the walls of the gallery will be quite intense, and I believe will be a highlight of Japanese contemporary "conceptual ceramics." In a sense, the division between fine art and craft art are not only blurred but shattered in the works of the artist.

Yet not only this, Sugiura plans to exhibit a brand new series of works at his upcoming exhibition, entitled the "ceramic wall" series. This series is inspired by the sights and sounds of Africa, where he spent a great deal of time traveling in 2008. A glimpse of what is to come can be seen in the images below.

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These are yet unfired and incomplete works, yet one can grasp a feel for Sugiura's latest direction. We hope you will join us in celebrating Sugiura's new ceramic path from this Thursday. For previews of Sugiura's contemplative new works, please contact us at info@toku-art.com.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

ps. Upcoming articles will feature a recent visit to Tamba's Ichino Masahiko, who will be having a solo show at Yufuku in November, and a close-up of Sakurai Yasuko's studio. Sakurai will be having her next solo exhibition at Yufuku in March 2010.
posted by Toku Art Limited at 21:54| Comment(0) | Sugiura Yasuyoshi (Ceramics) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Visiting Sugiura Yasuyoshi's Kiln

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(Sugiura-san describing an aspect of his detailed work)

For the past several weeks I have been traveling throughout ferociously hot Japan to meet artists of various genres. In fact, I'll be venturing on many more trips in August, which is unquestionably the hottest month of this archipelago, and by thought alone can I already feel the sweat dripping from the back of my neck.

These trips are often times with collectors from overseas, yet for the most part, they are personal trips by myself or with family, for example my wife or my father.

Trips with my father have been quite interesting, esp. in the sense that I feel as if I am getting to know the man a great deal more than when I was a child.

Riding together on a rickety single-car local train, seeing the world passing by, summer sun blazing, the brilliant greens of the rice paddies and the forests and the mountains from the window, drinking cold tea bought from a vending machine, talking about family memories I don't remember or have never heard.

In other words, these lazy, leisurely travels are rather special, and I'm grateful for being able to work so closely with him in this point in life.

One artist we had visited together way back in April was the conceptual potter Sugiura Yasuyoshi (1949- 杉浦康益). Although I've been to his home/studio in Manazuru, Kanagawa Prefecture about 3 times, it was a first for my father. All in all, our Manazuru excursion was a productive trip with many new discoveries and discussions.

Please enjoy some photos taken during this time.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

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sugiura koeki april 10 2008 031.jpg (Excellent work made during college, reminds me of Mishima Kimiyo's works)

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posted by Toku Art Limited at 15:47| Comment(0) | Sugiura Yasuyoshi (Ceramics) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


In Clay, A Flower Blooms

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The wonderful time I had working for Robert Yellin's e-yakimono.net , as well as its Japanese sister site, yakimono.net, helped open my eyes to much of the contemporary Japanese ceramic art scene.

I also had the excellent opportunity to travel around Japan and visit varous kiln sites, as well as having the pleasure of befriending several artists along the way.

Although many years my elder, my first meeting with the artist Sugiura Yasuyoshi (杉浦康益 b. 1949- ) left a lasting impression on how I perceive ceramics, as well as giving me hints on the future of Japanese ceramics in the greater scheme of what we may call the "art world."

What was absolutely refreshing about his work was not only the obvious exceptional technical skill that had been infused in it, but its ability to speak to a viewer in terms of a coherent conceptual theme. With this slightly vague terminology, I in no way allude to the artist being about some awkward cognitive "all brains and no substance" notion that can be attributed to some of the major pundits working in the art scene today (some names come to mind, but I would rather not mention them). Rather, Sugiura inspired me because when perceiving his art, I could sense that he rigourously fought with his subject matter, in both the realms of the mind and body. Too many ceramicists today can exhibit one or the other -excellent technique, or excellent concepts. But not many can execute both. Nagae Shigekazu, Mihara Ken, Akiyama Yo, Takiguchi Kazuo are some obvious examples of success.

Ever since my days writing Japan Ceramics Now, I have written about my lack of patience with many young Japanese artists.

Young artists can create wild forms or exhibit mind-boggling technique, yet have no substance to show for their art. They are creating without placing precedence on the notion of why they are creating, and why they choose the medium of clay. One simply longs for the depth of Yagi Kazuo or Kamoda Shoji .

Sugiura exhibits such depth in his art, and quite vividly. Posted in the front of this blog are two photos of his most recent work, which were on display last week at the art gallery Kandori (the woman who owns the linked museum owns the gallery).

The decomposing sunflower represents Sugiura's long-held passion for representing scenes of nature, while at the same time creating a visceral, primal energy through the art of repetition (i.e. the myriad seeds). His focus on decay calls to mind the flower art of the master Ikebana artist Nakagawa Yukio, who famously attests that "the true beauty of life is found within the verge of death."

Not only this, the slender and tall ceramic orchid that is also featured at the top of this blog is sheer brilliance in its form, artistry, and concept. Sugiura has utilized a bronze frame to hold the piece together, while attaching the lobes after they are individually fired in his gas kiln. The base is non-ceramic, yet he is only using it as a method to accentuate the ceramic art that are the flowers.

The recent Kandori exhibition finds Sugiura at a crossroad, where he is again searching for alternative or new methods of expression. After talking to the artist at the show, I have no doubt that he will give birth to something new and beautiful in the near future, and such will perhaps become the next Sugiura trademark, after such important works as his clay boulders and flower series (see photos below).

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We look forward to bring such to you, from eastern skies.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:35| Comment(0) | Sugiura Yasuyoshi (Ceramics) | 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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