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10 Potters from Izu
Exhibition Review and Photo Tour



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of Izu Exhibit

Akira Masuda
Shingo Motoki
Nobuyuki Nagae
Horaku Nakamura
Kenji Sugiura
Hideaki Suzuki
Takehito Takeda
Sejiro Tsukamoto
Hiromi Yamaguchi
Masao Yamauchi

Yellin's gallery
sells pieces from
the kilns of Japan's
finest potters


Sun, sea, sand and ceramics

 for The Japan Times, April 9, 2003

Bowl by Takehito Takeda

Bowl by Takehito Takeda

Wheel-thrown owls by Kenji Sugiura

Wheel-thrown owls
by Kenji Sugiura

Cups and pitchers by Masao Yamauchi

Cups and pitchers
by Masao Yamauchi

Izu Potters - Photo Tour of 10 Artists
Click here to
see photo tour of
exhibition pieces

The Izu Peninsula, just an hour out of Tokyo, has some of the finest scenery in all of Japan. Rugged coastlines, clear views of Mount Fuji, pristine forests with rivers and waterfalls, not to mention the many soothing hot-spring resorts dotting the land, shape Izu into a very attractive destination.

What's less well known is that Izu is also home to more than 100 full-time potters. These artists work in a wide range of styles, some associated with major ceramic centers such as Karatsu or Mashiko, while others are purely original.

Why have so many kilns been built in this area with no traditional potting associations? One reason, as one potter put it, is simply that Izu is a real fine place to live. The climate is mild, the beauty of the land is entrancing, and after a hard day's work wedging, throwing or firing clay, a soak in a hot spring just cannot be beat!

There are other reasons as well, including the area's close proximity to the galleries of Yokohama and Tokyo, plus Izu's brisk tourist trade. Tourists flock to Izu year-round, and those lucky enough to go there before April 14 (2003) will be able to enjoy an exhibition of 10 Izu potters showing close to 2,000 pieces, which is currently being held in Shuzenji, one of Izu's little dream towns.

This year's exhibition is the 21st, and the annual show has been organized since its inception by the fine Sanshu-en Gallery, located a stone's throw from the famed 1,200-year-old Tokono-yu river bath, Shuzenji Temple and the many wonderful ryokan in the area. Sanshu-en opened in 1978 as the first gallery devoted to the works of Izu's potters, and it represents some of the region's finest ceramicists.

The gallery is quite small, so the exhibition is being held down the road at the Shuzenji Sogo Kaikan. Out of the 10 potters showing, six have been participating since the inaugural exhibition.

The standout in this group is Minami-Izu-based Sejiro Tsukamoto. His sublime work is almost always either black, intensely colored by carbon during firing, or pure clay tsuchi-aji, a term meaning "the flavor of the clay."

Izu is not known for its good clay; in fact, most potters import from regional potting centers. Not Tsukamoto though, he digs his own and brings out a mosaic tsuchi-aji on his vessels that is both brilliant and brittle. The forms are always simple, not simplistic, and organic -- rounded or cylindrical cups and bowls, and tubes for flowers.

Some of the small, carbonized sake cups have silver interiors that glisten from the depths of the dark exterior. They are exquisite. I picked up a few and was surprised at their pleasing weight. One tsuchi-aji vase was also divine -- it captivated me for a moment that seemed infinite.

The vessels of Masao Yamauchi also impressed me. They, too, were organic in form and quite thin and light. Yamauchi has some fine glazes on his works; one is chestnut-brown and another is a dark ocean-blue that also shines out from the dark, rounded exteriors. His handled vessels have a charm and character, and they are finely designed and crafted (Yamauchi studied craft design in Tokyo in the 1970s).

The talented Niigata native Takehito Takeda also makes superbly crafted works in colorful patterns. There is something fresh, yet profoundly traditional in his motifs. Some, like a fishnet design, are found on ancient cobalt-blue porcelains, while his circular patterns reminded me of classic Nabeshima porcelains. Takeda told me he also gets ideas from Islamic tiles and has traveled to Turkey, Iran and Morocco to see the ceramic treasures there. His works are a joy to behold.

Izu Potters - Photo Tour of 10 Artists

Click here to
see photo tour of
exhibition pieces

I can't say that for all the works in the exhibition, though. Without mentioning names, some cups, for example, displayed amateurish kodai (foot). This down-under part of a ceramic piece is of utmost importance. It reveals such things as the age of a work, the quality and perhaps the origin of the clay, and -- most importantly -- the skill of a potter. The kodai is where the artist last touches the piece, and acts as a sort of signature on a work. It must be spontaneous, fluid and honest, just like fine calligraphy, and sadly this was not the case on many works, even though they had some wonderful glazes. For more on kodai and clay, see our Kodai Page or Clay Page.

The red shinsha glaze on Hiromi Yamaguchi's work is splendid, as are most of his original applied surfaces. This was also true of the amazingly intricate and detailed overglaze enamel table and tea vessels by Hideaki Suzuki. These were a blaze of colors, decorated with squiggly lines, tiny symbols and kanji. Yamaguchi studied the overglaze traditions in Ishikawa Prefecture, home of Kutani porcelain, and also did stints overseas. Suzuki also makes monotone objets reminiscent of ancient Jomon Period works. There is a feeling of reverence and majesty in these small solemn creations.

Some novel ceramic owls that double up as hoo-hoo whistles were perched on one table. They were all wheel thrown by Kenji Sugiura and had fine glazing and designs. Sugiura also brought some fanciful serving vessels, as did Horaku Nakamura, Nobuyuki Nagae and Shingo Motoki.

A jar inspired by the land and sea of Izu itself came from the kiln of Shimoda's native son Akira Masuda. He calls the deeply etched pattern fumon, a wave pattern. Looking at the rippling lines and the beach-and-sky-color glazes on the jars, it was easy to imagine walking along Izu's shore, skipping stones, and wishing for world peace.

Shuzenji Sogo Kaikan is located at Shuzenji 838-1, a 5-minute drive from Shuzenji Station. There is an express train to Shuzenji from Tokyo Station called Izu Odoriko (The Izu Dancer), named after Yasunari Kawabata's famous story. Shinkansen and Tokaido line passengers can also catch the Odoriko at JR Mishima Station. The exhibition is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; admission is free.

The Japan Times: April 9, 2003
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