Ceramic Spotlight -Ichino Masahiko 4

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

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

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

It leaves me breathless, for sure.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
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Ceramic Spotlight -Ichino Masahiko 3

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008 彩泥器 Saideiki W345×D210×H570

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

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

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
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Ceramic Spotlight -Ichino Masahiko 2


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

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

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

More closeups to follow.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
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Ceramic Spotlight -Ichino Masahiko 1

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

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

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

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

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
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Ichino Exhibition Begins!

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

You can view the entire exhibition here.

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

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

Please enquire regarding the prices of these two works.

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

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

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Ichino Exhibition Sneak Preview 2

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

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

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

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

With much gratitude,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

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Sneak Preview of Upcoming Ichino Exhibition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

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

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Upcoming Show Preview 1-Ichino Masahiko 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art

Ichino Masahiko
Potter Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Aoyama Wahei 1/12/04

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

posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:38| Comment(0) | Ichino Masahiko (Tamba) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Review of Kako Katsumi's Recent Tobu Exhibition

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The last time I had visited the yearly Tobu Department Store exhibition of Kyoto ceramic artist Kako Katsumi (加古勝己, born 1965) was in 2004. Since then, 3 years had passed before my eyes with incredible speed, and sometimes I find myself gripping with the reality that things have changed.

Life finds us stumbling upon an often-simultaneous collision between coincidence and serendipity. My departure from the art world coincided with the passing of my dear friend Nishida Jun, for who I had envisioned a world of greatness on par with some of the greatest names in ceramics, such as Yagi Kazuo and Kamoda Shoji. He was taken from this world much too soon.

Another young artist that I have much respect for is Kako. He is forever humble, and never complacent in his pursuit of new techniques and forms.

The last time I had spoken to him was at a simple izakaya (pub) in Ikebukuro, and we drank cool draughts of beer as we talked about various ceramic topics.

At that time, Kako found himself at a crossroads. He had already achieved a name for himself via his two main styles of Shizukumon and Kourihada, and this establishment can be seen via his receiving the Award of Excellence at the Chanoyu-no-zokei Tea Forms Exhibition in 2004.

But Kako understood that sheer repetition of old ideas, even if they are good ones, can lead to placid ennui.

Thus he embarked on building a new kiln in Sasayama in Hyogo Prefecture (which, coincidentally, is adjacent to where my wife grew up, and is where my great-grandmother is from), as well as pursuing new styles to call his own.

The 2007 Tobu exhibition finds Kako experimenting with a new palette of red overglaze, which is reminscent of older Japanese earthenware. He calls it Haikaku(灰赫).

Not only does the artist attempt to broaden his color schemes, but it is in this color that Kako has aggressively tried to express a new dimension to his ceramics.

The artist succeeds in many ways, esp. in the examples shown here. In particular, the wavy patterns I found quite mesmerising. If Kako could simulate this pattern upon an entire body of work (perhaps evoking the works of Kamoda), I thought this new "red" phase could truly blossom into even greater work.

What I hope Kako strives for in his next exhibition is the smoother integration between patterns and forms. I think Kako has the technique to create more dynamism in his clay bodies, and I look forward to seeing such occur in greater frequency at his next exhibition.

Please contact us for any enquiries on Kako Katsumi's work.

All the best from Tokyo,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art

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All photos courtesy of Kako Katsumi.
posted by Toku Art Limited at 15:34| Comment(0) | Kako Katsumi (Kyoto) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


In Clay, A Flower Blooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited
posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:35| Comment(0) | Sugiura Yasuyoshi (Ceramics) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Mihara Show an Astounding Success!


All of us at Toku Art and Yufuku will like to thank every person who kindly visited the Mihara Ken exhibition, which came to a successful close last Saturday.

Reviews of the exhibition were fantastic, with some saying that Mihara's works were "his best ever," while others were "simply fascinated by the colorful landscapes and sublime forms" that were distinctly Mihara's.

We are also very happy to announce that one of the most famous museums in the world (its name to be disclosed at a later date) has acquired a Mihara. Congratulations to Mihara Ken! The artist's name will only rise, and we look forward to bringing you more of his works, from eastern skies.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

posted by Toku Art Limited at 18:20| 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


Artistic Archaelogy and the Work of Mihara Ken -Article by Prof. Michael Carrasco

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Izumo ceramicist Mihara Ken (三原研) is an artist of great depth, and his work is almost spellbinding in its tranquil, even solemn, aura.

The show, now approaching an end, has found wide acclaim and robust sales from both fans and critics alike. All of us sensed that Mihara was on to something special, but we were all pleasantly surprised to find his work purchased by some incredibly famous names, for example the owner and director of a leading contemporary art gallery in Tokyo, or by a buyer from a world-class museum that needs no introduction.

Before the show closes, I will like to take the opportunity to introduce an excellent show summary of Mihara and his work, written by Professor Michael Carrasco. Michael, an art historian with a passion for world ceramics (and armed with a sharp eye), has kindly allowed us to use his article for our blog. We believe it is an enlightening overview of Mihara's aesthetics, and we hope you enjoy it. Thank you Michael!

Artistic archaeology and the work of Mihara Ken
by Michael Carrasco

Mihara Ken is an exceptional ceramist whose new work is currently on view in the show “Kigen -A New Beginning”at the Yufuku Gallery in Tokyo. Traditionally, he has crafted his sekki wares through a complicated double firing where the bisqued vessels are encased in a layer of clay, which is removed after the second firing to reveal the rawness of the ceramic body, free of any of the kiln effects caused by direct exposure to the fire. In his most recent work, such as the pieces in the current Yufuku exhibition, he has fired them a third time to bring out an additional range of colors not seen in his previous vessels (see below).

This surface quality of stony weight and subtle texture that he creates through his firing process lends a kind of silent monumentality to what are relatively modest pieces, ranging in form from vegetal inspired sculptural subjects to vessels echoing ancient objects, such as Jou (Chou) and Han dynasty bronze artifacts. In past work, he seems to have created forms that almost suggest a prototype in metal, again similar to certain ancient Chinese ceramics, which were in fact meant to imitate bronze. However, Mihara's vases and bowls do not imitate vessel forms in other media nor should they be seen as doing so; but are, rather, echoes of past moments from the history of art, echoes whose cadence Mihara has captured in his own artifacts. In this sense, his pieces strike me as a kind of artistic archaeology. That is, they communicate an idea of past materiality in a tangible, haptic way that transcends verbal descriptions of ancient forms because his work brings them new life and allows us to experience them afresh.

The pieces represented in the current show move toward greater abstraction and simplicity, perhaps to better emphasis the rich surface textures and variations of color achieved through his innovative firing technique. The segmentation that divides many of these recent pieces horizontally nearly mirror bamboo joints. However, rather than maintain a fixed, identifiable mimetic referent, these facets create simple, compelling surfaces upon which variations in color record the dance of the kiln's fire. To see Mihara's latest work as a surface to be written upon is not entirely devoid of merit when one considers the explicit analogy he makes between clay and paper in his origami pieces. The ambiguity of form enriches the work and provides a dynamic movement that complements the color complexity of his new vessels. Mihara's artistic production represents a significant new direction in contemporary Japanese studio ceramics as well as a profound engagement with ancient forms.

(For more on the excellent work of Prof. Michael Carrasco, please click the links below.)

posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:27| 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


Mihara Exhibition Begins Today!


Exciting is an understatement to describe the splendid array of new works exhibited today at Yufuku Gallery.

Today is opening day of the Ken Mihara Exhibition, entitled
"Kigen -A New Beginning".

It amazes me to see so many smiles on faces today, as Mihara's works are of a depth that touches the spirit.

Truly captivating and deep work indeed.

You can find photos to the entire show here, or by clicking the link below.



Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art/Yufuku
posted by Toku Art Limited at 13:55| 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


Mihara Ken Exhibition -Starting Next Week


It is amazing how a room filled with art can come alive and be transformed. The same can be said for the spirited new works of Mihara Ken 三原研(1958- ). The quiet yet poignant strength of his pottery could melt the coldest of hearts.

Entitled 起源Kigen -A New Beginning, Mihara has delved into a previously unchallenged realm of firing. By multi-firing his new works, he creates a vivid and colourful landscape that is far more dynamic than anything he's done before. These hues, coupled with his imaginative new forms, make for ceramics brimming with an energy that is Japanese spirituality.

We'll be updating these pages with more photos as the exhibition nears. For enquiries, please contact me at wahei@toku-art.com.

All the best from Tokyo,

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

(more photos of new works can be seen in previous entries below)
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What are Rankings For?

Japanese Ceramics Now
Commentary on Honoho Geijutsu
Cover Story and Ranking Survey

(Courtesy of e-y Net)

By Wahei Aoyama, February 2004
(with thanks to my dear friend and mentor Robert Yellin for its use)

(Link to original article and rankings)

With 20 years and 76 issues behind it, ceramic art and craftwork magazine Honoho Geijutsu (The Art of Fire) has persevered to educate, inform, and sharpen the public eye on the beauty of Japanese ceramics. Without question, the tremendous respect it receives from all people privy to pottery is well deserved. Now onto their 77th issue, the people behind Honoho have decided to pat themselves on the back with a retrospective of sorts. Not quite. What does preoccupy the intelligentsia over at Honoho is the current place (or pedestal) Japanese ceramics rests upon. Where have we been? Where are we now? And where are we going?

These intriguing questions ring throughout the stale air of a conference room wherein three commentators -- a museum chief curator (Todate Kazuko), a museum chief researcher (Karasawa Masahiro), and a prominent gallery owner (Kuroda Kusaomi) -- discuss the predicament of Japanese ceramics today with the chief editor of Honoho (Matsuyama Tatsuo). Such is the cover article: a sprawling, sometimes confusing four-player interview that sheds some, but not much, light upon the current state of Japanese ceramics. Please allow me to mention from the forefront that Mr. Kuroda, the gallery owner and art connoisseur, has my complete and humble respect for his candid insights during that interview.

Furthermore, Honoho asks 82 ceramic art critics, art scholars, journalists, gallery owners and collectors the rather broad question of voting for "twenty (living) ceramists you think represent Japanese ceramics today." Without an inkling of objective criteria for analysis or standardization, Honoho Geijutsu has allowed the critics free reign to determine the parameters of assessment and to evaluate, as they see fit, who represent "Japanese ceramics today." Such an affair can predictably fall ill to ambiguity or prejudice.

For example, one art journalist voted for artists only from the Kansai region. A museum chief voted for only conceptual ceramic art. Another journalist based his votes on technique: a collector, solely on functional wares. Living National Treasures are excluded from the voting, as they "represent what the Agency for Cultural Affairs has chosen."

Perhaps we are not to long for more exacting standards of assessing art and its artists. Similar to the criticisms posed at the infamous USA Today American College Rankings, rankings often exhibit more hype than credibility. Yet, we common folk love the glamour and mystique (and parsimony) behind a simple list of who's who, something that smack on tells us who's hot and who's not- and needless to say such lists sell like hotcakes.

Yet the point is this; if one is going to do a ranking at all, why not have it in a uniform format with intelligible standards for evaluation? Anything less leads not to a vivid depiction of the current state of Japanese pottery, but to a muddied quagmire of thoughts, pots, and potters. This plea in no way necessitates numerical evaluation. Quantification can oft be an empty intellectual affair, whereas empathy and sincere opinion oft tells tales from the heart. Yet something a bit more is wanting, lest we sacrifice integrity for mere popularity, trend setting, or academic name-dropping without valid justifications.

That said, there is much to commend about the rankings, with only a few questionable positions or votes. The list lacks shock value, and many a name can be seen in which heads will nod in agreement. This is a good thing.

However, striking is the fact that Honoho Geijutsu's "list of 109 artists representative of Japanese ceramics today" appears to favor potters of modern sculptural/conceptual ceramics over functional, 'traditional' ceramists. This emphasis on the current vogue towards an "international" style of pottery seems to trump or usurp the position and importance of some potters who make pots in a "traditional heritage" style unique to Japan. Upon first glance, the list seems to suggest "conceptual/sculptural" is analogous to "contemporary".

I have no qualms with loosening the odd and suffocating form of "nationalism" that some attach to traditional styles of Japanese ceramics. With the progression of the modern day and age, it is only inevitable that Japanese ceramics and their ceramists must move along with it, lest we risk degradation over evolution. Potters can try to revive Momoyama Bizen, but what makes such revivals valuable in the eyes of the contemporary ceramic art scene is the fact that their products are not simply carbon copies of ancient styles, yet are exciting, innovative, and from the heart.

There is no doubting the fact, however, that there is a strange convolution of the two aesthetic concepts of 'the traditional' and 'the contemporary.' Perhaps the confusion between such superficially antagonistic ideas, especially within Honoho, best illustrates the fact that we Japanese might not be quite certain as to what it means to be "Japanese" - and furthermore, what is actually embodied by the phrase "contemporary Japanese pottery". Perhaps it can be said that Honoho's article does not elucidate 'Japanese ceramics today,' but rather elucidates a more philosophical question of identity. Or is the phrase simply a matter of semantics?

Porcelain sculptor Fukami Sueharu tops the list with 46 votes, with an amazing 24 votes from art critics, academia, and journalists (numero uno in this category), while gaining 22 votes and third place from gallery owners and collectors. This comes as no surprise, as Fukami's talent is not only internationally recognized, his edgy 'ceramic sculptures' are the pinnacles of both originality and technique. Next on the list is Koie Ryoji, the tremendously popular 'noble savage' who never fails to surprise the art world with fresh forms and techniques that not only shock but also impress upon the heart. Third is the 15th generation Raku Kichizaemon, a spirited potter who fires the convention-restricted Raku style teabowl with flair, experimentalism, and a contemporary feel- quite simply, chawan for the modern age. Fourth is ever-popular Bizen potter Kakurezaki Ryuichi, whose fresh forms burst onto the Bizen stage with a fashionableness that enraptures all who lay eyes upon his art. Tied for fifth are Mori Togaku and Takiguchi Kazuo. The former is the Bizen master who has invested his life towards not simply recreating the grandeur of old Momoyama Bizen, but making Bizen with traits that only Togaku can achieve; the latter, a sharp, Kyoto potter who is captivating audiences with his sleek, organic, even intellectual wares.

Without question, the top positions are a lucid representation of the past, present, and future of Japanese pottery. These potters' contributions to the contemporary ceramic arts world are profound, not only for making keen ceramics, but for being innovative, imaginative and actively pursuing a higher level of ceramic art. They are recognized today, and will be remembered tomorrow.

Yet if one looks closely at the two separate categories (if simply split between critics and fans), one may notice that something is slightly amiss. The opinions of the critics and fans, regarding some ceramists, largely diverge at times. One example is Suzuki Goro. He does not appear amongst the top thirty artists recognized by art critics, academics, and journalists. Odd, I thought. But when looking through the votes from gallery owners and collectors, Suzuki Goro receives as many votes as Kakurezaki, and rightly so. His contributions to Seto wares, be it Ki-Seto, Oribe, or Shino, are astonishing; on top of that, his 'Los Angeles Oribe' and large stacked boxes, as well as wobbly chairs, are not only original and new, they embody a "modernism" that is on par with Kakurezaki, Koie, and Raku. Yet if so, what explains this wide rift in the recognition of Suzuki amongst "critics" on the one hand and "fans" on the other?

Various reasons can be entertained. Suzuki can be aloof to events where the art mafia kick out their cocktail suits. Another is that Suzuki always leaves an element of functionality to his works, while Koie's works can be conceptual installations or sculpture: the critics give more points to conceptual ceramic sculpture as opposed to functional ceramics. Another is that the above reasons should not really matter at all. They do not focus on the actual art, yet on exposure or "trendy-ness." In other words, potters who: 1. Do not do something totally conceptual or abstract, 2. Do not pucker up to the pundits, and 3. Who just churn out good pots that are recognized by lovers of pottery, can't seem to garner enough respect from the art mafia, who hunger for fads stripped of tradition. They want shock value. But what is shocking is the fact that the pundits do not understand that such conceptual art is not superior or inferior to traditional/functional art, but are equally representative of the current ceramic art scene in Japan. Other notable omissions from the critic's list are porcelain potter Kawase Shinobu and Shino expert Yamada Kazu, while Shigaraki master Tsuji Seimei and chawan champion Tsujimura Shiro are in a surprisingly low position. Ranked higher than expected were the likes of Nakamura Kinpei, Miwa Kyusetsu XII, and Kiyomizu Rokubei VIII (also spelled Rokubee).

Another major reason is the influence of Kaneko Kenji, Chief Curator at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Ten years ago in the cover article of Honoho Magazine issue 40, Kaneko produced an "encyclopedia of contemporary ceramics", which was, at the time, revolutionary in its aggressive advocacy of conceptual ceramics. In that 1994 issue, Koie, Fukami, and several other potters still influential today were mentioned. Yet at the same time, many of the potters he handpicked do not show up in the 2004 Ranking. As such a state of affairs illustrates, what is important is picking artists that will be truly relevant 10 years from now, rather than jumping on the precarious bandwagon of trends and fads.

I believe the art mafia may be confused as to what "contemporary" means. Contemporary means "the present day, the current, the modern". The word does not contain the evaluative labels of "avant-garde, sculptural, conceptual or non-functional". If given the former definition, it becomes evident that the critics do not see what is happening in the art world today. Rather, through myopic vision, they only see what is happening in museum galleries, books, and in theory. In the interview, numerous times can the art mafia be heard explaining their focus on pieces that "look good in museums"- something meaning large, cerebral, conceptual pieces similar to sculpture. Unfortunately, their eyes do not reach what the masses are actually touching and seeing, or what the many ceramic artists of Japan are actually doing. One pundit states that "contemporary artists must control the clay into the forms they envision", although Tamba potter Ichino Masahiko, a talented potter ranked in the top 30, has personally said that, "ceramists must communicate with the clay, not try to force or manipulate it." The schism, then, occurs because the critics not only cannot grasp the hearts of the potters themselves, they also subtract the traditional from the contemporary.

Such boundaries should NOT be built. Liberal-minded pundits pay lip service to the fact- that both contemporary sculpture and traditional are on an equal and level playing field. Yet such pundits featured in the interview, as well as in interviews and articles from similar magazine rankings, claim revivals in traditional pottery are copies: that such pots and potters lack an air of originality or link with the modern age. This is a bit worrying. They further suggest guardians of the traditional hold a superiority complex against the contemporary: one criticism being that contemporary potters are lacking of technique. Of course, potters of Bizen and Shino revivals, such as the late Kaneshige Toyo and Kato Tokuro, are far from mere copycats; at the same time, it is obvious that modern potters are not lacking of skill at all- the 12th generation Miwa Kyusetsu fully illustrates this. Pigeonholing or simple generalizations fail to grasp the realities of the current ceramics art scene in Japan.

But why must they clash? Why cannot Mori Togaku's Bizen revivals, along with Suzuki Goro's Seto and Mino wares, play on the same field as any avant-garde potter? Why must we punish or knock down the old for the new, or the new for the old? I am not certain if the pundits intentionally divide the contemporary from the traditional, as they do often allude to the importance of traditional potters. Visa versa, I am not certain if the collectors and gallery owners intentionally put down conceptual works. The ideas do not only conceptually co-exist: they actually do co-exist. Both critics and collectors who sincerely love pottery should see the parity. There is equal artistic value to Tsujimura Shiro's Ido-chawan as much as there is artistic value to the modern works of Akiyama Yo. One cannot say one is superior or less representative of the present age. Rather, they equally represent Japanese Ceramics Now.

Perhaps this schism is created unconsciously, as their tastes might taint their objectivity. I will like to give the academic intelligentsia the benefit of the doubt, as this poll is not an indication of anything more than that: tastes. Yet one curator mentions that when arranging an exhibition, she first contemplates if the artist's art will "look good" in a museum of ceramic art. Is she suggesting large installation pieces, or ceramic sculptures meant to be gazed upon and not touched? Another curator says when he thinks of tradition, he thinks of revolutionary. Revolutions often suggest something new whilst discarding what came before it. Further, the exclusion of Living National Treasures is also evidence of a conscious decision to eschew tradition and traditional masters. Of course, the Living National Treasure system is often times questionable in regards selection process and what it stands for, yet this should not be a reason for excluding them from the ranking. Again, a separation between the traditional and the contemporary takes place.

In many ways, I am left with the impression that the critics see pottery as a means to an end, rather than being the end itself. It is almost as if they are actively pursuing the elevation of pottery to a higher art form- something akin to paintings, installation art, and sculptural art. They are ambitiously seeking to further the respect and self-esteem of ceramic art in the art world, yet they seem to ignore the fact that most potters and pottery fans don't care about the categorization of their pottery- as long as they make quality pots, labels don't matter.

What is important to remember is that every single potter ranked fire clay to form a particular art- the art being yakimono. And in yakimono, both the contemporary and the traditional are the same entity. There is unity. There is virtue in both. Separating functional from non-functional is only confusing the essence of what ceramic art is all about. And likewise, we should not be blinded by the cosmopolitan sentiments of advocating an "international" style of yakimono without keeping in mind what it means to be a Japanese potter with Japanese sensibilities. An artist who forgets where he comes from is lost. And at the same time, one cannot appreciate the new without understanding the past. By accepting the past, one can take the step forward.

My ultimate conclusion is this. Honoho's article, rather than exhibiting "Japanese Ceramics Now," actually does well in exhibiting "the politics and preferences of art critics of the modern age." Of course, the viewing and interpretation of yakimono is far from sacrosanct. All can inject differing opinions and emotions into a pot. I only hope this divide will not tear us apart.

Aoyama Wahei 青山和平
February 10th, 2004

Toku Art Limited

posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:46| Comment(0) | Japanese Ceramics Now/E-Y Net Articles | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


起源 A New Beginning

mihara ken4.jpg

Japanese pottery has captivated the hearts of collectors the world over for various reasons.

Many are aesthetic ones.

Whether it be the Mingei aesthetic of the Unknown Craftsman of Yanagi Soetsu, or the Wabi-Sabi Way of Tea austerity of Sen-no-Rikyu, Japanese beauty is far from the bombastical. Rather, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant describes in his writings on aesthetics, true beauty is sublime, subtle, and deep. The same can be said for Japanese aesthetics.

Such words can also be used to describe the works of Ken Mihara 三原研(1958 -). His works are rich in sublime textures, with subtle tones of blue and grey encompassing crisp forms inspired by ancient metalworks and pottery. The works capture the winds of the ancients, and undoubtedly embody the spirit of a quiet and mysterious potter.

With numerous awards such as the Grand Prix at the Cha-no-yu-no-Zokei Exhibition (Forms for the Tea Ceremony) to his name,
Mihara has been creating buzz not only in Japan but in Europe and the United States. His fame is only to rise.

As mentioned previously, Toku Art and Yufuku will be holding his solo exhibition from June 7th to the 16th at Yufuku Gallery. We hope you catch a glimpse of his works. If unable to visit, please stay tuned for more uploads of his works on these pages or from the pages of Yufuku

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art

mihara new works 027.jpgmihara new works 022.jpgmihara new works 009.jpgmihara new works 025.jpg
posted by Toku Art Limited at 11:40| 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


Preview of Upcoming Ken Mihara Exhibition

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Taking a relatively tattered airplane from Haneda (of which the interior hadn't been renovated since the 80's), I traveled afar to see artist Ken Mihara 三原研 (b.1958), who resides and works in the foothills of Izumo. Izumo, which today is more commonly known as Shimane Prefecture, is a land still coloured with the mysticism and mythology of ancient Japan. In its air and in its rivers, in its lakes and in its hills are the presence of Shinto gods.

At the same time, Mihara-sensei's works, both in their forms and their firings, embody the same primeval, even pristine clarity of an ancient spirituality of days passed.

Yufuku and Toku Art are proud to bring new works by the prominent artist in June. This new series, called Kigen (Beginning), finds Ken Mihara challenging new forms and an entirely new and difficult method of firing, which has added colors and landscapes that were previously unseen in his works.

There will be more in store, so stay tuned.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平

A New Beginning 起源
Exhibition of Ceramics by Ken Mihara
June 7th (Thur) to June 16th (Sat)
Yufuku Gallery

posted by Toku Art Limited at 10:46| 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


Yede Exhibition Starts Today -Words from the Artist

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My Passion For Metal -by Takahiro Yede 家出隆浩

When I first delved into the material of metal, I was both astonished and enraptured with its myriad possibilities. I believe many people are not aware of such possibilities. To bring out metal's innate and special characteristics into a tangible form; this had become a major theme in my work, and my art became a means to this end.

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Was there not a new and undiscovered method to achieve this end? Not to simply dwell on traditional Japanese metalwork techniques, but to incorporate the advanced techniques of other arts, coupled with philosophies of fine art --this could lead to a new way of creation. And, I believed, this could breathe new life into the metalwork of Japan.

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But you cannot forget the importance of space.
Metalwork is a 3-dimensional artform. If one intends to heighten and enhance this art, one must face the challenge of space, much like sculpture. Not simply space, but contemporary space. In other words, the space that is now.

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Yet what does contemporary space ask for?
It is a difficult question.
What I strive to achieve is not to match a work with a certain kind of space, but to have the work transform and define the space itself, as much as the space desires to be changed. I wonder if I have, at the very least, achieved a small fraction of this wish in my works.

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The works for this exhibition are unlike anything I've made before. Many people may be confused by them.
Yet I, for one, am calm.
For I believe I have instilled my heart and soul in them.

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The thrill I had received from discovering the unlimited beauty of metal. This, I send to you. Takahiro Yede 家出隆浩 (translated by Wahei Aoyama 青山和平)

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Please see the previous entry for details on the Yede Metalwork exhibition at Yufuku Gallery, which starts today.
posted by Toku Art Limited at 14:54| Comment(0) | Yede Takahiro (Metalwork) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


When Metal Becomes Tapestry

When Metal Becomes Tapestry
-Boundaries Exist To Be Broken-

Preview of Exhibition by Takahiro Yede 家出隆浩

yede exhibition 198.jpg

Toku Art and Yufuku Gallery proudly present the works of one of Japan's most highly acclaimed metal artists, Takahiro Yede (家出隆浩 1962- ).

His works shatter our preconceptions of metal, for at a glance, his works brim with the playful texture of fabric. The artist has taken traditional Japanese metal techniques to new heights, especially by his ingenious and unique invention of weaving strips of bronze and copper together to form elegant, lustrous tapestries of metal.

Coupled with his soft palette of colours, his works have brought about a revolution in how we perceive this ancient Japanese artform. Perhaps such is why the revered traditional craft competition in Japan, the Nihon Dento Kogeiten (Japanese Traditional Arts and Crafts Exhibition), has showered the artist with some of its top prizes, as well as being purchased by the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo at the age of 33.

Already solidifying his status domestically, the international scene has been quick to follow Yede's career. With an innovative vigour and curiosity unparalleled amongst his peers, his passion for his art will soon transcend borders. From eastern skies, to the world. Takahiro Yede.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art Limited

The Yede Metals

May 10th (Thur) through May 26th (Sat), 2007
Open 11:00 to 18:00 daily except last day by 16:00
Gallery closed on Sunday and Monday
Venue: Yufuku Gallery

DIRECTIONS: Based in Tokyo, Yufuku Gallery is a 5-minute walking distance from Aoyama Icchome subway station (take the Ginza or Hanzomon subway line). Walk past the Honda building towards Shibuya on Aoyama Avenue for two minutes until you reach Risona Bank. Turn left at that corner and Yufuku is down the street on the left past the barber shop.


Yufuku Gallery
Annecy Aoyama 1st Floor 2-6-12 Minami-Aoyama Minato-ku,Tokyo 107-0062 Japan
Tel: 03-5411-2900 Fax: 03-5411-2901

posted by Toku Art Limited at 14:45| Comment(0) | Yede Takahiro (Metalwork) | このブログの読者になる | 更新情報をチェックする


Past Articles from E-Yakimono.net/Japanesepottery.com


A short update from Tokyo.

Quite soon, this blog will be uploading all past articles written by Wahei Aoyama for Mr. Robert Yellin's www.e-yakimono.net .

Yet until the uploads, you can find the past articles, written predominantly on Japanese pottery, below.


Many thanks to Robert Yellin, my dear friend and teacher, for his gracious support.

We hope you enjoy them.

Wahei Aoyama 青山和平
Toku Art
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