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Kawaguchi Jun (Porcelain)



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Eclectic Pottery Expands Margins

 for The Japan Times, March 13, 1999

Piece by Kawaguchi Jun

Kawaguchi Jun is one of  the funkiest, coolest ceramic artists I've ever met. The first time I met him I was taken aback, to say the least, by his short, spiked hair, green velvet jacket, and a pair of slacks with cartoon designs that looked like the Joker -- not your typical shibui Japanese potter. 

Kawaguchi is having an exhibition at Gallery OH, a five-minute walk from Ichinomiya Station in Ichinomiya, Aichi Prefecture, until April 4, 1999.

People say that when looking at a piece of pottery, the creator's personality and even age are to be seen by a discerning eye. Well, it couldn't be truer than with Kawaguchi; his work is as eclectic as the man himself: colorful porcelain objets with various wiggly doodads attached in seemingly random order. 

For me, whose eyes are more accustomed to subtle tones and patterns, his work was and still is a challenge. Others have taken to it more readily, as evidenced by his being selected to exhibit in the "New Expression in Porcelain" exhibition that was held in 1996 at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, as well as many other similar large exhibitions. I feel that my appreciation of his work has expanded my own world of ceramics. 

I believe it's natural, of course, to have one's own likes and dislikes, but to merely dismiss something without at least trying to understand the maker's intention or stance on creating is not allowing yourself to progress in developing an eye for all that's out there. It's good to expand one's own self-imposed boundaries by looking at or trying or tasting something which isn't part of one's  normal way of doing things. In that way various horizons are discovered.

I have grown to like Kawaguchi's work as I have come to know the man. He is intelligent, articulate, and humorous. He graduated from the Kyoto School of Arts in 1975 and immediately tossed out all the classical ceramics learning that he had studied. He wanted to make his own world, and he has; his work is instantly recognizable. His exhibition venues and institutions that have collected his work are impressive: from Hagi to Hungary, from Akita to Argentina. 

He forms his abstract ceramic art (he also makes functional pieces such as teapots, cups, and plates) as if putting together a puzzle. A large slab of porcelain is cut into various shapes and then left snow white, or drawn on with colorful overglaze enamels or metallic tones. He usually solders the cut forms together and then pulls out "pieces," as he calls the small attachments that he places here and there: small shell formations, dots, spirals and squiggly lines.

On the back of each finished work are pieces of metal used to hang the work in any direction. The piece pictured here could be turned on its side to look like a boat with oars, or hung vertically to look like a shield. 

The work as a whole is called "Zoea," which refers to the process of evolution that takes place in an egg. It is a metamorphosis of life itself and of Kawaguchi's search for time. In an essay he wrote, "A zoea repeats metamorphosis, and in a sense it has achieved the past in the future, and the future in the past. I may be the same, because I am looking for the past and the future and living at this present moment."

Time will tell if Kawaguchi is ahead of his time, as a few artists are, with his science-fiction-looking works. Whatever may be the verdict, I know that I have seen a glimpse of the future, whether I agree with it or not, in Kawaguchi's "Zoea" world. 

The Japan Times: March 13, 1999
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