Textured Porous Clay: Aesthetics & Transformations in Japan

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Victoria
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Sat Aug 31, 2019 10:57 pm

I’ve been thinking about highly textured Japanese teaware pieces that are made of porous clay, with added textural particulates like kaolin, silica quartz minerals, and that are wood fired with youhen (窯変, kiln change) effect. Shigaraki (and Iga) pieces are commonly associated with these characteristics, but there are many other regions in Japan whose artists have worked with and explored porosity, textural and youhen transformations that occur in the kiln. Wabi-sabi happenstance and unexpected nature of these pieces is revered and sought after.

The kiln burn effect on the surface gives a sculptural quality, moving the eye around the form, as if kissed by warm sunlight and shadow. The addition of mineral and rock particles (kaolin, silica, feldspar, mica, quartz mineral chips) adds textural and visual movement to each piece. Also, vitrification in the kiln of various additives like silica melt creating a glossy glaze that is not uniform, sometimes almost as if wind swept. Some Shigaraki (and Iga) pieces will even have chunks of ash clinging to the surface. Iga and Shigaraki ware is unglazed high fire, and exhibits a spectrum of natural ash glazes from fully melted Shizenyu (natural ash glaze), to a partially melted Haikaburi (ash-covered) matte glaze.

Generally, the various clays used tend to have more permeability and porosity than most, adding changes in texture and if used in kyusu, these porous clays will thicken teas steeped in them. With cups, plates, canisters, I think the primary effect is aesthetic - bringing an elegance of texture, touch, aroma, form, and movement to the experience of tea.


  • Please share your pieces, would love to see other member examples of porous, textural, youhen kissed pieces from Japan.


A few examples from my collection:

Taisuke Shiraiwa's (b. 1985 Hokkaido) a student of Yohei Konishi, now working in his home town of Hokkaido. Taisuke’s undulating textured 'freckled' cup and yuzamashi (cooling vessel) originally inspired my curiosity into Shigaraki pieces, as well as other more porous and textured teaware. His cup is light as a feather, the rim is slightly curved out to reach the lips. Natural ash glaze is both Shizenyu and Haikaburi. A real pleasure to hold. Youhen effect is both inside and outside the cup, swirling around like a flame.

Jozan III (b. 1924 Tokoname) 80ml wood fired kyusu using somewhat porous clay that has added kaolin (?) chips throughout. Some mogake effect is on the underside. Youhen effect is more subtle with partial natural ash Shizenyu glaze and vitrification occurring over 60% of surface.

Kazuya Furutani (b. 1976 Shigarakicho) is the son of Michio Furutani (1946-2000), renowned Shigaraki potter, an important proponent of the anagama (wood-burning tunnel) kiln. Kazuya’s Iga clay cup is heavier thicker than Taisuke’s, retaining heat well. It’s about 50% glazed inside so the exposed clay area is absorbing some liquid if it sits inside for very long. Bi-doro (glass) green glass ash glaze is dripping in parts of cup inside and outside.

Jozan III (top) with Kazuya Furutani (l left) & Taisuke Shiraiwa (l right)
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Kazuya Furutani (left) & Taisuke Shiraiwa (right)
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Taisuke Shiraiwa 'freckled' cup and yuzamashi (w Taiske's tokoname red clay kyusu above)
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Victoria
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Sun Sep 01, 2019 12:01 am

An example of a Shigaraki piece by Tani Seiuemon (b.1913) with chunks of ash encrusted on surface of clay, as well bi-doro beading of glass glaze after firing.

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Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:27 pm

Victoria, thanks so much. You write beautifully & effectively to introduce photographs of some beautiful work. What you wrote about the work done, hope, & ingredients brought together for uncertain results makes me more respectful. Sometimes I can feel that pieces I don't like, are amateurish. I should remember that they are just the pieces that "happenstance" didn't create to please me in particular, just not for my cup of tea. It is good to read about the effort & also how the porous clay may work to make tea more enjoyable.
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Victoria
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Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:53 pm

Ethan Kurland wrote:
Sun Sep 01, 2019 5:27 pm
Victoria, thanks so much. You write beautifully & effectively to introduce photographs of some beautiful work. What you wrote about the work done, hope, & ingredients brought together for uncertain results makes me more respectful. Sometimes I can feel that pieces I don't like, are amateurish. I should remember that they are just the pieces that "happenstance" didn't create to please me in particular, just not for my cup of tea. It is good to read about the effort & also how the porous clay may work to make tea more enjoyable.
Thank you @Ethan Kurland for your encouragement and support. I appreciate that. I find handling, slowly observing, photographing and then attempting to write something about these pieces really helps in further understanding the work. It is fascinating to go down the wabi-sabi worm hole and to begin to embrace ideas of impermanence, transformation, imperfection. Elevating the incomplete and imperfect as an aspiration, and revered aesthetic form really is profound. It is at once humbling and elevating.
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rdl
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Sun Sep 01, 2019 7:25 pm

Ethan,
You write very well to describe Victoria's nice words to express her thoughts. I may not rise to such lofty heights.
I am less inclined to use such items, but the visual study and discovery of shape, texture and happenstance is very thrilling. They remind me of a Eva Hesse work.
https://www.dia.org/art/collection/obje ... n-ii-47951
So approachable in spite of the darkness of its soul.
I always try to find an element in any piece I own that I dislike, so each time I return to that piece I can measure my ability to accept the unacceptable, and completely embrace it.
To my reason for replying, I have a Hagiyaki piece from Shibuya Deishi that he gave me upon my visit. It has always been a struggle to appreciate, due to what I find is unusual for Hagiyaki in that the kiln effects of ash and all have never seemed to make sense. I have wondered if it was experimental. But it is exactly as you both have written, and I am taking it out again now to study some more. I will try to take some photographs.
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rdl
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Sun Sep 01, 2019 7:45 pm

I think these are on the tame side of the intent of this subject, but this piece came to mind amoungst the pieces I own
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rdl
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Sun Sep 01, 2019 7:52 pm

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Ethan Kurland
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Sun Sep 01, 2019 9:15 pm

rdl, "...approachable in spite of the darkness of its soul", what a phrase! You know some of us will try to find a moment to use it. Terrific!
Thanks for that & all that you wrote. I think your photograph is appropriate to the intent of the discussion. Most people see dents as flaws. Holes or spots unevenly spread are not a comfortable pattern; so, this cup would annoy most people. Though the photograph is not of something representing mayhem, most people don't use things that are so irregular. As I "changed" & could like these kinds of pieces, I did not really "expand" my ability to appreciate much. I found that I had merely become used to pieces like the one in your photograph. Pottery with chunks in it can quickly show me how limited my ability to appreciate is....I don't like chunks.
I don't worry about that, but do think at some point a teapot of textured porous clay deserves a chance, since besides being a different look challenging me to enjoy it, it could help me enjoy some tea that I was not brewing to potential.
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Victoria
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Sun Sep 01, 2019 10:37 pm

rdl wrote:
Sun Sep 01, 2019 7:25 pm
Ethan,
You write very well to describe Victoria's nice words to express her thoughts. I may not rise to such lofty heights.
I am less inclined to use such items, but the visual study and discovery of shape, texture and happenstance is very thrilling. They remind me of a Eva Hesse work.
https://www.dia.org/art/collection/obje ... n-ii-47951
Wow @rdl , I’m really jazzed that you mention Eva Hesse, brings a few different parts of my world closer. Her work was very influential for me as a young sculptor, as well as Arte Povera movement and artist like Joseph Beuys who I briefly studied under. All of these artist embraced unconventional ideas of aesthetics at the time. Elegant, pretty, compositional work was rejected. Instead raw gestalt, here and now pieces, that used commonly available materials expressing the present tense, and inner angst, as well as tongue in cheek humor was embraced. At the time it was pretty conceptual, although now material properties are more easily embraced, digested and interpreted. The Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic was there, although not at the forefront of thinking in this work.

Hauser & Wirth here in a LA had a good retrospective of women sculptors, including Eva Hesse, so I had the opportunity to revisit some of her work, and then this year they had an extensive retrospective of Piero Manzoni’s work. His work is hilarious and touches a softer side.

So where are you @rdl ? I’m so curious, your comments always run deep... no intro yet :)

Eva Hesse
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https://www.hauserwirth.com/stories/252 ... onis-lines
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Bok
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Mon Sep 02, 2019 12:20 am

@Victoria Interesting topic!

I wonder if I should contribute some of my wood-fired pots, although they are Taiwanese? I believe that the potters here copied, or at least got heavily inspired by the Japanese way of firing. Some Bizen pieces have the exact same colourings and surfaces as are typical for the Taiwanese wood fired wares.

What I am surprised is that the Japanese ones are absorbing in nature! The Taiwanese ones are so a very tiny bit in the beginning, after a few times of use, that is normally gone. Maybe difference in firing temperature?
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Mon Sep 02, 2019 12:18 pm

I've got a piece that fits this topic: an Igayaki piece by Watanabe Aiko that manages both sleek glassy green pools and drips and gray ash, thin delicate walls with coarse texture that seems like it should leak, but does not.

Image

Image

Image
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Victoria
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Mon Sep 02, 2019 1:05 pm

Oh wow, that is an awesome cup you have @debunix. I love the thin walls combined with texture, embedded sea shells (?) and youhen color changes. The natural ash glaze is something to observe. Your’s has fully melted Shizenyu, and very nice Bi-doro green glass ash glaze as well.

Watanabe Aiko is in Iga, and she built her own anagama kilns there. Unlike most traditional potters, she does not come from a multi-generational family of potters. Beautiful piece you have.

Here is an anagama kiln under construction;
Building the Kiln
http://www.anagama-west.com/anagama/bui ... ilding.php

The site is also a good resource for Japanese pottery terms for Shigaraki and Iga ware;
Glossary of Pottery Related Japanese Words, as Used in Furutani's Book
http://www.anagama-west.com/anagama/boo ... ossary.php
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Victoria
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Mon Sep 02, 2019 1:14 pm

rdl wrote:
Sun Sep 01, 2019 7:25 pm
So approachable in spite of the darkness of its soul.

I always try to find an element in any piece I own that I dislike, so each time I return to that piece I can measure my ability to accept the unacceptable, and completely embrace it.

To my reason for replying, I have a Hagiyaki piece from Shibuya Deishi that he gave me upon my visit. It has always been a struggle to appreciate, due to what I find is unusual for Hagiyaki in that the kiln effects of ash and all have never seemed to make sense. I have wondered if it was experimental. But it is exactly as you both have written, and I am taking it out again now to study some more. I will try to take some photographs.
Pure poetry, and a great life lesson you share. Thank you @rdl.
Pretty cool that you meet Shibuya Deishi and that he gave you a piece as well. Sometimes larger heavier pieces are just nice to observe and contemplate with, watching the light move along the surface during the day.
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Victoria
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Mon Sep 02, 2019 1:20 pm

Bok wrote:
Mon Sep 02, 2019 12:20 am
Victoria Interesting topic!

I wonder if I should contribute some of my wood-fired pots, although they are Taiwanese? I believe that the potters here copied, or at least got heavily inspired by the Japanese way of firing. Some Bizen pieces have the exact same colourings and surfaces as are typical for the Taiwanese wood fired wares.

What I am surprised is that the Japanese ones are absorbing in nature! The Taiwanese ones are so a very tiny bit in the beginning, after a few times of use, that is normally gone. Maybe difference in firing temperature?
Yes, please share @Bok. I think I’ve seen some highly textured Taiwan pieces with kiln burn and that use ash glaze. From what I understand so far (limited knowledge) pieces from Shigaraki and Iga are high fired, so it must be the clay. Don’t know enough about other regional approaches yet.
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rdl
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Mon Sep 02, 2019 3:29 pm

Ethan Kurland wrote:
Sun Sep 01, 2019 9:15 pm
rdl, "...approachable in spite of the darkness of its soul", what a phrase! You know some of us will try to find a moment to use it. Terrific!
Thanks for that & all that you wrote. I think your photograph is appropriate to the intent of the discussion. Most people see dents as flaws. Holes or spots unevenly spread are not a comfortable pattern; so, this cup would annoy most people. Though the photograph is not of something representing mayhem, most people don't use things that are so irregular. As I "changed" & could like these kinds of pieces, I did not really "expand" my ability to appreciate much. I found that I had merely become used to pieces like the one in your photograph. Pottery with chunks in it can quickly show me how limited my ability to appreciate is....I don't like chunks.
I don't worry about that, but do think at some point a teapot of textured porous clay deserves a chance, since besides being a different look challenging me to enjoy it, it could help me enjoy some tea that I was not brewing to potential.
Ethan,
As tea is to be shared, so too words inspired by all things tea.
You wrote "Pottery with chunks in it can quickly show me how limited my ability to appreciate is....I don't like chunks."
I find that I can make you the hero of a parable. Knowledgeable friends gather to drink tea, discuss the meaning of being human in relationship to the tea, teaware and sitting. The discussion of rough, textured pieces comes up and an hour or more is filled with your wisdom in regards to this kind of teaware, relating it to balance of mind, harmony of thoughts, reflection of nature, etc.
Then offering best wishes, you leave with these parting words: I still don't like it.
Have I mistaken your self appraisal? I find it refreshing.
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