The Einin Tsubo, Chapter 2: Into Literature, Enter Infamy

Chapter Two
Into Literature, Enter Infamy

January 7th, 1943. In just seven days, the New Year had already aged a darken gray upon the islands of the Japanese Empire. War was in the winter air, war was in the snow that fell. This snow, bleak and sombre, monotonous and monotone, fell softly but surely, piling layers upon layers of sadness immersed in an empty hope for a victory that was far too elusive to even fathom.

It was on this day, several months before the Matsudome shards were donated by Kato Tokuro to the Nezu Museum in March of 1943, that a small and erroneous article appeared in the pages of the Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) edition of the Chubu Nippon Shimbun (Central Japan Newspaper) which marked the first appearance of the Einin Tsubo within the watchful eyes of history. In the article it was written:

“Earthenware from the Muromachi Period
Found During Road Repair in Shidami Village

A mysterious vase was unearthed during construction and repair work on a road in Shirotori District, Shidami Village, Higashi-Kasugai County at around 10 o’clock on the morning of the 6th. Approximately 18.8cm in diameter and 27.9cm tall, it is fired with ash glaze in a style commonly associated with “Toshiro-yaki,” or ceramic jars used to store sake for Shinto rituals. On its body is vividly engraved the following three lines.

Treasure Offered in Holy Ritual to the Hakuzan Shrine
By Mizuno Yonen Masaharu, of Mikuriya in Seto, Yamadanokori County, Bishuu Province (present-day Aichi Prefecture)
Second Year of Einin (1294), Lucky Day in November

According to the appraisal of Mr Hasegawa Yoshitaka, a regional historian and mayor of Shidami Village, the ceramic work was made approximately 450~60 years ago in the Muromachi Period, and Mr Hasegawa claims it is an extremely important artefact for archaeological research.

Mitsuoka Tadanari.jpg
(Mitsuoka Tadanari, Curator at the Nezu)
Image taken from "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin

Mt. Togoku is famous for being the origin of Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) civilization, and many kofun-style ancient tombs have been found in this region along with many artefacts. In Shirotori can there also be found old kofun-style tombs, yet where this particular artefact was discovered is slightly separated from such a location. However, other shards have been unearthed from this site during repairs of the local road, and as this particular vessel is especially grand, it can be said that a truly fine material for research has been excavated.

A shrine has been located in this area for centuries, and this vessel is most probably a jar to hold sake to offer to the gods. It is unclear whether the jar was fired by a member of the Mizuno clan, whose name is indicted on its façade, or if a member of the Mizuno family had commissioned its creation to a local potter and then subsequently offered to the shrine.”

The snows of war would ultimately blot out the many blatant errors made therein. For example, engraved on the tsubo are the words “2nd year of Einin,” or 1294. An elementary school child, with a bit of research, could easily deduce that the work therefore could not have been made in the Muromachi Period; rather, it should have derived from a far older period, or more specifically, the Kamakura Period. Yet such snows would also erase the immense nature of the find -- an elegantly ash-glazed vase in pristine condition which explicitly states that it was made in the Kamakura Period in a style unlike any other work found in that specific era. The general public did not seem to notice the gravity of the discovery as they were so fully immersed and interested only in the news of war.

Although Hasegawa Yoshihiko, the mayor and local historian of Shidami, had been questionably quoted as attesting to the jar as a Muromachi piece, it was without question that he understood the magnitude of the Einin Tsubo. He would tell his son Torao, a future foreign correspondent for the Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper, “This tsubo is, without a doubt, an extremely important work in the history of ceramics.”

Not only did Hasegawa believe the jar to be important, it was his.

Shortly after the article was published and before the Matsudome shards were installed within the walls of the Nezu Museum, Kato Tokuro invited two curators associated with the Nezu, the young curator Mitsuoka Tadanari and Seto archaeologist (and future principal of the Seto Ceramics Institute) Akatsuka Mikiya to Hasegawa’s home in Shidami. For the first time ever, the infamous Einin Tsubo would be witnessed by a 3rd party. In fact, Tokuro had eloquently explained to the two researchers that Hasegawa himself had unearthed an amazing ceramic artefact from a construction site, directly contradicting the newspaper article’s claim that a 3rd party had excavated the work and that Hasegawa had merely appraised it. Already, one could find that the tale of the Einin was beginning to slowly fall apart.

Mitsuoka was certainly impressed with the tsubo. “This is a rare jar indeed!” he exclaimed. Yet the young Mitsuoka would garner the same impression when he would come into contact with the Matsudome shards several months later. Akatsuka, however, was dubious, tilting his head in thought as he examined the work. At this time, Akatsuka would sketch the first image of the Einin for archaeological research, as well as sketching the images of various shards that would mysteriously be reconstructed to form another yet lesser-known relic of infamy, the Yokoku Renben-mon Flower Vase.

Several months later in early Spring, Hasegawa further invited Mori Toku-ichiro, the village archaeologist, to his home, along with 50 local teachers and historians, to confront the object of his affection. Huddled together in a small room within his rather large traditionally Japanese-style home, Mori recalls their conversation in a letter he had written, which remains today.

Hasegawa asked Mori, “Mori-san, what do you think of this tsubo?”
Mori: “This is an absolutely incredible thing; how did you find it?”
Hasegawa: “Oh, I’d dug it up at the place where they were doing road construction. There were actually two tsubo, but this one was more interesting, so I took this one.”
Mori: “This is truly magnificent, but I wonder why its owner wasn’t able to safely deliver the jar to the Hakuzan Shrine…. Of course it wasn’t easy to reach the shrine in those days. Especially considering that engraved in the jar is the month of November, the weather would prevent a safe journey from this time to December and New Year’s. Or does the month of November mean that the proprietor had passed away in the wintertime? In any event, they must have buried the set of vases together in prayer. But this is such a magnificent discovery. Are you not going to announce this find?”

Hasegawa: “I haven’t yet, but do you think you will be able to? You are far better at announcing these things than I.”
Mori: “I understand. Then I’ll bring this up with the Koko-gaku Zasshi (Journal of Archaeology), but I don’t know a thing about ceramics or the Mizuno family. And there’re too many people here today, and I wouldn’t even have the time to write down its proper dimensions. Can you do the research and send it to me?”
Hasegawa: “Of course.”

A week later, Mori received a write-up on the Einin Tsubo from Hasegawa. Yet in the letter, Hasegawa had chosen to exclude his name as the owner of the vase. Asked why, Hasegawa curiously explained to Mori that, “I haven’t paid the full amount for it yet, so it’s hard for me to say that it’s already mine. I wouldn’t want to publicise it and see its price inflate, so can you do me a favour and exclude my name from the article?” Mori didn’t think much of it, and did as he was told.

Interestingly enough, Hasegawa had mentioned the existence of two tsubos. As if predicting the future, the Einin Tsubo would indeed become a pair.

April, 1943. The cherry blossoms in the Minami-Aoyama district were in full bloom, and painted the gardens of the Nezu Museum in champagne pink. Although Hasegawa had just written a letter to Mori alluding to his lack of possession rights to the Einin Tsubo because of his inability to pay for it in full, astonishingly, Kato Tokuro would approach Mitsuoka Tadanari with the following proposition. With a wide grin as bright as the sun, Tokuro said to Mitsuoka, “Hasegawa Yoshitaka wishes to donate the Einin Tsubo to your museum.”

Mitsuya Miyamatsu.jpg
(Mitsuya Miyamatsu, Director of the Nezu)
Image taken from "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin

Mitsuoka had already been basked in the presence of the jar during his visit to Hasegawa’s home in early January, and without question, the young curator thought it was too good of an offer to pass up. Encouraged by the warmth of Spring and the scents of sakura, Mitsuoka asked Hasegawa to send the tsubo to the Nezu. And on a glorious Spring day, the Tsubo was delivered to the museum by Hasegawa, who took his leave soon thereafter.

Koyama Fujio, our unknowing protagonist, wrote excitingly in his memoirs about the jar that would skew the balance of his life forever. “I first saw the Einin Tsubo together with Okuda Seiichi, the head of the Oriental Ceramics Research Institute (and Koyama’s “sensei,” in a sense), Sato Shinzo, owner of the Mingei shop Minato-ya in Ginza (and a future key figure in the Japan Ceramics Society), and the young curator Mitsuoka.” Sato, it should be said here, would eventually play a pivotal role in brokering the sale of both Einin Tsubos (yes, there were two) to various collectors. Yet at this time, the man was innocently passionate. Wrote Koyama, “In my long career of researching old kilns, I’ve never been so excited in my life.”

Mitsuoka understood that with this donation the issue of gratuity would again arise, much like how the Nezu had thanked Tokuro with 2000 yen (or 1 million yen today). Mitsuoka thus consulted various dealers for an appraisal of the Einn Tsubo, and reported his findings to Mitsuya Miyamatsu, the director of the Nezu. Mitsuya replied, “Very well, in any event we must repay Hasegawa for his graciousness.”

Mitsuoka soon contacted Mayor Hasegawa, telling him that, “We would like to repay your kindness. Please come to the museum at your earliest convenience.” Hasegawa travelled from Aichi to the museum immediately after receiving word from Mitsuoka, and when introduced to Director Mitsuya, exclaimed, “The Matsudome shards were Tokuro’s, but the Einin Tsubo is unequivocally mine. I would like to sell the Tsubo to you for 35,000 yen (or approx. 12 million yen in today’s currency). An air of silence tinged with disbelief rang through the meeting room of the Nezu. All were completely flabbergasted. Mitsuoka had only prepared 10,000 yen as gratuity, thinking this was more than a fair price for the Tsubo.

Director Mitsuya, a former chief of the Police Department at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, flushed sanguine as he banged the table in front of him with the palm of his hand. “This is absurd!” he howled as he ran out the door. Mitsuoka bowed once to Hasegawa in apology, and quickly ran after his superior. “I was briefed by you that this was to be a donation! What the hell is he thinking, asking us to pay him for the work?” barked Mitsuya. “People from Owari (Aichi Prefecture) can’t be trusted. These talks are finished.” And that was that.

Akatsuka Mikiya.jpg
(Akatsuka Mikiya, Seto Researcher)
Image taken from "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin

Koyama was nonetheless disappointed in his Director’s anger. In his memoir, Koyama wrote reluctantly, “A deal could not be reached regarding price.” And the same went for Mitsuoka, who thought at the time that “the price was a small sum in light of our endowment, oh what a waste!”

Deflated, Hasegawa carefully packaged the tsubo in a box and a wrapping cloth, and left the museum for his son Torao’s house in O-kayama, Meguro Ward, where he placed the vase for safe keeping.

But soon thereafter, the existence of the Einin Tsubo would garner national acclaim amongst researchers when the July 1943 issue of the Koko-gaku Zasshi (Journal of Archaeology), a monthly journal published by the Japan Archaeological Society, ran an article on the Einin Tsubo within its “News” column. Complete with a photo image of the magnificent tsubo, in the article, titled “Second Year of Einin-Engraved Seto Flask,” was written:

“Unearthed February, 18th Year of Showa (1943), in Shirotori, Kami-Shidami, Shidami Village, Higashi-Kasugai County, Aichi Prefecture
Height: 27.9cm Diameter of Mouth: 5.2cm Diameter of Body: 18.5cm
In the shape of a flask with a widening base, a transparent amber glaze covers the entirety of its body, with the following words engraved within its left-hand side.

Offered to the Gods at Hyakuzan Shrine
Dedicated by
Mizuno Shiro Masaharu, of Mikuriya in Seto, Yamadanokori County, Bishuu Province (present-day Aichi Prefecture)
Second Year of Einin (1294), A Day in November

Shidami Village is adjacent to Seto, and was under the control of the Mizuno family along with medieval Seto, Mizuno, Shinano and Asahi Villages. Records regarding the Mizuno clan can be found in the Jisho and Juei Periods, and they also appear in the (historical text) Azumikagami. In regards to Seto flasks that have explicit engravings of historical dates, a pair with the engraving “First Year of Showa (1312)” belonging to the Hakuzan Shrine in Nagataki, Hokuno Village, Gujo County, Gifu Prefecture has been designated National Treasures; however this particular flask with a key historical engraving is now considered to be the oldest in existence.”

It is hardly difficult to point out the many discrepancies between the facts stated in the Koko-gaku Zasshi article and the earlier Chubu Nippon Shimbun article. The latter article states that the shrine in question was a so-called Hyakuzan Shrine, whereas the earlier article had named the Hakuzan Shrine. In fact, there is no Hyakuzan shrine in Gifu or Aichi. The donator is named “Mizuno Shiro Masaharu” in the latter article, which correctly depicts the engravings, whereas the earlier article misreads the words as “Mizuno Shiro (Four Years) Masaharu.” And the latter article correctly alludes to the engravings as being made in “A Day in November,” rather than “Lucky Day in November.” Both articles, thus, are helplessly erred.

More bizarre is the fact that until recently, it was thought that a man named Ono Katsutoshi had written the Koko-gaku Zasshi article, as his name lies next to the article itself. In fact, Ono the archaeologist was in Beijing for 9 years, including the year 1943, and could not have returned to Japan to research and write about this utterly fascinating tsubo. Rather, the true author was none other than Mori Toku-ichiro, who was commissioned by Hasegawa to write about a subject he had no clue about. And strangely enough, his name was excluded from the article, which was a first for the prestigious journal.

Dejected that his offer to sell the Einin Tsubo was equivocally eschewed, Hasegawa travelled slowly and with heavy heart to his son Torao’s home. Leaving the tsubo in his son’s hands, Hasegawa told his son to “protect this tsubo with your life!” Torao did not question his father’s orders, and his wife Shuko heeded his request close to her heart. It would be Shuko who would rescue the Einin Tsubo from the inferno that was the great Tokyo fire bombings and return the vase to Shidami during her husband’s absence in the war. Yet Torao, who would become a leading member of the then-prominent Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper, would later speak these words that would shed light on some of the shadows surrounding the Einin Tsubo.

“My father genuinely believed the Einin Tsubo was real, and treated it as if it was a real treasure. It was Tokuro who told my father that it actually came from the repository of a shrine. But he had asked my father to say that my father had dug it up, and this is why the story of the road construction site was made.”

How did Hasegawa really obtain the Einin Tsubo? And what was Tokuro’s relationship with the mayor of Shidami? Like how darkness leads to further darkness, the trail of questions left behind by the Einin Tsubo only splinter further into a blurred kaleidoscope of lies.

(Continued in Chapter 3: A Sunny Afternoon in Seto)
Due in November
(Continued in Chapter 4: The Selling of the Einin)
Due in December
(Continued in Chapter 5: The Birth of an Important Cultural Property)
Due in January

Written by Wahei Aoyama, based on the book "Einin no Tsubo" by Matsui Kakushin
posted by Toku Art Limited at 20:59| Comment(0) | Einin Tsubo Incident | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


The Einin Tsubo, Chapter 1: Prelude to a Myth

Foreword and Chapter One
A Prelude to a Myth

The Einin Tsubo 1.jpg

For many years, I had wanted to write about the Einin Tsubo. Unfortunately, each attempt ended in failure. The reasons for this are plenty.

One reason was a lack of time to properly research the subject (this continues to elude me), and another was an uncertainty towards my own ability to write about the Einin Tsubo with enough eloquence and faithfulness towards the subject matter to give it the proper treatment that it so rightfully deserves.

I remain uncertain as to whether there is a "proper" way to write about this sensationally fugacious subject, and the Einin Tsubo to this very day continues to abound in a plume of fabrication and libel. Will the truth out? Perhaps more fascinating than adjudicating the colours of truth are the characters that colour the tale itself. I find it is extremely easy to become lazy with protagonist depictions and assign them to becoming mere caricatures, that there are merely foils to one another, polar opposites, as different as night and day, sun and moon -- the brilliant culpability of Kato Tokuro, the insipid gullibility of Koyama Fujio, the greedy arrogance of Tokuro, the untainted innocence of Koyama. Yet I would like to stress and make clear within the following story is that such one-sided parsimony hardly does justice in portraying and unlocking the complexities that simmer within the two lead characters. Man is known for carrying the weight of contradictions within one’s self, and these two men were hardly any different. In each lies the seven seas of lies and truth, and none are infallible, as are none more innocent than the other. And what of Kato (Okabe) Mineo? Victim or culprit? Honest angel or shrewd strategist?

In any event, I only wish to assume the role of the storyteller and eschew that of the arbiter, and hope that the following dramatic essays (which will be published within this blog in separate and somewhat sporadic monthly instalments that I estimate will end with 10 or so chapters) will be read with a sympathetic pinch of salt. Most importantly, and perhaps with the hope of exonerating my own biases, I wish to make claim that the onus lies with the reader to discern between the plethora of lies and truth that shroud the Einin Tsubo in both mystery and myth.

* Disclaimer *

The following chapters are narrative fiction (or is it called dramatised non-fiction?) based on a true story with researched facts taken and supplemented from the book by Matsui Kakushin entitled Einin no Tsubo -Gisaku no Tanmatsu, published by Asahi Shimbun Publishing in 1990. By interpreting and re-organizing the telling of the events by the author through the kaleidoscope of fiction, I have taken the liberty in creating a dramatization of the events and characters pertaining to the Einin Tsubo Incident. In no way do I lay claim to any of the assertions and research laid down by Mr Matsui, and I wish to make clear that the following chapters are inspired in full by the work of Mr Matsui. Factual credit, therefore, is given to Mr Matsui and his meticulous work in researching this particularly nebulous subject, except in areas where facts have been added for narrative coherence. The overwhelming majority of the narrative and the sequence of events are predominantly my own making.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited/Yufuku Gallery
September 28th, 2009

Chapter One
Prelude to a Myth -- The Nezu Gifts

February snow fell softly upon the elegant garden grounds of the Nezu Museum in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo. It is 1943, and the Japanese army, already demoralized by a string of defeats in the South Pacific, had recently been decimated in Guadalcanal. This particular museum was hardly oblivious to the workings of the war, as the Doolittle Raid, the first air bombing of Tokyo, had nearly punctured the institution on April 18th, 1942. The Nezu was in the midst of displaying an exhibition of exquisite Chinese celadon on this fateful day, and Mitsuoka Tadanari, a young curator who would eventually become a leading member of the Japan Ceramic Society, panicked as the bombs struck at Tokyo’s heart. The artworks were unscathed, yet many of the citizens of Tokyo were hardly as lucky.

If piety had a Japanese incarnation, Koyama Fujio (b.1900 – d. 1975) was it. A third-generation devout Christian of Quaker affiliation who grew up going to Sunday school, Koyama in 1943, often dressed in tie and tweed, was not only an advisor to the Nezu Museum, but was also the editor of the prestigious bimonthly ceramic journal “Tohji” published by the Toyo Toji Kenkyusho (Oriental Ceramics Research Institute) and a researcher at the Tokyo Imperial Museum (the present Tokyo National Museum). Koyama at the time was straight as an arrow, diligent and devoted, studiously passionate when deep in research. He was a potter/scholar with a knowledge and vision beyond his years, and was a formidable authority to be reckoned with. Ultimately, the Koyama of then was a very different man from the incomprehensible drunk which devoured and overshadowed the latter years of his life.

Koyama Fujio.jpg
(Koyama Fujio)

Koyama’s personal story may be summed up by a single word, tsubo (jar), a word he himself so aptly composed in calligraphy shortly before his death. Little did Koyama know in 1943 that the Einin Tsubo was one of those utterly magnificent, beautiful yet ominous works of art that would become the Pandora’s Box of his own self-destruction. We do not know or realize these things at such times, but upon closer, careful inspection, one would discover that the strings of our tightrope were already unravelling right before our very eyes.

Kani-Kosen, or the Crab Cannery Ship, was an influential Socialist novel written by Kobayashi Kitaji in 1929 which idealized the class struggles of the proletariat (workers on ship) versus the bourgeoisie (owners of said ship), and which recently has seen a revival in popularity, in particular due to the increasing inequalities between the supposedly “middle” class structures of our modern age. Socialism was in true vogue at the time of Kobayashi’s novel, and Koyama himself, tickled by socialistic tendencies during the rise of Taisho Democracy in 1921, renounced his studies at the present-day Hitotsubashi University and boarded a crab cannery ship off the coast of Kamchatka Peninsula in 1923, perhaps to feel the pain of the working classes. On board, the educated Koyama served as a translator between the Japanese and Russian crewmembers, and the sturdily built and strapping lad, a health fanatic and sports aficionado, would even overpower the muscular Russian sailors in bouts of sumo.

The Kanto Great Earthquake in September of 1923 would provoke Koyama to cancel his 3-month infatuation for an ascetically difficult working-class existence, and the young man would soon return to Tokyo as a volunteer worker to help victims of the disaster, perhaps also to satisfy his Christian beliefs of self-sacrifice and service to society. This insatiable idealism for a “greater cause” would lead Koyama to enlist in the military, and it was there that the impressionable Koyama would be introduced to the works of Rosanin and Chinese ceramics by his colleague, the aristrocratic Okabe Chosei, born the wealthy son of former feudal lord Okabe Nagahiro.

Inspired by the beauty of Japanese and Chinese ceramics, Koyama headed straight to the library. Night and day, he would study the histories of ceramics from different ages, and view the photographic images of masterworks. Yet mere knowledge was not enough to satisfy his voracious hunger for beautiful objects, and he quickly decided to begin an apprenticeship at Yano Toto’s kiln in Seto in 1925, and soon thereafter, with Kyoto’s Mashimizu Zoroku II to create works of his own liking. The following year, Koyama opened his first independent kiln in Kyoto near the kiln of Ishiguro Munemaro (1893-1968), the future Living National Treasure. They would remain friends for life.

Yet Koyama’s fledgling fascination with creating pottery soon dwindled, perhaps due to his inability to throw and glaze works with the prowess of his Kyoto contemporaries. Rather, Koyama realized that his raison d’etre was not in creating ceramics (of which he would return to in the latter stages of his life), but in the archaeological research and excavation of ancient and medieval pottery. Returning to Tokyo in 1930, Koyama would become a member of the Oriental Ceramics Research Institute and begin a productive and prominent career as an archaeologist/art historian. His studies would bring forth a flurry of important articles on the subject of Chinese ceramics in particular, and after joining the Tokyo Imperial Museum in 1941, Koyama would travel to China in the midst of the Sino-Japanese War and make the most important discovery of his career -- the unearthing of the Song Dynasty white porcelain kiln at Ding Yao.

Koyama built the foundations for scientific research of Japanese and East Asian ceramics that placed prime precedence on evidence. In other words, archaeological findings such as shards were considered by Koyama to be the greatest infallible evidence of a certain style or ceramic period, and it were shards which revealed the skills and techniques of peoples and cultures past. His research would influence a legion of academics, and many of his scientific findings live on today.

The already-influential Koyama, then, trembled with excitement upon hearing that Seto’s Kato Tokuro, also already a prominent scholar and potter, had excavated what appeared to be approximately 700 Old Seto shards (Kamakura period 1185-1333) from the remnants of a landslide-stricken cliff after a powerful typhoon on August 15th, 1925.

In his diary, Koyama wrote:

“In February of 1943, Kato Tokuro explained to me how he discovered the remains of the Seto Matsudome kiln.” Kato said, “That year (1925) after the strong winds had passed I went to the woods where the remains of Seto’s Old Kilns were located, and saw that a cliff had collapsed, and lying in the rubble were shards with beautiful carved patterns that I had never seen before. I’ve never been so exhilarated in my life, and proceeded to excavate hundreds of shards. But I felt that it would be best that these are documented for the public good, and that’s why I decided to donate these shards as gifts to the Nezu Museum.”

Tokuro’s eyes sparkled as he spoke passionately of his find to Koyama. Kato Tokuro (1898-1985) was already well-respected in artistic circles for his Shino chawan that embodied the aesthetics of the Momoyama, in particular his magnificent 1930 opus, Tsurara (Icicle), owned by the great Masuda Donnoh. Yet not only known for his mastery of Shino, his fame (or infamy) was further bolstered by his scientific research into the old kilns of Seto, even writing a book in 1933 called “Ki-Seto” which effectively refuted the existence of Kato Shiro Kagemasa as the founder of Seto ware. For this sensational new take on Seto, Tokuro’s house was burned down by arsons unhappy with his findings, and his standing in Seto was precarious at best. In this light, Tokuro could be seen as unafraid of controversy.

Kato Tokuro.jpg
(Kato Tokuro)

Mitsuoka Tadanari approached the museum director, Mitsuya Miyamatsu, for his opinion after hearing that Tokuro wished to donate the Matsudome shards. “Why shouldn’t we?” was Mitsuya’s reply. Indeed, none had an inkling of doubt towards Tokuro’s findings. And why should they? Works that were thought to have been born from the Matsudome kiln during its heyday were already known to exist, including a vase, jar and bowl.

The records that remain at the Nezu show the following:

Seto Matsudome
Discovered by: Kato Tokuro
Donated by: Kato Tokuro
Date of Donation: March 31st, Showa 18 (1943)
Number of Items: 690

For his kind generosity, the Nezu Museum would pay Tokuro 2000 yen or approximately 1 million yen in today’s currency.

After the shards were delivered safely to the Nezu, Koyama and Mitsuoka took their time to study each and every fragment to learn more about this mysterious and little-known kiln in Seto. Koyama said to Mitsuoka as he examined the shards of a gourd-shaped flower vase much like vases discovered from the end of the Goryeo Period in the Korean Peninsula, “I’ve never seen anything like these shards in any of Old Seto works. The Matsudome kiln must have been an advanced kiln.” Mitsuoka, mystified, replied, “It’s baffling to think that someone in Seto during the Kamakura Period could have copied such a work during this time.”

The curtains of winter would soon melt away to the warmth of Spring, and soon after the shards were deposited by Tokuro, the Einin Tsubo would be delivered to the Nezu Museum by the mayor of Shidami Village in Aichi Prefecture named Hasegawa Yoshitaka.

‘Tis then, a brilliant Spring morning in April of 1943, that the Einin Tsubo and Koyama Fujio would fatefully first meet.

(Continued in Chapter 2: Into Literature, Enter Infamy)
posted by Toku Art Limited at 16:44| Comment(0) | Einin Tsubo Incident | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


News from Eastern Skies

Although an impending typhoon has coloured the skies above Tokyo a bleak grey, the forecast for Japan's political future is bright. As many of you may know, the LDP has lost their grip over government, and a new age for parliamentary politics in Japan has dawned, for better or for worse.

August has traditionally been a quiet month in many sectors of business, and the art world is not alone in sharing a bit of peace and quiet before the busy Autumn season unfolds. However, I've been far busier than I could have imagined due to preparations for upcoming exhibitions, both domestic and abroad, as well as meeting various artists and clients. Naturally the time able to be allocated to this blog have dwindled as a result, even though I had many interesting topics to write about.

In any case, I hope to begin writing much more in September, starting with a new monthly series on the Einin Tsubo Incident (the battle between two brilliant individuals - the legendary Kato Tokuro and Koyama Fujio, among others).

Furthermore, the Yufuku website will be completely revamped by late September, and the Toku homepage, which had represented Yufuku's international affairs, will be replaced by a new English website under Yufuku's name. I apologise for the confusion, yet the relationship between Yufuku (my father's company) and Toku (my company) is being reorganised for the better. Expect the new website to feature more content, and perhaps more importantly, will be updated far more often.

Lastly, it is with deep sadness and regret that I announce the death of our beloved lacquer artist Suzuki Mutsumi (鈴木睦美 1942 - 2009), who passed away on May 17th, 2009 from kidney failure. All of us at Yufuku were in London during this time, and returned to Tokyo several days later to hear the fateful news, which shook us all by surprise. His death has not been openly publicised due to the wishes of Mutsumi-san's family. However, more than 3 months have passed since his death, and the time is ripe to pay our respects to one of the greatest lacquer artists of his generation.


mutsumi 129.jpg
(Mutsumi-san's beautiful home, which brings back many pleasant memories)

Lacquered Sake Cup

Black Lacquer Bowl

Silver Lacquer Bowl

Various Works

Lacquered Bowls

Various Works

Lacquered Plate with Gold Makie Motif of Rice Fields

Silver and Gold Lacquer Plate with Roaring Wave Motif

Suzuki Mutsumi 2009 Collect Inaho.jpg
(Perhaps his last great work which captured the amazing artistry and craftsmanship of Suzuki Mutsumi, a gold makie lacquered box of golden rice fields, made in 2008)

The lacquer world has lost one of its most world-renowned artists, and all of us will miss him so.


Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

posted by Toku Art Limited at 17:41| Comment(0) | News and Updates | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Pyramids of Inspiration - The Debut of Shakunaga Gaku and his Sekiso Ceramics

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(Shakunaga Gaku, Sekiso 2009)

Every now and then, young artists make their way to our doors, seeking advice on their works and their careers. Many have yet to make their debuts, and are unsure as to how to travel upon the long and winding road of aesthetics. In fact, recent years have seen the number of visitations by such artists swell tenfold, perhaps due to the increasingly dire economic conditions within the Japanese art world.

The yearly extinction of once-prominent ceramic competitions, the diminishing of influence once personified by the Nitten and Dento Kogeiten, the lack of funding at academic institutions and museums, the dwindling of sales at the prestigious department stores scattered throughout urban locales... it is not surprising to find that many young (and old) ceramists simply give up the profession in order to pursue a life of sustainability. Others desperately seek more and more venues to exhibit their works to a discerning public with actual purchasing power. The numbers are few in Japan.

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(Shakunaga's picturesque home in Iwase, Toyama Prefecture)

On the other hand, some ceramists simply stop by to casually view our exhibitions and artists. Shakunaga Gaku (釋永岳 1978-) was one such artist. Four years ago, Shakunaga, who had yet to make his debut, stopped by Yufuku to examine the Yamada Emu (currently Jozan IV) exhibition held in 2005.

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(Inside Shakunaga's home, front exhibition space)

My father, Mitsumasa "Tom" Aoyama, who happened to be in the gallery that fateful day, hit it off with Shakunaga, a built and strapping youth with large features and a humble spirit. The artist did not have any of his works with him upon his first visit, nor did he have any images of his works. Yet even with this brief encounter, my father was struck by the sublime character of this youth's soul. Often times, a work is an external expression of one's inner self. In this light, one can catch a glimpse of an artist's work by the artist's character - this is fully evident by the almost identical nature of Mihara Ken and his work. The same holds for each and every artist we consider to be a Yufuku artist.

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(Sitting in Shakunaga's home with Shojiguchi Rikie 小路口力恵, another Toyama-based artist who works in glass and who, along with Shakunaga, may very well represent the next generation of Yufuku artists)

Impressed with Shakunaga, my father would soon travel to the young artist's kiln in Toyama to learn more about the artist and his work. Shakunaga was born and raised near the soaring mountains of Toyama, his father Yukio a local potter. At the time, the artist was still experimenting with glazes and forms, and created functional works that were influenced by his father. Yet he wished to break free from the contraptions bound and set by functionality, and wanted to explore the world of abstract/conceptual ceramics that placed a premium on sculptural forms. In this sense, Shakunaga's direction and the aesthetics of Yufuku became entwined.

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(With Shakunaga's wife and child, glass artist Shojiguchi Rikie, and Tom Aoyama on a melting summer day, August 2008)

Four years and numerous trips to Toyama would pass until Shakunaga would create a ceramic style that was refreshingly original and stylistically captivating, and worth exhibiting to the public. Such works are found in his current Yufuku exhibition, and are called Sekiso (積想), or literally, "the stacking up of inspiration."

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(Work vaguely reminscent of the Oribe Jomon vases of legendary Okabe Mineo)

Each and every Shakunaga work is comprised of individual clay slabs of varying thickness that are flattened using tatara boards and stacked upon one another in layers. Each slab is torn from a larger slab of clay using his hands, which leaves a rugged texture to his surfaces. The clay used is a mixture of local Toyama clay, porcelain clay, and the Mogusa clay used in Shino ware. After an initial bisque-firing, Oribe glaze is air-brushed onto the surfaces, and the work is fired again in a gas kiln for approx. 30 hours.

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Shakunaga's technique is unique, and is the materialization of his fascination with stacking clay pieces together as if composing architecture. The artist create forms devoid of pre-conconceived ideas, but rather, tries to "find a form through stacking each piece together and instilling it with his inner emotions, his experiences, his instincts." The resulting forms are thus the embodiments of his myriad inspirations, and like the pyramids of antiquity, are structurally built up from tiny blocks of earth.

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Considering that the current Yufuku exhibition is his first body of work in his youthful career, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the artist's swirving yet minimalistic silhouettes. His stacking technique leaves room for great potential and evolution, and it is interesting to see what sort of forms he will discover within himself next.

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(Honoho Geijutsu, the venerable ceramics quarterly, also picked up on Shakunaga in their recent Oribe feature)

I am less impressed with his Oribe glaze - not that the quality of the glazing is bad, but Oribe has already been the muse of many, many great modern artists, for example Rosanjin, Okabe Mineo, and Koie Ryoji. Of course, the green glazing goes well with the naturalistic landscapes of his ceramics, and captures the masculine Momoyama nature of Oribe's origins. Yet why not strive for new horizons and create a signature glaze to call his own? The artist is only 31. I am sure there will be much more time for him to experiment and mature. In any case, let us enjoy his current Oribe "green" stage for what it is: an excellent debut of sculptural ceramics made by a promising young ceramist from Toyama.

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(My personal favorite - the form is very Stonehenge/portal-like. What is fascinating is not simply the overall form but the space within the form. It is the simple emptiness which is wonderful)

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(Shakunaga Gaku)

One can view the show in full at Yufuku's website here.

Please send inquiries regarding availability, prices and dimensions to the following address: info@toku-art.com

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 10:38| Comment(1) | Shakunaga Gaku (Oribe) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


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


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."


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.
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Mihara Ken - Forms Borne From Within

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Mihara Ken (1958- 三原研)'s first solo exhibition since his Japan Ceramic Society Award Exhibition in August of 2008 will take place from June 4th to 13th at Yufuku Gallery in Tokyo, Japan (Sun, Mon closed).

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His new works exhibit the beginning of a new chapter in Mihara's career. The artist, much like Kamoda Shoji (who he is often compared to), is hardly complacent in recreating the same forms and firings that had captured much acclaim in recent years. Rather, he wishes to give birth to new forms and firings that "are naturally borne from (his) inner spirit." Thus, no longer will we see these two signature forms that have been widely collected by museums the world over in the past two years alone.

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Rather, his new forms exhibit even greater simplicity and a stark, bulb-esque minimalism that are, in essence, a window into the mind of the artist. Mihara's new works pulsate with a relaxed and assured confidence in his own abilities - it seems as if the artist is well aware that he is now at the height of his powers. Yet where many artists will tend to overdo and outshow his or her abilities at their prime by trying too hard, or in other words, falling towards pretension or awkward contrivement, Mihara steers toward a far more serene aptitude. Furthermore, the new works also exhibit a range of tones, from the poetically austere to vivid oranges and blues, which are a result of a revamped firing technique that he has further tweaked from the experiments of his past Kigen (Genesis) series.

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We hope you enjoy the new works of Mihara Ken, unquestionably one of the leading ceramic artists of his generation. For a detailed preview of the works, or for any enquiries into prices and availability, please email us at info@toku-art.com. We look forward to seeing you at the exhibition.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

ps. In the next few days I will be posting an interview article with Mihara-san. Please stay tuned.

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posted by Toku Art Limited at 12:47| 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


Collect 2009 Post-Show Report

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(Facade of Saatchi Gallery, Venue of Collect 2009)

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(Mitsumasa "Tom" Aoyama at work, along with Wahei Aoyama)

Art fairs never cease to amaze me, nor do they fail to enthrall and entrance both visitors and exhibitors alike. Lights flash, artworks glisten, rumours abound, and ultimately, works sell en mass, with the metallic sounds of credit card readers heard ricocheting off the whitewashed halls of the Saatchi Gallery, the brand-new venue of Collect 2009.

This oiled amalgamation of art and consumption is strangely exotic, and at the same time, oddly intoxicating. Exhaustion, in eager friendship with the laws of gravity, had already pulled me down from the preview (unquestionably the busiest day of the fair), but surprisingly enough, I found myself back up on Day 1, frighteningly energetic and ready to meet an entirely different kind of clientele for each and every day of the show. It is these meetings that please me most -- listening to what people viscerally feel about the art that we present. As I had selected each and every work, it is especially gratifying when a collector who had never before seen Japanese art in his life exclaim that the works on display are the most beautiful he had ever seen. Arigato gozaimasu.

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(Arranged display before the opening....)

And as the curtains closed on Collect 2009, it is fair to claim that this edition of the show, held for the first time at a venue for contemporary art (ie Charles Saatchi's new pad), was a very different entity from what had preceded it at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2008. Not only was Collect shortened to 3 days from 5, but the gallery space could now physically allow for exhibitors to expand their stand sizes, which was an impossibility at the V&A. This, in turn, allowed for exhibitors to be more ambitious with their display designs, and more importantly, with the types of works they would exhibit.

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(Many, many visitors with kind words for our art and artists)

Likewise, I found a new challenge in assembling an orchestra of works that could be shown as a symphonic collage, and would not be drowned from the sheer size of the enlargened stand (which I also had to spend much time in carefully designing in order to accentuate each and every work). I believe this preparation was vital to our success at Collect 2009.

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(Major work by Nagae Shigekazu which received perhaps the most acclaim from visitors, on par with our Fukami Sueharu and Ikuta Niyoko works, which can be viewed in previous entries).

I'm of the opinion that Collect is still going through a learning curve, and will progressively improve with time. Of course, what is paramount is the quality of the art on display. I am curious to see what sort of galleries are added to next year's exhibitor list, if any, alongside the usual suspects, and hope that even greater synergy can be bolstered as a result.

All of us at Toku Art and Yufuku Gallery sincerely thank the many visitors to our stand, and we extend to you our deepest gratitude for taking the time to speak with us and enjoy the works on display -- we report each and every comment to our artists, and they too are extremely happy to hear from you.

We look forward to seeing you again at Collect 2010 -- our planning has already begun for next year's show, and as always, please expect to be pleasantly surprised with the works and artists we will be presenting.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

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ps. Next Thursday is the start of Mihara Ken's (三原研 1958- ) first exhibition of new works since his Japan Ceramic Society Award exhibition in August 2008. Mihara-san amazes me in his ability to constantly challenge himself by discarding old forms (however popular) to create new ones. For this upcoming show, he will be presenting completely new forms that have never been exhibited before. Perhaps even more minimalistic than his previous works, we find them to be his best work yet. And his firings? Mihara-san has also tweaked his firing technique, and this has unlocked a new range of landscapes on his stoneware surfaces. For previews, please email us at info@toku-art.com.

posted by Toku Art Limited at 17:59| Comment(0) | News and Updates | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Collect 2009 - Live Update

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Staff from both Toku Art and Yufuku are in London at this very moment exhibiting at the Collect Art Fair 2009, and today marks the morning before the 2nd official day of the event.

Before the start of Collect on Thursday (preview night), we were slightly worried as to the economic climate of Britain and the EU. Yet to our pleasant surprise, we have reconfirmed that the demand for the very best in contemporary Japanese art continues to be strong. Tall and abundant praise has been given to us from new and old clients in regards to this year's collection of artworks (which took me a year to assemble), and towards the display/layout of our stand. With works by Nagae Shigekazu, Takeyama Naoki, Ikuta Niyoko and Takagaki Atsushi selling out during the 1st day alone, I think it's already safe to say that this year's show is another success.

Furthermore, we are pleased to announce that the Victoria & Albert Museum has purchased a seminal work of glass by Ikuta Niyoko for their permanent collection. As you can see by the image below, the work was acquired through the Art Fund Collective, which is an excellent competition-based public fund given to museums in order to acquire art for their collection.

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Congratulations to Ikuta-san!

There are now 2 more days left of the 3-day fair. I truly look forward to welcoming you to our humble stand.

From London skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 15:21| Comment(0) | News and Updates | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


The Future of Cloisonne

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Takeyama Naoki Collection for Yufuku/Toku Art 2009

One can safely claim that Japanese ceramics has forged a stellar reputation and an avid following throughout the world in the 21st century. There is something about the artform and its artists that continue to captivate not only collectors of art but so-called Japanophiles who may not be well-versed in traditional Japanese aesthetics per se. At the same time, other traditional Japanese crafts such as lacquerware, for example, have also been cherished in the West for its quality and collectibility, perhaps evidenced by lacquer's colloquial moniker as "Japan."

Reverie by Naoki Takeyama.jpg (Yumegatari 'Reverie' by Takeyama Naoki 武山直樹)

Yet compared to these two mediums, the art of shippo, or Japanese cloisonne (enamelled metalwork), has been gravely overlooked throughout the years, not only globally but in Japan itself. Cloisonne itself is an ancient art. Born in the Near East, shippo would eventually travel further east along the cultural currents of the Silk Road, and ultimately, reach its zenith in the Far East. In the Meiji to Taisho periods, leading shippo artists such as Namikawa Yasuyuki and Namikawa Sosuke created works that were in many ways the absolute culmination of Japanese cloisonne. Their works today, rippling with elegant exoticism, are still widely collected for being emblematic of Japanese export ware during the Meiji period.

Devotion by Naoki Takeyama.jpg
(Kogare 'Devotion' by Takeyama Naoki 武山直樹)

Unfortunately, it is not exaggeration to claim that Japanese cloisonne since the deaths of the two Namikawas had not witnessed a charismatic artist who would elevate the art into the common national psyche of the Japanese people, much like how artists such as Kato Tokuro or Rosanjin would fully establish Japanese ceramics into the national consciousness.

Time Flow by Naoki Takeyama.jpg
(Tokiyo 'Time Flow' by Takeyama Naoki 武山直樹)

Takeyama Naoki (1974- ), however, may very well be the young, charismatic artist that the world of shippo has been waiting for. Takeyama wields the ancient technique with an electric modernity that calls to mind the pop-art of the 1960's and the minimalistic, asymmetrical designs of Japanese fashion designers of the 1980's.

Head of his class at the prestigious Tokyo University of the Arts, Takeyama achieved the Grand Prix at the Japan Cract Exhibition at the young age of 25, while winning an array of awards since. Publically collected by Toyota City (his hometown) and his alma mater, along with the recent acquisition of his work by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London during Collect 2008, Takeyama's metalwork is seen as a stunning reinterpretation of an ancient art, and ultimately, proposes to cloisonne a wealth of new possiblities.

Reverie in Navy Blue by Naoki Takeyama.jpg
(Yumegatari 'Reverie in Navy' by Takeyama Naoki 武山直樹)

Shown in this blog are several of Takeyama's new works made especially for Collect 2009. Each and every work is elegantly hand-pinched from a single sheet of copper, which in itself is an amazing feat. The glazes and gold or silver leaf are not fired with wires, as in traditional cloisonne, but are meticulously applied using a small sieve and a bamboo paddle. This is also a mind-boggling process that can take up to 20 separate applications, then drying, then firing. In other words, each Takeyama work epitomizes the refined amalgamation of extreme technique and imagination, and are, in essence, the future of Japanese shippo.

Devotion in Blue by Naoki Takeyama.jpg
(Kogare 'Devotion in Blue' by Takeyama Naoki 武山直樹)

I believe Takeyama Naoki will be the artist that bravely leads Shippo into the 21st century. He has it all -the wild imagination, and the bold technique to materialize this imagination into art. We hope that many will take the time to view his work in London next month during Collect 2009 and say hello to Takeyama-san, who will also be at our stand. He is an amazing artist, and represents the very best of contemporary Japanese art.

Ephemeral by Naoki Takeyama.jpg
(Tamayura 'Ephemeral' by Takeyama Naoki 武山直樹)

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
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Collect 2009 -May 15th to 17th, Saatchi Gallery, London

Fukami Sueharu 2009 Collect Tenku.jpg(Tenku by Fukami Sueharu 深見陶治, 2009)

Toku Art, along with its partner Yufuku Gallery, will return to London this May to exhibit at Collect 2009, the premier European international art fair for contemporary applied and decorative objects.

This year's Collect will be relaunched from the stunning new venue - the Saatchi Gallery in London, and will be held from May 15th (Fri) to May 17th (Sun), with a private viewing day on May 14th (Thu). Yufuku/Toku will be exhibiting at Stand G11, which is on the ground floor of Gallery 4.

Nagae Shigekazu 2009 Collect Tsuranari 1.jpg(Tsuranari no Katachi by Nagae Shigekazu 長江重和 2008)

We are extremely excited with our lineup for this year. Building on our permanent six artists - Mihara Ken (stoneware), Nagae Shigekazu (porcelain), Ichino Masahiko (stoneware), Takeyama Naoki (cloisonne), Yede Takahiro (metalwork) and Suzuki Mutsumi (lacquer), three excellent artists have created new work especially for our Collect exhibition. They are:

Fukami Sueharu (porcelain)
Ikuta Niyoko (glass)
Takagaki Atsushi (celadon)

Please view Yufuku/Toku Art's 2009 PDF catalogue for the show from this link, which has commentaries and artist profiles of each artist we will be representing at Collect.

All the works featured in this blog will be exhibited at Collect 2009, and are only a fraction of all the works we will be bringing with us. We are extremely proud of this year's selection, and we sincerely hope you enjoy the works of Japan's leading contemporary artists. We truly look forward to meeting you in London this May.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

Please direct all enquiries regarding works and prices to Wahei Aoyama at info@toku-art.com.

Ikuta Niyoko 2009 Collect Kuu.jpg(Kuu by Ikuta Niyoko 生田丹代子, 2009)

Mihara Ken 2009 Collect Kigen 1.jpg(Kigen by Mihara Ken 三原研 2008)

Yede Takahiro 2009 Collect Kagero.jpg (Kagero by Yede Takahiro 家出隆浩 2009)

Takagaki Atsushi 2009 Collect Binding Light.jpg (Kosoku by Takagaki Atsushi 垣篤 2009)

Suzuki Mutsumi 2009 Collect Inaho.jpg (Inaho Makie Futamono by Suzuki Mutsumi 2009)

Naoki Takeyama 2009  Yumegatari.jpg (Yumegatari by Takeyama Naoki 武山直樹 2009)

Ichino Masahiko 2009 Collect Tea Vessel.jpg (Tamba Kurowan by Ichino Masahiko 市野雅彦 2009)

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The Dawn of a Korean Mihara Ken

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I think it was the first or second day of Yeo Byung Uk (呂棅旭 1969- )'s debut exhibition at Yufuku Gallery in 2008 that I noticed that our clients were sensing something deeply moving about the work of this virtually unknown ceramist from Korea. Judging from the curious clientele who turned up for the show, and by their enthusiastic reactions, it seemed as if I was witnessing the nascence of a ceramic artist whose talent had only just begun to flow into a larger, yet still unchartered ocean.

Surprising, moreover, was the thought that not only was this exhibition Yeo's first in Japan, it was in fact his first solo exhibition ever.

For 10 whole years after graduating with a Masters from the Musashino University of Arts and building his kiln in the outskirts of Seoul in 1998, the artist would not exhibit his works to a discerning publich; rather, he would keep his creations to himself, working diligently with clay in his studio. The reasons for this are many, but mostly stemmed from a deep disatisfaction with his ceramic style, or lack thereof. Yeo was actually skilled in various glazes and techniques, yet could not pinpoint a single style with which he wished to call his own.

Yeo Byong Uk Yufuku February 2009 046.jpgYeo Byong Uk Yufuku February 2009 032.jpg

One night, Yeo found beauty lying to be discovered in the kitchen windowsill of his family home. It was a small Korean pot made centuries ago, rustic and worn, subtle yet sublime. The work's iron-like facade was borne from polishing flaxeed oil or amani-yu (亜麻仁油) onto a stoneware surface. Yeo took the pot in his hands, and found its patina to be a source of inspiration for his future creations.

Fast-forward to 2008. Yeo's first Yufuku exhibition, for a debut by a foreign artist, was a success. A famous Tokyo contemporary art dealer, who would only be attracted to Mihara Ken ceramic works outside of his typical contemporary art landscape, found a similar espirit in the works of Yeo, and would later eagerly acquire the Korean artist's work. A dealer from Nagoya was equally enamored by Yeo's minimalistic forms and austere firings would later hold the artist's second exhibition in Nagoya. And just recently, a museum in Korea telephoned our Tokyo gallery to ask how they may get in touch with Yeo so that they could invite the artist to exhibit at their annual ceramics exhibition. After 10 years of quietly perfecting his art, recent events have finally begun to shine light onto Yeo's talent for creating contemplative stoneware shorn of excess embellishment. Beauty within simplicity is often times the most difficult element to achieve. Yeo understands this, and confidently so.

Which brings us to Yeo's current exhibition. Using stoneware clay taken from the southern regions of the Korean peninsula, Yeo forms his works by hand and by the potter's wheel, and fires his works twice (bisque-firing, main firing) using a gas kiln. The works remain unglazed after firing, and the real battle for Yeo begins by the application of the flaxeed oil. Literally rubbing the oil into the clay surface, the artist polishes out a finish that can be easily mistaken for tarnished metal. Achieving such a metallic tinge is the most difficult part of Yeo's creative process, and a final firing after extensive polishing cements the colors onto the surfaces.

Yeo Byong Uk Yufuku February 2009 027.jpg Yeo Byong Uk Yufuku February 2009 022.jpg

Yeo's demeanor is calmly serene, much like his works. Speaking in fluent Japanese, the artist says, "since a child, I enjoyed art and the process of creation. I've tried several mediums, yet it was my chance meeting with a ceramics teacher in junior high school which made me understand that working with clay was my calling."

Please find images from the artist's Yufuku exhibition here. Talented ceramists do not only hail from Japan, and Yeo's current exhibition is a clear reminder of such a truth.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

Yeo Byong Uk Yufuku February 2009 042.jpg Yeo Byong Uk Yufuku February 2009 018.jpg

Yeo Byong Uk Yufuku February 2009 009.jpg Yeo Byong Uk Yufuku February 2009 002.jpg
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Enter 2009 - Chawan National Treasures featured in Kateigaho 2008/11

Yohen Tenomoku Mikomi (Closeup).jpg
(Yohen Tenmoku Chawan 曜変天目, 12th - 13th Century, National Treasure -photo courtesy of Katei Gaho 2008 November Edition)

Welcome, 2009. May the new year bring much peace, happiness and prosperity to all.

2009 will be an impressively busy one for us at Toku Art and Yufuku Gallery. Perhaps the highlight of the year will be our 2nd consecutive participation at London's Collect Art Fair, to take place from May 14th to 17th at the brand new Saatchi Gallery. We will be bringing several jaw-dropping works, made specially for the show, by an array of leading contemporary Japanese artists, and I'm confident that we will be building on the success of our debut. Please stay tuned for updates on works to be exhibited during the show - our artists are currently placing the finishing touches to their Collect pieces, and a final lineup will be selected this February.

What's more, we've penciled in several solo exhibitions that are firsts for our gallery, and will be in some ways a departure from our classic lineup. Much excitement is in store.

In the meantime, I thought one might enjoy a prelude to contemporary beauty in the 21st century by shining a light towards the treasures borne from history.

Enter, kokuho (国宝 national treasures).

It's not very often that I read Katei Gaho, the preeminent and venerable woman's monthly that has expounded the virtues of traditional Japanese culture for quite some time. Admittedly, the only interaction I have with the rather bulky magazine is whilst waiting for my turn at the dentist's (of course, reading the magazine is hardly as excruciating).

That said, I am often impressed with their choice of subject matter, and for hard-core enthusiasts of Japanese ceramics and the way of tea, I would go so far as to say that it may very well be worth subscribing to, simply for its photography of some of the great works of Japanese art.

Take, for example, their November 2008 issue which featured a rapturous ode to the beauty of tea bowls designated by Japan as national treasures.

I applaud the editors for attempting to shoot these works so very close and personal, as if we're actually holding the works in our hands. We can almost feel their warmth upon our fingertips, and their beauty pours through its pages. Although I would have preferred that they not use artificial lighting, the images are breathtaking, nonetheless.

For those who've never seen the kodai foot ring of Koetsu's Fujisan, or who've never noticed how its rustic body glistens every so softly, or who've never realized (until this feature) that Koetsu's work was the first work ever in Japan to be coupled with a tomobako wooden box signed by the artist himself --- behold!

Fujisan Raku Chawan 1(Koetsu).jpg Fujisan Raku Chawan Closeup.jpg
(Raku Teabowl, named Fujisan 不二山, 17th Century, National Treasure)

Fujisan Raku Chawan Kodai (Koetsu).jpgFujisan Raku Chawan Tomobako (Koetsu).jpg
(The historic Fujisan box, written by the legendary Honami Koetsu 本阿弥光悦, and its sublime foot ring)

Likewise, the magnificent Yohen Tenmoku's mikomi (inner well) is more than just entrancing; it is, quite simply, an universe unto itself.

These images were scanned manually and in haste. For those who were inspired by the featured works, I highly recommend purchasing the November 2008 edition of Katei Gaho. Simply for these few images, the issue is well worth bringing home.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

Taihi Tenmoku Chawan 1.jpg Taihi Tenmoku Chawan 2.jpg
(Taihisan Sanka Tenmoku Chawan 玳皮盞散花天目, 12th to 13 Century, National Treasure)

(All images courtesy of Katei Gaho, Sekai Bunkasha Inc. )

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From Theology to Clay

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Aspring artist Tanoue Shinya (田上真也 b. 1976) is in the midst of his Tokyo debut, and I dropped by to say hello.

Tanoue's peculiar educational background often sparks conversation. Enamored by biblical tales, philosophy and world religion, Tanoue enrolled and graduated from Doshisha University's Department of Theology. I find that his interest in the abstract and the spiritual continues to brim from his latest work, which evoke seashells and the oceans of life.

tanoue shinya inax 018.jpg tanoue shinya inax 016.jpg

Perhaps to his detriment, Tanoue had placed an emphasis on participation at public competitions and group exhibitions. In a sense this choice is understandable, as a famous award can help jump-start young careers. However I find that often times the so-called value (not in a fiduciary sense but a moral one) of an artist's work is determined democratically, i.e. by the reception and response that an artist receives at a solo exhibition, wherein the risks and dangers of exposing one's true self abound.

tanoue shinya inax 005.jpg tanoue shinya inax 011.jpg

In this light, I applaud the talented Tanoue for challenging himself in the harsh eyes of the Tokyo scene, and I particularly enjoyed his movement towards more-simplistic forms, lines and curves. Although it is said that "God lies in the details," I find that simplicity is often times the hardest detail to capture. I think Tanoue-san has caught on to this notion, and let us anticipate where his new-found "spiritual simplicity" will take him further.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

tanoue shinya inax 020.jpg tanoue shinya inax 004.jpg

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Of Passions and Porcelain

Kondo Takahiro.jpg

Towering talent and an insatiable ambition coalesce in the porcelain works of Kyoto artist Kondo Takahiro (b. 1958 近藤高弘). Since his experimental Yufuku exhibition in 2004 which first found the artist combining porcelain with glass, Kondo has persevered to change the way we perceive ceramic art: does the material of ceramics presume or self-impose itself under the aegis of craft? Should or shouldn't Japanese contemporary ceramics, in particular the ceramics of conceptual artists like Kondo, be placed in the same pantheon as sculpture, painting and other examples of fine art?

These are difficult and continously under-examined questions that contemporary Japanese ceramists must face in the 21st century, and are questions that pioneers such as Yagi Kazuo and the Sodeisha did not actually answer head-on during their prime. Kondo is one of a handful of leading Japanese ceramists who are attempting to elevate Japanese ceramics onto a higher plateau of recognition, particularly within the eyes of the West.

My views in regards to this subject have changed somewhat in the past few years, and perhaps not coincidentally, I have been pleasantly surprised with the evolution of Kondo Takahiro as an artist. His first mixed media works at Yufuku were coldly geometric and uninspired at best, and my review of his porcelain at his 2005 show was also lukewarm, perhaps because I was not convinced that his ambition was equivalent to the quality of his ceramics.

However, Kondo Takahiro's most recent exhibition at Kyoto and Tokyo Takashimaya earlier this month (held in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Takashimaya's art gallery) was an absolute tour de force. Entitled "Gold and Silver," Kondo deftly amalgamated his signature silver and gold mist glazing with porcelain canvasses that were elegantly sculpted to a brisk and rhythmical minimalism. I greatly enjoyed the show, as well as my colorful conversation (perhaps debate is a better word) with the ever-eloquent Kondo-san in regards to the present state of contemporary Japanese ceramics, which in fact lasted nearly 2 hours long on the gallery floor (which may have bewildered the many gallery staff of Takashimaya).

Ambition is a difficult potion to wield effectively. However, I find that a modicum level of ambition is a prerequisite for success in most professions, and contemporary ceramics is no different. Too much can blind one's eyes, yet we must also remember that the virtues of humility are hardly antogonistic with the qualities inherent in ambition - in fact, the overwhelming majority of current and past Living National Treasures have embodied and manipulated both characteristics to their advantage.

Kondo Takahiro, in my opinion, is now at the height of his powers, and his recent works ripple with a seductive life energy that is in part charged with a provocative ambition, yet at the same time, is balanced with a cool, even objective humility towards his porcelain. Japanese ceramics today may now be at a tipping point in regards to both global recognition and stylistic trends. Perhaps Kondo Takahiro's works may help provide the answers to the many questions that Japanese ceramics have been fettered by, and ultimately, tip the art into a new and fascinating direction. Time will be our judge.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited ← finally some updates on our website! Please stay tuned for more action in due time.
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Tomorrow's Celadon, Today

takagaki atsushi 027.jpg

I traveled to Taipei the other day for both business and pleasure (albeit admittedly more the latter than the former). T'was my second time to Taiwan, and with each visit I made sure to do 2 things: eat like a drunken monkey, and make a pilgrimage to the National Palace Museum (NPM).

Perhaps the West may not be accustomed to the notion that the NPM is one of the greatest museums in the world. What, a world-class museum in Taipei?!

Yes, in Taipei, of all places.

After the Kuomintang was effectively vanquished by Mao's CCP in December 1949, Chang Kai-Shek decided to flee the mainland and set up government on the island of Taiwan (effective Jan. 1950). Yet before his historic exit, Chang and the KMT wisely remembered to take (borrow, steal, feel free to plug in a verb) the finest treasures of China's 4000-year-history, well-kept within the ancient walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing, to horde for themselves in Taipei.

What remains today is a collection of some of the most breath-taking treasures of civilization, and a brilliant reminder why the Japanese had long admired the Chinese throughout history. The art, ranging from ancient bronzewares to jade, features amazingly rare copies of calligraphy by the legendary Wang Xizhi, paintings, and of course, ceramics.

I find the NPM's collection of celadon to be particularly exceptional, and its Sung-Dynasty Ju Ware have inspired a legion of artists ranging from lacquer artist Suzuki Mutsumi to celadon artist Kawase Shinobu.

Celadon was ceramics fit for emperors, and today, we find several Japanese ceramists like Kawase creating contemporary works for today's emperors (meaning you and me). Yet unfortunately, a great majority of celadon artists are confined to traditional/rigid forms of yesterday, without challenging or testing the limits of form for tomorrow.

However, one celadon artist who is pushing new ground and, as a result, is finding a growing following in Japan is Takagaki Atsushi (b. 1946- 垣篤). The Yokohama-based artist, although hardly young, has recently hit a stride with his celadon, in particular for his unusual forms made by conjoining clay slabs together. This technique has allowed Takagaki to expand his creativity and reach for a greater dynamism/movement in form, and happily, collectors and critics are taking notice. We recently had an exhibition of Takagaki at Yufuku, and I was surprised to find such a positive response from the likes of Kaneko Kenji, head of the Crafts Gallery at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, as well as the much-revered Hayashiya Seizo, perhaps the most prominent living Japanese ceramic art critic of our generation and the honorary director of the Tokyo National Museum.

takagaki atsushi 020.jpg takagaki atsushi 002.jpg

I've always been attracted to artists who do not shackle or limit their creativity by simply copying styles of days past. Like any other artform, there is much room for evolution and progression within ceramic art. I look forward to Takagaki-san's continued success.

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With best regards from Tokyo,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
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Forms in Succession

Nagae Shigekazu 4.jpg Nagae Shigekazu 1.jpg

Greetings from Kansai! Firstly, my apologies are extended to all our friends who have been anticipating new (and more frequent) posts on this blog. It's an impossibility for me to write in tepid brevity, and leisurely entries are becoming increasingly difficult to procure when time is short. However, I hope to up the ante come this November (as hope itself is an illimitable oasis).

Just a short note today to remind those who haven't seen the Nagae Shigekazu exhibition to jump on the nearest train and rush over to Yufuku, as the show is coming to a close tomorrow and Nagae-san himself (one of the most serene and humble artists I've had the pleasure of meeting), will be there 'til the end. Please do say hello. His white Seto porcelain works are genuinely inspiring, and the artist's fans include not only collectors, critics and museum curators but many, many artists including Kishi Eiko, among others. Abstract porcelain works are rare, and Nagae-san's works are a triumph of both imagination and technique.

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From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

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Nagae Shigekazu - First Solo Exhibition Since 2005, from Oct. 16th at Yufuku Gallery, Tokyo

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Preview shots from different angles of a dynamic new work by Nagae Shigekazu, called "Forms In Succession."

Nagae Shigekazu (1953- ) returns to the ceramic scene after a 3-year hiatus, which was largely brought about due to a tragic fire that destroyed the artist's entire studio in 2006. It took the artist several years to properly rebuild his studio, along with creating new plaster casts for his works. Many leading museums and collectors have been anticipating new works by the artist for several years now, and with his most recent acquisition by the V&A in London just this month, we can say with confidence that the world is enthusiastically looking forward to Nagae's latest creations.

The exclusive Yufuku/Toku Art Exhibition of Nagae Shigekazu's latest works, called Tsuranari no Katachi (Forms in Succession), will begin from Oct. 16 at Yufuku Gallery. If you cannot make it but would like previews, please contact us at info@toku-art.com.

From eastern skies,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

About the Artist
NAGAE Shigekazu (長江重和 1953- ), along with Fukami Sueharu,
is one of the leading pioneers of porcelain casting and firing
techniques in Japan. Casting is commonly associated with the
mass production of porcelain, yet Nagae valiantly transcends this stereotype, ultimately elevating this technique to the avant-garde. Casting alone cannot achieve the natural movements found within Nagae's forms. In fact, the intensity of his gas-kiln fires help mould, shape and curve his delicate white porcelain, thereby giving birth to sleek and razor-thin silhouettes that have become Nagae trademarks.

Among Nagae's many awards and recognitions are the Grand Prix at the 1998 Triennal de la Porcelain in Nyon and the Grand Prix at the Mino Ceramic Festival in the same year, along with the Grand Prix at the 1997 Japan Ceramic Art Exhibition. He has also been acquired by such institutions as the V&A in London, the Sevres National Museum in Paris, and the Musee Ariana in Geneva, as well as the Japan Foundation.

About the Works
Nagae's latest works, his first since 2005, test the limits of his ingenious porcelain casting techniques, and are the culmination of his extensive experiments and research into the
qualities of both clay and fire. Called Tsuranari no Katachi (Forms in Succession), they are essentially porcelain objects
that contain individually casted porcelain shapes that are attached together. After each separate shape is slip-casted through a bisque-firing, they are combined by glazing the joints and suspending the work in mid-air within Nagae's kiln. As the glaze melts and crystalises in the kiln fires, the pieces are successfully attached. Yet at the same time, the luscious draping and tapering of his organic curves are borne through "chance" natural kiln effects.

Thus his resulting "Forms in Succession" are the virtuosic synthesis of differing parts that combine to form an intriguing whole. Although minimalistic at first glance, Nagae Shigekazu's works embody a multitude of intricate techniques, coupled with the natural beauty of serendipity within the kiln fires.
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Mihara Ken's Japan Ceramic Society Award Ceremony

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(Koie Ryoji and Mihara Ken sitting side by side. Two extremely different personalities as evidenced in their works, yet exceptional artists nonetheless)

Sincere thanks to everyone who supported Mihara Ken 三原研 (1958- ) in receiving the Japan Ceramic Society Award for 2007. A pleasant reception party was held on August 22nd at Ginza Wako in commemoration of the awards, and prominent members of the JCS were all there. In fact, a great deal of them came to dinner with us afterwards, including the likes of Fukami Sueharu, one of the greatest contemporary ceramists of Japan and a very good friend of ours, and Kaneko Kenji of the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Indeed, Mihara-san was all smiles.

We will now be offering works made for the JCS Awards Exhibition in early September. Thank you for your patience in regards to the slight delay, and we look forward to sending special previews in a few weeks time.

Until then, we wish you all the best from eastern skies.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

(I will be traveling from August 27th to Sept. 9th, yet will be able to check email. Please feel free to write with questions or comments)

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