The Return of the (Casual) Toku Art Blog

Dear Friends of Yufuku/Toku,

It's been a while. This week, I've decided to resuscitate my blog from its unpleasant state of inertia, for various reasons.

1) Yes, I'm busier than ever, but then again, people still need to know what's happening in today's contemporary ceramic art scene in Japan.

2) It appears that people really enjoy reading about what's happening in today's contemporary ceramic art scene in Japan.

3) No other person is writing about what's happening in today's contemporary ceramic art scene in Japan.

To be honest, I've never been a casual writer. Every word I type is important to me, and for this reason, the prospect of incessant tweeting gives me the creeps. But then again, I think I'm going to have to bite the bullet and simply write, whatever and whenever, in the hope that the current interest in Japanese ceramics/applied arts continues to grow.

After taking on the helm of Yufuku this year, we've had some great domestic shows such as Mihara-san's sold out domestic show in April (incredibly, right after the Earthquake), along with successful shows in Milan, Paris, London, and currently in Seoul and Heidelberg. Mihara-san's second solo show in New York will begin next week, while Nagae-san's first show in Seoul will begin next month. It's quite amazing to think how many shows outside of Japan that I was able to organise in the past few years, but then again, this only evidences the great interest in Japanese art outside of Japan.

Many of you may know that we're currently holding the 4th solo exhibition of Tamba's Ichino Masahiko at Yufuku. His creativity as an artist is on full display. In my personal opinion, Ichino-san seems to have regained his stride by heightening his attention to form, and balancing his glazing with form as foremost. His red Aka-dobe slip is far better than ever before. And his further-simplified forms now call to mind the great works of Sodeisha's Suzuki Osamu. Ichino, without question, is definitely an artist to watch.





In the news: Bizen's Isezaki Mitsuru, the elder brother of Living National Treasure Jun, passed away last week (August 28th) at the age of 77. Mitsuru and his brother did much to popularise the anagama method of firing in Bizen, and their disciples are many. May he rest in peace.

The 6th Paramita Museum Grand Prize went, democratically, to the young white porcelain artist Wada Akira. Kako Katsumi, who will be having his first solo show at Yufuku in November, was the runner-up. Although Wada is a wonderful person and he even came to see our Ichino exhibition yesterday, I'm not too convinced about his works -yet. His talents are obvious, but his forms are still rigid, and he seems to continue to be developing a sense of scale/dynamism to his often-smaller-sized works. However Wada is unquestionably one of the more popular younger ceramic artists, and is favoured by Karasawa Masahiro (the new head of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo's Craft Department) and Kaneko Kenji, Karasawa's predecessor.

Speaking of Kaneko-san, he recently wrote a scathing refutation of the Asahi Ceramics Exhibition, its jurors and its award winners, in the July edition of Tohsetsu, the prestigious ceramic monthly published by the Japan Ceramics Society (JCS).

Although meant to be in commemoration of the 700th issue of the venerable publication, its contents were a bombshell, and so infuriated many in the Japanese ceramic scene that Toda Morinobu of Seto sent a overly-passionate letter to virtually all the ceramic artists and galleries of Japan in condemnation of Kaneko and his wish to withdraw his membership from the JCS.

Furthermore, Seto's Kato Kiyoyuki and the critic Inoue Takao also wrote reasoned, well-balanced articles in the September issue of Tohsetsu in opposition to Kaneko.

As you may well know, Japan is not known to openly criticise in public, let alone in publications. What did Kaneko-san write, however, which seemed to piss off the ceramic community?

In a nutshell, in his ending remarks Kaneko-san wrote that the recipients of the Asahi Ceramics Exhibition were mainly "one-hit wonders," and that the jurors of the exhibition could not judge properly in the context of Japanese ceramic history, and did not fully understand the "core" of Japanese ceramics today.

Controversial, to be sure. Kaneko-san now plans to publish a defense of his article in the October issue of Tohsetsu, in reaction to the articles of Kato-san and Inoue-san. One of the mediators of this on-going debate, Ono Kimihisa, came to the opening day of the Ichino exhibition and, while laughing, said that this dialogue was good for Japan, esp. if each argument was executed with reason, calm, and politeness. I agree.

In any case, this blog will be updated at least once a week. My next entry will probably come from New York. Although the writing will be done in a hurry and will hardly ever be checked or edited, please bare with me. At the very least, I'm writing. Thanks so much for all your support.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Owner and Director
Yufuku Gallery
posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:16| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Ichino Masahiko's World of Tea

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Kind greetings from Tokyo! I've finally had the time to settle down slightly from a rigorous road trip around the world. Waiting for me on my return was an eye-opening exhibition of objects for the tea ceremony by Tamba's Ichino Masahiko.

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Opening at Yufuku Gallery from last Thursday, we've had a flurry of Ichino fans flock to Minami-Aoyama to admire Ichino-san's new creations. The response has been far greater than I had expected, yet at the same time, there is no surprise in seeing his works do well at exhibitions. What's perhaps the greatest surprise is that the artist has attempted a chawan exhibition at an objet d'art-oriented gallery like Yufuku.

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Perhaps this is testament to the fact that the tea bowl is in itself an object that possesses the outer appearance of a functional vessel, yet retains an inner spirituality that extends far deeper than the sheer space within a teabowl's well.

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I must admit, I haven't been this happy with an Ichino exhibition in many years, and many who have taken the time to view the exhibition first-hand have expressed the same. The show runs until Saturday the 28th of November -- please do stop by if you get a chance, and if not, please simply email me for more information/images at info@toku-art.com.
You can view the show in its entirety via the link below.

Lastly, thank you so much to all those who have extended their kind opinions and comments on my on-going Einin saga. Your words have been a source of great encouragement, and gives me the strength to persevere with the labor of writing. The next installment should be out by the end of this month, so please stay tuned! For those who've missed the stories, you can find Chapters 1 and 2 below.

Chapter 1: Prelude to a Myth
Chapter 2: Into Literature, Enter Infamy

Wishing everyone throughout the world a happy Thanksgiving,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

ps: Apologies for the delays in updating our main website! I believe a great deal of this will be accomplished in early 2010. There are many new changes taking place at Toku Art and at Yufuku, so things are going along a bit slowly.... Thank you so much for your kind understanding and support.

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posted by Toku Art Limited at 16:29| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Metamorphosis -From Clay to Cocoon

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Tamba revolutionary Ichino Masahiko (市野雅彦 1961- ) is currently in the midst of an imaginative new show at the prestigious Mitsukoshi Department Store in Nihonbashi.

Advancing the theme of "clay cocoons" exhibited at last year's Paramita Museum Awards, Ichino has delved further into creating an entirely new series of works.

Gone are the linear stripes and various other decorative motifs found on previous works. Gone are the rigid forms and straight edges. Gone are the obvious hallmarks of functionality. Gone, even, are the use of his wood and gas kilns.

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What remains, however, is Ichino's staunch emphasis on the importance of form and originality.

Appearances are often deceiving. His new works in general appear round and organic, soft and plush. In fact, the voluptious stoneware may strike a viewer as extremely weighty. Bulk, perhaps, is what first comes to mind.

On the contrary, each and every work on display ishollow. Tap their clay bodies, and emptiness rings through the air.

In other words, relative to a work's actual size, Ichino's clay cocoons are light as a feather. The artist achieves this unique characteristic through an ingenious use of both hand-pinching and ventilation. After forming individual slabs with the use of a wooden board, Ichino connects them together whilst leaving the inner regions empty. He then pokes holes into each section, so that hot air can escape during firing without making the work explode in the kiln. He further applies black slip or his trademark salt water orange, and fires again repeatedly, alternating between oxidation and reduction. The end product, thus, is the culmination of an intricate creative process which is very much an Ichino original.

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Cocoons represent a metamorphosis, a transformation, of dramatically changing an object's characteristics. To Ichino, it further represents the myriad possibilities that the material of clay provides to an artist. Ichino is not limited by the clay of Tamba - rather, it is clay that inspires him to create new ways of expression. Thus, the term "cocoon" is an apt name to a new series of works wherein it can be seen that Ichino is actively trying to push himself to greater heights.

I wasn't the only one taking notice. Kakurezaki Ryuichi, perhaps the most famous name in contemporary Bizen, came by as I was interviewing the artist to inspect Ichino's works.

In many ways, Kakurezaki and Ichino are quite similar. Bizen and Tamba are 2 of the Rokkoyo (Six Old Kilns) of Japan, and their kiln sites have long supplied the nation with functional, earthy, utilitarian, high-fired stoneware made with regional clay. However, each artist has added a new depth to their origins by placing primacy on form whilst continuing to respect traditional firing and decorative techniques. Both artists are revolutionaries of their respective kiln sites, and have become their most sought-after ceramicists.

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The propeller-like object in the first set of images is a clear example of extreme technique, in that he made each "blade" individually and connected them together. To fire them at once without breaking is a feat in itself, but the colors of the piece are natural and not glaring. In fact, multiple firings within the electric kiln has added a gentleness to Ichino's palette of colors. Works that exhibit a vivid orange are basically fired only once. Other works that exhibit an ambigous blend of orange and black slip have been fired up to 5 times. I believe it is these types of works that succeed best.

For example, I particularly enjoyed the work below.

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Not only is the form organic and pillowy, its natural firing is both addictive and enthralling.

Ichino is still developing this new style, and his Mitsukoshi exhibition is an excellent beginning. Let us see how the artist's clay cocoons eventually evolve. There is no doubt in my mind that they would grow the most beautiful wings.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 14:21| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Last Day of Ichino Exhibition... and a Personal Announcement

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Thank you to all who visited our Ichino Masahiko exhibition.
The works were fabulous, and all of us were very happy with the results.

With the end of the show, Toku Art will be closed until July 30th. My wedding is on the 15th, and I hope to spend some time with friends and family. I look forward to bringing you more updates as soon as I return. Thanks for your support!

With much gratitude,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

posted by Toku Art Limited at 02:15| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Ceramic Spotlight -Ichino Masahiko 4

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018 Special Exhibit 参考作品  φ550×H550 Under Consideration
(please enquire for price at wahei@toku-art.com)

This Tamba sphere is perfect in every way, and is definitely a highlight of this exhibition, not only for its massive size, but for the fact that it features every remarkable Ichino characteristic. Oranges, whites, blacks and blues intertwine with myriad etched swirls, coalescing into a perfect sphere shape. Like the mother sun to its children planets, all the smaller works of the exhibition seem to be pulled in by its sheer gravity, rotating as satellites around its absolute presence.

The chief curator at Nihonbashi's Mitsukoshi Department Store called it "an utter triumph."

It leaves me breathless, for sure.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 13:47| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Ceramic Spotlight -Ichino Masahiko 3

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008 彩泥器 Saideiki W345×D210×H570

Two noted features of this year's Ichino Masahiko exhibition is his emphasis on the colour black, as well as his preoccupation with size. Both characteristics, I believe, are highly satisfying.

Ichino's trademark orange, as well as his new palette of black, intersect and alternate on either facade of this piece.
This, coupled with its sheer size, makes for a convincing statement indeed.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 23:27| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Ceramic Spotlight -Ichino Masahiko 2


001 線紋器 Senmonki W227×D250×H270 (sold)

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014 彩泥器 Saideiki W402×D177×H146 (sold)

Again, two strong pieces from Ichino Masahiko. Both are wonderful for flowers, or for simply making a room come to life.

More closeups to follow.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:09| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Ceramic Spotlight -Ichino Masahiko 1

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003 線紋器 Senmonki W275×D190×H370 (sold)

This piece is one of my absolute favourites. Ichino Masahiko had made a similar piece that was recently featured in the Honoho Geijutsu article on Tamba (see previous article), but this one, the artist himself has proclaimed, is "a much better piece, in terms of form and firing." I agree.

The curvatures on this vase are sumptuous, even seductive, and the black and white linear patterns create a chic decor that can make a dull room come to life.

Please enjoy this ceramic spotlight. We'll be featuring more as the show progresses.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 13:55| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Ichino Exhibition Begins!

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The Ichino Masahiko exhibition has kicked off amidst great anticipation from fans and critics alike.

You can view the entire exhibition here.

This blog will also be bringing you more in-depth photographs as the show progresses.

Of note are two extremely large pieces, which are perhaps two of the biggest works Ichino has ever made.

Please enquire regarding the prices of these two works.

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Furthermore, please enjoy several close-up photos of the new works. When viewing ceramic art from a computer screen, it's often very hard to "touch" a work, and it can be frustrating to grasp a piece's depth via 2-dimensional means. It's not like you can pat a pot, or embrace one in your arms. You can't stare closely either. That's why I enjoy taking these photos.
We hope the Tamba clay can be felt, somewhat closer.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

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Ichino Exhibition Sneak Preview 2

Tomorrow (July 5th) marks the start of our Ichino Masahiko
(市野雅彦 b. 1961- ) exhibition, and all of us at Toku Art and Yufuku are extremely excited. We hope to see many of you there, and if it's difficult to visit, please view the works at www.yufuku.net.

For those following our blog, we're pleased to present a sneak preview of four more new works by Ichino.

The complete collection will be available online tomorrow at Yufuku's exhibition page. Enquiries on a particular work are always welcome.

We hope you enjoy Ichino Masahiko's most spirited collection yet.

With much gratitude,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

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posted by Toku Art Limited at 23:14| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする

Sneak Preview of Upcoming Ichino Exhibition

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Tamba ceramic artist Ichino Masahiko (市野雅彦 b. 1961) is incredibly hot right now.

His ceramic works are red hot as well, and literally so, since he just pulled them from his kiln last weekend.

We've received the new works, and I am pleased to announce that many of the pieces are absolutely brilliant.

We still find Ichino inventing new designs in his trademark hues of orange and grey, yet we also find him working on more monochrome works, esp. in his black-coloured motifs that are an excellent contrast to his smoke-filled greys.

Ichino's imagination is boundless, almost celestial. Ichino fully embodies the cutting edge of Japanese contemporary ceramics.

Please enjoy this little preview, and we look forward to bringing you more of his works in the next few days before his Yufuku exhibition.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

(For reservation enquiries including prices/sizes, please
contact me at wahei@toku-art.com.)

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posted by Toku Art Limited at 00:52| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Upcoming Show Preview 1-Ichino Masahiko 

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The most recent issue of prestigious ceramic journal Honoho Geijutsu features a much anticipated review of contemporary Tamba. Four artists, in particular, are covered in the magazine -father Nishihata Tadashi and son Taibi, as well as Ichino Shinsui II and his younger brother Ichino Masahiko (市野雅彦 b. 1961- )

Undoubtedly, it is the latter artist who has fascinated both fans and pundits throughout Japan for his mesmerizing creativity. Exceptional is his eye for form, firing, and sense of style, and his artistry has brought upon the ceramacist some of the top awards in Japanese ceramics (Japan Ceramic Association Award in 2006, Japan Ceramic Exhibition Grand Prix 1995, among many others).

The top photo featured in this blog is one of my Ichino favorites. Ichino exuberates a sense of artistic cool that I haven't seen since the pop days of Kamoda Shoji.

This week, Yufuku Gallery and Toku Art will be presenting new works by Ichino from July 5th to the 14th. As Ichino is notoriously known for firing and fine-tuning his works until the very last minute (literally, sometimes he brings in a work 2 hours before the show opening!), we were all relieved to find that his latest collection is, for lack of a better word, amazing.

We will be listing a previw of his works in the next few days before his exhibition. But in the meantime, please enjoy a review of the artist that I had written for Robert Yellin's e-yakimono.net. Thank you Robert for its usage.

From eastern skies, we look forward to offering new works by Tamba extraordinaire Ichino Masahiko.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art

Ichino Masahiko
Potter Spotlight

Story and Photos
by Aoyama Wahei at EY-NET (January 12th, 2004)

We often search for heroes. As fans of pottery, we long for great pots. Yet even if quality pots are first on our list of wishes, we also long for potters with charisma and personality, for characters who not only make extraordinary works, but are larger-than-life. Why? Simply because such special persons spark our imaginations and help us dream.

Kiln sites wax and wane with the emergence of heroes. Kaneshige Toyo, a man with not only exceptional talent, but amazing flair and character (this is a man who literally ate mud to test the quality of clay before use), jump-started Bizen's unparalleled popularity in the 20th century: just go to a Kakurezaki Ryuichi exhibition and one can see the cult of Bizen drooling at the door. Shigaraki wares have virtuosos in Kohyama Yasuhisa or Tsujimura Shiro. Echizen has Kumano Kurouemon, while Mino wares have Suzuki Goro. Even aside from the Six Kilns, Hagi has the Miwa family (now somewhat infamous due to the recent experiments of Miwa Kyusetsu XII), while Karatsu has the Nakazato clan and a new hero in Nakagawa Jinenbo. Mashiko had Living National Treasure Hamada Shoji and Kamoda Shoji, the latter the epitome of rock star fame, with that tragic blend of imaginative pots, cult following, and premature death. For more on all these styles, please see our Guidebook.

Yet poor Tamba, one of the original Rokkoyo (Six Old Kilns of Japan) had been left behind, without a hero to jump-start its popularity or status within the ceramic arts scene. Yet no longer must Tamba wait. Ceramist Ichino Masahiko has single-handedly become the New Wave of Tamba, and it is not exaggeration to say that he has become the impetus for a renewed interest in this ancient kiln site.

Ichino Masahiko, in the words of talented young ceramist Kako Katsumi, is "the potter who will carry the weight of Japanese pottery on his shoulders." That's quite a statement. When I first heard Kako speak such praise for Ichino, I did not give it much thought. Kako is a humble man, and finds it imperative at times to send gratuitous accolades to his elder contemporaries. I was not familiar with Ichino's work, yet had heard he had received the Grand Prize at the Japan Ceramic Art Exhibition in 1995 at the young age of 34. That is no small feat, as the biennial event pits hundreds of potters against one another in its competition division. To come out on top, one's work (only one can be entered) must catch the eye and recognition of a panel of judges comprised of the top ceramic potters and experts in the country. In other words, the Grand Prize at the Japan Ceramic Art Exhibition is one of the highest awards a potter can receive. Quite simply, the award makes careers.

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(all photos taken by myself during my time at e-y net.... the tall and pale winter sun was simply perfect for photography)

Yet this, in no way, means that all potters who receive the award can pierce the heart with moving works. Rather, such potters are few. Perhaps this is why I was skeptical upon hearing Kako's high mention of Ichino. Upon meeting Ichino and his work on a brisk November day, I changed my mind. Ichino's rising popularity is not on behalf of awards or accolades, but on what truly matters -- his work. Ichino Masahiko makes Tamba with an unique urban sensibility, a sensibility that has taken old-fashioned Tamba into the modern age.

What immediately strikes the viewer upon seeing Ichino's work is his unconventional, post-modern style that calls to mind the revolutionary works of the Sodeisha, Suzuki Goro, and most recognizably, Kamoda Shoji. Tamba originated as an everyday peasant's ware and has never been on the cutting edge of fashion. Ichino's works, however, are exactly that -- fashionable. This could be a petty thing, meaning a work of art that is simply a trend or fad, easily forgotten and perhaps at best, forgotten. Ichino's works eschew such criticism.

The reasons for this are many. Observing Ichino's Japan Ceramic Art Exhibition award-winning pot, titled "Kai", is evidence of this. As regards form, "Kai" has a sleek, seductive shape. Its streaming silhouette, at once striking, even sexy, is formed by hand pinching, whereas only the base is formed on a potter's wheel. The aerodynamic, delicate touch can surely put a smile on NASA's face. Yet Ichino's prowess is even more evident in the fact that this modern silhouette is uncontrived; its form is at once simple and flows naturally, whereas some other potters' attempts at a similar style will fail from being blatantly intentional.


Not only this, Ichino's color scheme is also simple, yet vivid. The contrasts he uses between a charcoal black and an orange red catch the eye and leave a certain freshness in the mind. It is even more impressive in the fact that this palette is not created by glaze, but by a meticulous, pain-staking process of etching tiny crevices into the surface of the base clay, rubbing certain colored clay into the crevices, then firing, then rubbing another color clay over the piece again, and then firing once more, while applying salt water to areas where he wants red. This technique is both sublime and ingenious, for he achieves colors that do not kill the texture of the base clay by suffocating it with over glaze. "Kai" embodies Ichino's care for form and color, and at the same time, fully illustrates his respect for the clay of Tamba.

Ichino Masahiko was born the 2nd son of Ichino Shinsui, a Tamba potter who makes traditional tea wares. His elder brother, who recently became Ichino Shinsui II, was predestined to take over the family kiln. Due to the existence of an elder sibling, Ichino was free to do as he liked. "I think this is a major reason why I was able to become independent and start my own kiln, as well as freeing my imagination with ideas that are different from traditional ones."

After finishing high school, Ichino entered the Saga Institute of Art, wherein he learned simple pottery techniques from the same teacher as Kako. "All I did during those two years was to go out every night and have as much fun as I could. I did no work!" laughs Ichino. "But when I was nearing graduation, I looked around to see that all my peers had figured out where to go after college, be it to apprentice under a master, or to return home to their family kiln. I had no place to go, so for a while I just sat in the library all day and read books on pottery to pass time. As I was flipping through pages, I encountered Imai Masayuki-sensei's works for the very first time. I thought to myself, 'I'm going to study under Imai-sensei.'"

It was also during the idle times in the library wherein Ichino was initiated with Kamoda Shoji and Suzuki Goro's work, which undoubtedly left an enormous impression on the young man. This is most probably why the modern styles of Ichino's works exhibit a respectful, loving ode to these huge figures in pottery. "I'm just a fan, like everybody else," says Ichino. To Ichino, Kamoda and Suzuki are his very own rock stars.

For five years, Ichino learned from Kyoto-based Imai what he calls the most fundamental requirement of being a potter: heart. "For those five years, Imai-sensei didn't teach me a thing about spinning a wheel and so forth. What Imai-sensei did teach me was on how to be a good human being. His lessons are still with me today."

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After his apprenticeship under Imai, Ichino returned to the Ichino family kiln, wherein he learned the actual techniques and traditions of Tamba from his father Shinsui. Two years after returning to Tamba, he left home to build his own kiln as an independent ceramist. Seven years after building his kiln, Ichino was awarded the above-mentioned Grand Prize.

Months before the actual exhibition, however, the Great Hanshin Earthquake shook Kobe, a city in the Tamba region, ultimately taking nearly 5,000 lives. This catastrophe hit Ichino hard, both physically and psychologically. Day in and day out, Ichino volunteered in relief efforts in Kobe, and couldn't afford to spend time preparing a piece to send to the Japan Ceramic Art Exhibition. Yet with what little time he had to give, Ichino formed and fired the piece that would eventually take the Grand Prize.

"Winning the Grand Prize was something I never expected, and the aftermath of receiving the award was an enormous feeling of pressure that I did not expect as well. The attention I began to receive was tremendous, so tremendous in fact that I began to feel as though the whole art world was watching my every move as a potter. At that moment, the flow of creativity that had been pouring out of me with great momentum stopped. When making a piece, all the experiences that I had accumulated in my life are compressed within my body, and they pour out of me into the clay I mold. But to be honest, for several years after winning, the things that I had built up seemed to have left me. In reality, my mind was suffocating my own creativity."

It is hard to believe that a talented ceramist like Ichino could have bouts of potter's block. But at that point in life where he was constantly watched, he could no longer have fun and do as he pleased. "What is the point of making pottery if I don't derive pleasure from it," Ichino asks.

"The earth of Tamba had been used for 800 years. I feel the presence of those that came before me in the clay I choose to use. There's history to Tamba. And with the personality of the clay underneath my feet, combined with the experiences I've had, all allow me to have conversations with Tamba clay. This is part of the fun. And no pleasure means that there is no meaning. After winning the Grand Prize, such was the predicament I found myself in. The clay would no longer talk to me."

Ichino sounds dead serious as he talks of 'talking' to clay, yet quickly lets out a chuckle and says, "what I just said sounds a bit funny, doesn't it." Perhaps, but with Ichino, it sounds just as convincing.

"When I was younger, I was selfish and wanted to manipulate the clay and control it. I wanted it to turn into what I envisioned in my mind, let it be with glaze or through a certain shape. Yet when you really think about the history of Tamba and the beautiful clay it produces, one must understand that you cannot be selfish with such clay. You have to communicate with it and work together. A person cannot try to control the clay, or it will stop talking."

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Ichino talks to his pieces for quite a while at a time, as he spends hours, sometimes days, on a single piece, a single detail. "Yes, to achieve the right form might take a while, as well as getting the color scheme the way I want it is also time-consuming, as I have to fire the piece a number of times to get it right. But these are things that are, in a way, on the surface and are easily apparent. What I enjoy doing is spending hours on parts of pots that many would not bother looking at."

If one flips over an Ichino pot, one might think the base looks like any other base. Yet the tiny etchings on Ichino's bases have been made through extensive labor. Not only this, the inside of vases, for example, are also areas where Ichino loves to slave on, as well as the insides of his petite boxes and kogo. This care towards detail exhibits a side of Ichino's personality that most might pass by upon meeting the man, as he can be boisterous and very sociable. A side that many do not see, however, is his careful, almost neurotic attention to tiny details and human emotion.

Ichino loves urban life, and it shows in his work. Ichino's tokkuri are like gentlemen wearing suits, while his vases are urban skyscrapers in an animated, make-believe Bauhaus world. His chawan have etched pictures of motor vehicles as landscapes, almost reminiscent of Suzuki Goro's Los Angeles-style Oribe. Ichino's world is undeniably urban, cosmopolitan, and far removed from the quiet Tamba countryside; this is because the metropolis is where Ichino gets both his inspiration and his comfort when stressed-out or out of ideas. Such is why he relishes every opportunity to visit Tokyo and dreams of firing works in New York. But upon closer observation, one gets the impression that Ichino fires pots to sing odes to a lifestyle he wishes he could lead; perhaps one can call it an innocent romanticism. This concept is vastly different from the functionality and practicality of pottery to the lives of past potters of Tamba, who potted and fired the necessities of everyday life, with no thought as to materialize an idolization of a certain lifestyle. In other words, one might call such designs a representation of a country boy's fascination with city life.

"City life is fun. Tamba is quiet, small, and that is wonderful. But in the city, I find inspiration in its many sights and sounds. It is a fun place, an inspirational place, and call me young at heart, but I still dream of living in a big city, even outside of Japan."

Ichino Masahiko is a dreamer, a romanticist of urban life and a potter of post-modern sensibilities. Yet at the same time, he holds a pure and loyal heart towards the land of Tamba and the potters that came before him. He feels the weight of history on his shoulders as he converses with the Tamba clay in his hands. Ichino is a special potter. Both the man and his work exemplify a youthful playfulness that is at the same time, fascinatingly intelligent and chic. Tamba no longer must look for a savior. Ichino Masahiko is it.

p.jpg (Ichino Masahiko)

by Aoyama Wahei 1/12/04

(stay tuned for photos of new works and article on Ichino's latest exhibition on this blog! details can also be found at Toku Art's exhibition page.

posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:38| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | 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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