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Ogawa Machiko
Japan Ceramic Society Prize 2001



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Eternal vessels and dreams of clay

By Robert Yellin for The Japan Times
 January 16th, 2002

Ogawa Machiko's creations are like ancient memories wrought from clay and buried centuries ago, waiting to be discovered today. Like scenes long lost in the maze of the mind, the ceramic artist's work reappears as if emerging from a dream -- a dream formed of clay.

Piece by Ogawa Machiko

An example of the "primordial" pottery of  Machiko Ogawa, winner of the 2001 Japan Ceramic Society prize (above); owl-shaped asobu katachi by Gen Onodera  (below).

Piece by Onodera Gen


In particular, Ogawa's grouped cylindrical works appear to have been dug out of a prehistoric dwelling site and put on show with no further ado. They look crumbly, yet are in fact sturdy; they're oddly fresh-looking, but are often covered with crusty frostlike remnants of their primordial birth. They touch a nerve in the viewer and are a reminder of the sublime power of ceramics and how they relate, perhaps more than any other art form, to the evolution of humankind.  

For her primitively modern works in clay, last year Ogawa became only the fourth woman to be awarded the Japan Ceramic Society Prize  (the others being Tsuji Kyo, Ono Hakuko and Araki Takako). Now, her work, along with examples from 48 past winners, will be on display at Wako in Tokyo's Ginza from Jan. 18-26, 2002. 

The prize dates back to 1954, when three first-prize awards were made -- to the now living national treasure Shimizu Uichi (for iron glazes); the late Kyoto avant-garde ceramic artist Kumakura Junkichi; and the Seto-ware potter Okabe Mineo, the only person who has ever had the audacity to refuse it -- likely connected with a dispute with government bureaucrats at the time. In all, 14 winners of the prize are designated living national treasures, and with many more designated prefectural intangible cultural properties, a roll call of its recipients is a who's who of established Japanese ceramics artists.  

It must be said, however, that as selection for the prize is a controlled process, there are deserving potters to whom it will never go, as their "stance" does not suit the powers that be. Nonetheless, there's still no other way to see about 130 works from varied masters gathered together.  

Among these masterworks on view will be a colorful box of porcelain eggs from Ko Takenaka; some spinning tops from Yagi Akira; a paper-thin, white porcelain figure by Kiyoyuki Kato; and an owl from the hands of Gen Onodera (see photo on this page).

Now wait a minute before you jump to conclusions. I bet you were expecting meditative tea bowls and round organic jars. Well, they're present, too, but the theme of this year's exhibition, if you haven't already guessed, is asobu katachi (playful forms), forms that are fun to look at and/or fun to use.   

In a way, of course, a tea bowl is also an asobu katachi, but in a more solemn way. And there are some merry tea bowls on display as well, like that with a heart lovingly carved on the side from Bizen's Harada Shuroku, or Koie Ryoji, with a wispy ink-stroke floating on the white surface like a feather. There are also the delightful painted rabbits, flowers and geometric patterns of Takiguchi Kazuo drawn in a carefree childlike way on his plates, bowls and sake utensils.

However, for those viewers not in a playful mood, more serious works can be found as well: a splendid Karatsu jar by Nakazato Taroemon XIII; a somber-looking incense burner by Bizen's Mori Togaku; and a fabulous blue Jomon-patterned henko (round-shouldered) jar by designated living national treasure Shimaoka Tatsuzo.  

Yet for all the works of ceramic art being shown at Wako, I can't help but return to the pristine and provocative work of Ogawa. It instills in me a longing for a time gone by, when the earth was pure and few traveled over the horizon; for a place beyond borders, banks and race: quite possibly this is my dream of clay. A similar ethereal feeling might have been felt by the very first firer of clay. It is one which can still be felt in Ogawa's eternal vessels. 

The Japan Times: Jan. 16, 2002
(C) All  rights reserved


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