by Robert Yellin
for The Japan Times, Aug. 28, 1999
One of the leaders of Japanese porcelain is Shimada Fumio, who's having an exhibition at Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi department store's sixth-floor gallery August 31 to September 5, 1999.
Shimada's work follows in the footsteps of all the great teachers who have taught at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Geidai) where he studied, and now teaches: Fujimoto Yoshimichi (1919-1992) and Tamura Koichi (1918-1987), both Living National Treasures, and Asano Akira (1923-1998).
Yet unlike Fujimoto's multicolored enamels, Tamura's iron glazes or Asano's simple, cartoonlike floral sketches, Shimada's works are done primarily with gosu, cobalt blue, which varies in subtle hues depicting the plants and flowers that he observes on his mountain hikes.
Other colors on his porcelain palette include pale greens and burgundy reds. Every piece in the catalog sent to me has some image of foliage on it, whether a camellia, an orchid or even an aloe.
"I often take walks with my sketchbook and draw in sumi what I'd like to paint on my vessels," he said recently. "I also want to have my designs differ from those of nihonga [Japanese-style painting] where nature is also a central theme."
When viewing Shimada's work nihonga-esque views fill the eye, yet there is a large difference in the color scheme. Some forms work better than others; his large plates and jars (tsubo) are more effective than the smaller pieces such as kogo (incense boxes) or guinomi. These smaller works need more space for Shimada to get the effect of space and line that is found on his larger pieces.
His koro (incense burners) are an exception to the size problem; although small, they are well balanced in design, line and form. Many of his colleagues working in earthenware or stoneware use wood-fired kilns because they want the "happenings" that occur within. Shimada tried that also at one point in his career. Through trial and error, however, he discovered that even stoic porcelain can have "happenings" occur in the kiln, albeit on a much subtler level. A shade of color takes some unexpected change or the even-etched lines somehow bend in a way other than intended. He returned to working with porcelain.
His work often has very clean engraved lines like those of Song Dynasty Chinese celadons; I'd even go to say that his work resembles that of Itaya Hazan (1872-1963 - a Song revivalist) and First-Empire Japonisme more than that of his esteemed teachers.
Now in his own right he is leading the way at Geidai with his eloquently simple porcelains that I hope withstand the test of time in order to become classics. You be the judge.
The Japan Times: Aug. 28, 1999
(C) All rights reserved
Photos from Shimada Fumio's web site at: www.geidai.ac.jp/~shimada/english.html