What's It Made Of?

In my last post, I said I'd continue with "What's universal?" next time, but I'm going to interject something different between the two parts because of a small exhibit I just saw at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. In some ways, it recalls contemporary Japanese basketry shows that I have viewed in the last few years. [See images in 11/8/2014 post.] The baskets were, in no way, functional but purely sculptural.

"The Sculptural Turn: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics" focuses on a generation of Japanese potters following World War II. They moved from functional forms such as vases and tea-ware to sculptural ceramics as well as from apprenticeships to university studies. They are clearly engaged in a conversation with art movements since the second half of the 20th century. This group also includes the first Japanese women to distinguish themselves in what has been a historically male field. These clay artists have gone beyond tradition and convention by innovating works in exciting, often organic, shapes and textures while still employing time-hallowed materials and techniques with great finesse.

One of the things that I found fascinating about the works in "The Sculptural Turn" is that they don't appear to be made of clay. Each one I gazed at reminded me of some other material. For example, up close, the piece above, "Untitled" (2009) by Ogawa Machiko, looks like meringue. It is actually stoneware and porcelain with pooling glass. In the exhibit catalogue, she explains, "It is my passion for the earth that drives my continual search for the essential in art. The vessel form, with both interior and exterior space, enables me to best pursue this quest--it is not about making vases. Rather, I am inspired by the concept of emptiness within the whole."

When I looked at "Moment in White C" (2012) by Fujino Sachiko, I immediately thought of strips of felt. Yet it, too, is stoneware, with a matte glaze. Not surprising is the fact that this artist worked as a fashion designer and fabric dyer in Kyoto before she studied with pioneering female ceramicist Tsuboi Asuka in the 1980s. 

The third one could be petrified wood covered in fungus. "Untitled" (2012) by Futamura Yoshimi is a combination of stoneware and porcelain. She blends the two to achieve the collapsed rugged form.

In the fourth image, the upper piece struck me as rusted metal and the lower piece as coral, but again they're not. "Mindscape" or "Kei" (2014) by Mihara Ken is multi-fired stoneware. The artist considers it his job "to help the clay express its beauty. Clay leads, and my hands follow. I do not know what shape my work work is going to end up even while I am making it...Once in the fire, the piece is no longer mine--it has its own life and resolution."
"Tentacles Sea Flower" (2013) by Katsumata Chieko is chamotte-encrusted stoneware with glaze.

Another organic shape is "Quiet Submersion" or "Shizukani Shizumu" (2014) by Hattori Makiko. It is made of porcelain but, rather than being smooth, it has a delicate almost barnacle-like texture. She has said of her work that she would be happy if viewers were drawn into it because of the visual and tactile impact of the surface before seeking an explanation of what she has created. She also explains that her process is incessantlyrepetitive, but she doesn't tire of "this Zen-like operation." Instead, she confronts it "with a very relaxed transcendent state of mind." The smaller work above "Quiet Submersion" is "Plant Growth" (2015) by Fujikasa Satoko, stoneware with matte glaze.

The exhibit contains more pieces from the Kempner and Stein Collection, but the images here should give you an idea of some of the thrilling leaps Japanese ceramicists have made. If you're in the Bay Area, go have a look for yourself. I'm not a potter but, as a textile artist, I can't help but appreciate the textural qualities I saw and be inspired.

Questions and Comments:
As an artist in one medium, what other mediums do you find inspiring?
In your own artwork, how do the materials you work with give the impression of being something else?

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