Savor the compassionate complexity
of kirei-sabi's elegant simplicity
By ROBERT YELLIN
for The Japan Times, Sept. 19, 2001
Credited with shaping the Rinpa style of Japanese art, Ogata Korin (1658-1716) once caused a sensation at an opulent riverside picnic by nonchalantly producing his lunch tied up in a bamboo leaf. Onlookers watched in disbelief as the master unwrapped his simple fare, revealing that the underside of the leaf was lavishly painted with Rinpa designs. Korin then casually tossed the leaf into the river.
This is an example of kirei-sabi, an aesthetic term whose English translation, "elegant simplicity," only hints at its essence. Kirei-sabi married the subdued ideals of Sen no Rikyu (1522-91) to the colorful tastes of Edo Japan.
A rugged kirei-sabi
by Nakamura Takuo
Now Nakamura Takuo and Yoshita Yukio are doing the same for Heisei Japan.
Both hail from traditional potting families in Ishikawa Prefecture. Nakamura is the current master of the Baizan (Plum Mountain) kiln in Kanazawa, while Yoshita works in Komatsu, home of Ishikawa's famous Kutani pottery. Yoshita's father, Minori, was recently designated a Living National Treasure for his yuri-kinsai overglaze technique on gilded porcelain. Nakamura's father was the previous Baizan. Yoshita's work reminds me of ancient fresco works such as a Greek fresco portraying a funeral dance from an Apulian tomb of the fifth century. The elegantly blurred colors create an ethereal effect that leaves one spellbound. Themed upon haten saishiki or "unprecedented colors," one kaleidoscopic platter in Yoshita's exhibition will have you gazing at it as if upon a cathedral's wall. Who couldn't use a bit more compassionate spirituality these days?
Yoshita Yukio at Yufuku Gallery, (03) 5411-2900, from Sept. 20-29, 2001. Minami Aoyama 2-6-12. Take the Ginza or Hanzomon line to Aoyama 1-chome Station. Take No. 3 Exit and walk past the Honda building toward Shibuya until you come to the Asahi Bank. Turn left at the corner before the bank; Yufuku is down the street on the left just past the barbershop. Open 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., closed Sunday. Yoshita will be in the gallery the first few days.
Nakamura's work is much the rougher of the two, yet still represents a modern definition of kirei-sabi. He uses dark, iron-rich clay, vigorously formed, as if carved from a mountain.
The works are then embellished with polychromatic inlaid designs that offer a striking contrast to the muddy-colored body. The mizusashi (freshwater jar) used in a chado tea gathering pictured here (sorry, photo not available) reveals both the beauty of the clay and the spirited zogan inlaid technique that Nakamura has mastered. It is a full-fledged work of art and not merely a tea utensil.
For two more stories on Nakamura Takuo, please click here (Japan Times story, 1999), or click here (Sake Vessels story).
Nakamura Takuo, at Tousai, (03) 3435-1031, till Sept. 29, 2001. Shinbashi 5-25-3, a short walk from JR Shinbashi Station on Shinbashi Akarenga-dori. Nakamura will be in the gallery on Oct. 24 and 25. Closed Sunday and holidays.
The Japan Times: Sept. 19, 2001
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