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Introducing Ryuji Iwasaki

Beautifully crystalized glaze 

Beautifully crystalized glaze 

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Award winning craftsman Ryuji Iwasaki was born in Osaka in 1980, where he still lives and works in his studio/home, shown below. The contemporary and simple design of the house tells us a lot about his unique point of view for the traditional crafts.

He has won more than a dozen crafts awards all over Japan.

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“I create something from an undefined shape and make an object the user will find special and unique. I find great satisfaction in the bond this stimulates between the creator and the end user.”


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Creation:

I’ve always liked to make things since childhood, but not something standard or mass-produced like a plastic model. I’d rather make something without plans or instructions, which I can use to express my vision freely. I believe that is the key to becoming a potter.

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Wheel:

When you see videos or photos of potters, they are turning the wheel. Some potters don’t like that part so much, but I really enjoy it. It takes me to new places while I create.

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Color:

I think color is the most important element. The color of the ceramic is determined not simply by the type of glaze, but also by the proportion of the mixture, its flow, and firing. You become an alchemist by combining a very complex mix of all these elements and make one nuanced look. Therefore, I will spend the rest of my career searching for the various elements – call it a recipe if you like – on a quest for beautiful combinations of colors.

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Happiness:

The most exciting moment during the creation process is when I open the kiln. Even if I have a very clear expectation of what I think the image may look like, I never know for sure if it turns out the way I expect. It goes the way I expected sometimes, and fails sometimes. But time to time, it turns out more than I was hoping for, and I fall in love with the exact work I made myself.

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Dream:

When I create something, I am always inspired and fascinated by the depth and beauty of Japanese traditional crafts and ceramics. I want the world to know and experience the depth and the charm that I cannot express by the words. It would be great if I can inspire the world through my work.

 

Again at AIPAD, The Photography Show

   Kimiko Yoshida RorschachYoshida XCV (Sitting Bull L), 2018

 

Kimiko Yoshida RorschachYoshida XCV (Sitting Bull L), 2018

One of our favorite art fairs in New York is back in Pier 94 this year.

We saw quite amazing collection of photography and of course, we need to pick a few of great Japanese photographers, and subject matter in Japan.
Take a look!

   Kimiko Yoshida RorschachYoshida LXXXVI (Monna Lisa M), 2018

 

Kimiko Yoshida RorschachYoshida LXXXVI (Monna Lisa M), 2018

Gen Otsuka, Snow Fantasy (1953)

Gen Otsuka, Snow Fantasy (1953)

Asako Narahashi, Untitled, from Nu-e (Peacock)

Asako Narahashi, Untitled, from Nu-e (Peacock)

Asako Narahashi, Kotan (Plate #EA-06), from Ever After

Asako Narahashi, Kotan (Plate #EA-06), from Ever After

Yuki Onodera, Yuki Onodera | Eleventh Finger No.04

Yuki Onodera, Yuki Onodera | Eleventh Finger No.04

Albarrán Cabrera, The Mouth of Krishna

Albarrán Cabrera, The Mouth of Krishna

Encounter with the new talent

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As promised in our previous blog, continuing with our visit to Kyushu and especially Saga Prefecture and our visit with up and coming porcelain artist Tsukasa Momota.

We arrived in Arita, a town famous for ceramics on January 3, right in the midst of the three day New Year Holiday in Japan. This does not mean outdoor festivities. It means most people are at home with family and friends, relaxing, eating great food and maybe having a glass or two of sake, usually from the region. Wherever you are in Japan, you can’t go wrong with the seasonal food and sake.

Oldest shrine in Arita village

Oldest shrine in Arita village

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Traditional Japanese New Year decoration 

Traditional Japanese New Year decoration 

We strolled the streets of the picturesque old Japanese town, and as I wrote previously, it felt like being on a movie set and we were the unwitting, but very interested actors. One Japanese native and one gaijin (me) who has been to Japan many times. We didn’t go into this ignorantly -- we knew most of the town may be closed, but we also knew Arita is famous for a certain type of ceramics - porcelain. And this is porcelain painted in various colors, often blue and likely inspired many centuries ago by artisans from Korea and probably China as well. This particular type of porcelain became known as Arita-yaki. It gained fame when European traders, who were the first to be allowed into Japan, through Nagasaki (the only open port to “Westerners” in the Edo period) brought them back to Europe.

 

So, as we walked the streets, we found a few places open and admired the crafts. As we walked, we happened to look into a storefront window and saw somebody working. He looked up and motioned us in. That was our introduction to Tsukasa Momota, a Fukuoka native who spend several years in northern Florida pursuing his love of surfing. Yup, we just happened to find a local Japanese guy who moved to Florida to study art and fell in love with surfing and antiques.

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Thus began Tsukasa Momota’s journey into traditional Japanese crafts. Or, maybe I should say, it evolved as many would argue that surfing is a form of art in itself. We spent a really enjoyable afternoon talking with Momota-san, hearing his story and telling ours, while he showed us his works and served us oshogatsu delicacies with very good regional sake.

Arita craftspeople have been making a concerted effort to reinvent Arita-yaki to make it more contemporary and have recently shown here in New York and around the world. Momota-san prefers to take a slightly different approach. His work is more subtle, evolving without losing the beauty and usefulness of the centuries of work that his forbearers created.

We are now featuring his works here. Please take a look.

Experiencing a memorable holiday in kyushu

Year of the dog by Kayo Kokubun

Year of the dog by Kayo Kokubun

Traditional Kyushu New Year Appetizer with Mountain veggie

Traditional Kyushu New Year Appetizer with Mountain veggie

A bit late, but we wanted very much to post some belated words and images about our trip to Kyushu to celebrate the New Year Holiday in Japan. A quick, very quick primer: In Japan, New Year is a three day event from Japan 1-3. And, of course there are preparations that go into making all of the foods and festivities associated with Oshogatsu. And pretty much all businesses are closed. Yes, we knew this going in.

We took a shinkansen to Fukuoka and spent two days and nights exploring the vibrancy that this now third-largest city in Japan exudes. This was during the two days leading up to Oshogatsu. Fukuoka had a lot of energy and we really loved our time there.

At Shrine in Hakata

At Shrine in Hakata

From there, we went to Nagasaki -- a place we have wanted to visit for a very long time, and it was akin to venturing into a home away from home in another world. It was all and more than we expected. We knew that many places would be closed because of the Holiday, but we found  much to do and see and explore and soak up. We spent New Years day with two longtime friends of Ria’s in the hills above Nagasaki with all of the food that symbolizes and makes New Year so special in Japan - osechi. It was an amazing afternoon and evening, eating and drinking sake with Ria’s old friends and my new ones. The food was amazing, the sake delicious and the company perfect. It was hard to say goodbye.

For our last few days in Kyushu, we ventured into the countryside, which required me to drive for the first time in Japan. I’ve been there a few dozen times, but never had to drive, but I grew up around Detroit in Michigan, so I’ve done my share of driving -- it was just that everything is opposite. Once you get your brain to think opposite, you’re fine. At least it was for me.

On our next to last day, we went to Arita in Saga Prefecture, which is famous for ceramics, especially porcelain with elaborate painting -- likely an influence from China and Korea as Nagasaki was the only port open to foreigners in the Edo Period and before. The town was empty. It was like walking on a movie set depicting Japan 100 years ago.

We don’t want to give too much away on this post about this part of the trip, but we literally stumbled on a budding artist and great guy working in his closed shop who motioned us in. We spent the whole afternoon there.

Thoughts and wishes for many at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka

Thoughts and wishes for many at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka

His name is Tsukasa Momota. We will talk more about our time with him and introduce his works in our next post. Stay tuned.

 

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From there, we went to Nagasaki -- a place we have wanted to visit for a very long time, and it was akin to venturing into a home away from home in another world. It was all and more than we expected. We knew that many places would be closed because of the Holiday, but we found  much to do and see and explore and soak up. We spent New Years day with two longtime friends of Ria’s in the hills above Nagasaki with all of the food that symbolizes and makes New Year so special in Japan - osechi. It was an amazing afternoon and evening, eating and drinking sake with Ria’s old friends and my new ones. The food was amazing, the sake delicious and the company perfect. It was hard to say goodbye.

For our last few days in Kyushu, we ventured into the countryside, which required me to drive for the first time in Japan. I’ve been there a few dozen times, but never had to drive, but I grew up around Detroit in Michigan, so I’ve done my share of driving -- it was just that everything is opposite. Once you get your brain to think opposite, you’re fine. At least it was for me.

On our next to last day, we went to Arita in Saga Prefecture, which is famous for ceramics, especially porcelain with elaborate painting -- likely an influence from China and Korea as Nagasaki was the only port open to foreigners in the Edo Period and before. The town was empty. It was like walking on a movie set depicting Japan 100 years ago.

We don’t want to give too much away on this post about this part of the trip, but we literally stumbled on a budding artist and great guy working in his closed shop who motioned us in. We spent the whole afternoon there.

His name is Tsukasa Momota. We will talk more about our time with him and introduce his works in our next post.

 
At Yanagibashi Market in Fukuoka

At Yanagibashi Market in Fukuoka

Motsu nabe, staple in Fukuoka

Motsu nabe, staple in Fukuoka

Saga light snow strawberry

Saga light snow strawberry

On the Famous Road of Light at at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka...Well-Known for the beautiful sunsets.

On the Famous Road of Light at at Miyajidake Shrine in Fukuoka...Well-Known for the beautiful sunsets.

The Art of the In-Between

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New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) has a stunning exhibition of famed fashion designer Rei Kawakubo’s work. Of course, she is synonymous with Commes des Garcons, and The Met has put together a really intriguing exhibition that looks at opposites in her work. It blurs the lines of what we think opposite means and looks at what’s in between. It is the essence of what she has done since founding Commes de Garcons in 1969 -- embracing two Japanese principles:  mu (emptiness) and its relation to ma (space). The concept of opposites blurring invokes the space in between.

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As always,we were really impressed by Kawakubo’s body of work as well as the great manner in which the exhibit was curated and designed. We’ve been to other shows in the Costume Institute at The Met that were stunning, but they were typically staged in dramatic setting with more direct lighting, to great effect. But Kawakubo’s work was portrayed entirely different. The staging was white with a matrix of overhead lighting from the ceiling and no spot-lighting on the displays. It emphasized the bold shapes of Kawakubo’s work, reflecting the colors and theme of the exhibit as well as her design ethos..

There are several concepts of “in-betweenness” portrayed in the exhibition and we could go into great detail about each, but I think the visuals tell the story.

Altering Graffiti — A New Form of Signature

Enrico Isamu Oyama's newest work ©Japan Suite

Enrico Isamu Oyama's newest work ©Japan Suite

Oyama organic creation on the exhibition opening night ©Japan Suite

Gallery located next to Frank Gehry designed IAC building in Chelsea ©Japan Suite

Gallery located next to Frank Gehry designed IAC building in Chelsea ©Japan Suite

New York City and graffiti are synonymous, if not so much now, certainly in the latter part of the previous century. So, the back courtyard at Jane Lombard Gallery in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood was an appropriate setting for Japanese-Italian artist Enrico Isamu Oyama to showcase his talents live. We liked watching him work organically in the outdoor setting framed on three sides by brick walls and on the fourth by the iconic Frank Gehry IAC building.

Oyama was born in Tokyo to an Italian father and Japanese mother. The family took trips every summer to northern Italy, which provided Oyama with two key inspirations. The dichotomy of the fast pace of Tokyo life and the relaxed vibe of rural northern Italy gave him multiple perspectives of the world. The other defining moment for him was his discovery and immersion into “graffiti culture”, which was especially active in Italy at the dawn of the new millennium.

Oyama explains how that inspiration influences his art. “In graffiti culture, a name, composed of stylized letters, represents writer’s alter ego”, he says. “I remove letter shapes, extract only the flowing line and repeat it to maximize its dynamism. By doing so, I create an abstract motif. Instead of having a new name for myself, I gave a name to the motif: Quick Turn Structure (QTS).

“QTS has its own life. Its physical manifestations are channelled into unique art pieces from one specific moment in time. The pieces are called FFIGURATI, a term referring to the word “graffiti” and the Italian expression “figùrati” — literally translated as “figure it out yourself”.”

Oyama, who now calls New York City home, has collaborated with such iconic Japanese brands as  COMME des GARÇONS and Shu Uemura. And speaking of COMME des GARÇONS, the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in NYC has just opened a comprehensive retrospective of Rei Kawakubo’s avant garde designs. We will be checking it out in a few days and will have much to show and say on here very soon.

Bigger is Definitely Better for Iconic NYC Photography Show

Nightcall by Sascha Weidner

Nightcall by Sascha Weidner

One of our favorite things always in New York is to visit art shows, and we met the new spring season this year with a very cool photography show held by AIPAD, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers.

The show this year was big and impressive. The location had moved from Park Avenue Armory to Pier 94, which made room for 115 galleries from around the world as well as 30 book sellers/publishers.

With the number of countries participating came a great variety of vintage to contemporary, classic to experimental with a vast array in terms of medium and techniques. Not surprising given the state of our current world, a great variety of the art displayed political messages. Some pieces, we don’t necessarily call photography, but related or derived. We were impressed by the potential of photography as art more than any of the shows we visited recently.

And of course, we were drawn to talented Japanese artists works. Here are a few that caught our eyes!

Particularly we had a great conversation with Ibasho from Antwerp, Belgium, which literally means “a place where you can be yourself.” They are collectors of Japanese prints turned dealers. We felt their love for Japanese photographers sensibilities and unique explorations.

One of the artists they presented was Motohiro Takeda, who is fascinated by camera obscura and the idea of being inside the camera. One of his series titled “Another Sun” is a dramatic, large scale print of an inverted sun, which started as a result of the fortuitous accidental representation of the sun on a piece of photographic paper on the wall of his apartment.

Here are some of the other artists with connections to Japan that we were also quite impressed by.

Motohiro Takeda

Motohiro Takeda

AkiraSato
Albarrán Cabrera

Albarrán Cabrera

Albarrán Cabrera

Albarrán Cabrera

AlecSoth_Sari

AlecSoth_Sari

Michiko Yamawaki

Michiko Yamawaki

MaoIshikawa

MaoIshikawa

 Issei Suda

 Issei Suda

By the way, this was one of the most instagrammed booth at the show.

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We love... "japanese packaging" part 1

We adore Japanese packages. We'd like to share Part one of our packaging study.

Plum tea package by Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten. Their business dates back to 1716, supplying special Goyohin to Tokugawa government. 中川政七商店

Plum tea package by Nakagawa Masashichi Shoten. Their business dates back to 1716, supplying special Goyohin to Tokugawa government. 中川政七商店

Individual Plum wine carton comes with a pretty sleeve. "Ume-iro Shizuku" from Kozaki Shuzo Nabedana, in Narita, also has 320 years of history. 鍋店

Individual Plum wine carton comes with a pretty sleeve. "Ume-iro Shizuku" from Kozaki Shuzo Nabedana, in Narita, also has 320 years of history. 鍋店

Gorgeous emboss work on outer pack for Incense ...by Shoyeido Incense Co, Kyoto. 松栄堂

Gorgeous emboss work on outer pack for Incense ...by Shoyeido Incense Co, Kyoto. 松栄堂

Individual mini Yokan in 3 flavor packs are in a cute little fabric bag! ...by one of the most well known Wagashi store, Toraya. とらや

Individual mini Yokan in 3 flavor packs are in a cute little fabric bag! ...by one of the most well known Wagashi store, Toraya. とらや

Rebirth and Regeneration: Salt of the Art

Motoi Yamamoto has created numerous art installations around the world during the past several years using only salt.

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Ever since he lost his sister to cancer, Yamamoto has been exploring different mediums of expression to overcome his sorrow. One day, he thought of using salt, which symbolizes purification in Japanese culture -- it is even used as a part of funeral ceremonies.

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His exhibition, Meikyu (Labyrinth), took 250 kilograms (more than 500 pounds) of salt to complete. He worked meticulously for 10-20 hours a day to finish this large installation piece. Though its size is very large and could appear overwhelming, it gives off an air of calm tranquility.

Salt has very special meanings for Japanese. For example, you will see Sumo wrestlers throw salt before the match. In ancient times, Japanese purified themselves by dipping in the sea, and that ritual evolved into using salt for purification or cleansing of the spirit—-and to ward off evil spirits. Japanese believe that salt is essential for life energy, and it is considered a symbol of life. Salt contents in body fluid are considered to be similar to that of seawater, and many cultures feel that this mirrors a belief that life came from the ocean.

On the last day of his exhibition, visitors are asked to help in breaking down the installation, collecting the salt in a bag and encouraged to spread it in their chosen sea. This helps complete the cycle of life.

Yamamoto used to feel sad about the end of show. But, once this ritual to visit the beach with people who experienced his art started, he now appreciates the symbolism, and he can smile on the last day.

We look forward to seeing his more of his ever-evolving works of art.

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山本基(やまもともとい)さん、塩を使ったインスタレーションアートを世界各地で展開し、日本人にとっての清めを意味する塩をいろいろなかたちで紹介して来られています。最愛の妹を癌でなくし、それを乗り越える過程でいろいろな表現を探していた山本さん。ある日、お葬式でお清めに使われる塩を素材に制作を考えた事がはじまりだとか。

写真で紹介された作品「迷宮」では250kgもの塩を使って1日10-20時間の根気のいる作業を繰り返します。圧巻の大きさであるにかかわらず、静謐が漂います。

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古来より海に身を沈めて穢れを清めてきた日本では、お清めに塩を撒く慣習があります。塩は人間の生命エネルギーに不可欠なものであり、生命力の象徴。体液中の塩分と海水の塩分とは非常に似ていると言われており、まるで人類が海から発生した事の証明のようです。塩は生命の循環の象徴ともいえます。

インスタレーションの期間が終わるとビジターが作品を自由にくずして袋に入れて持ち帰り、それぞれが好きな海に戻すというのが慣例だそう。山本氏は以前は寂しい気持ちになっていた展覧会の終わりを、観客と一緒に塩を集めるイベントで終える事により、逆に笑顔で迎える事ができるようになりました、と語っています。

常に変わり続ける山本さんの作品の、今後の進化を見守っていくのがとても楽しみです。

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Another encounter with Kanazawa artist in NYC

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田聡美さんの個展に伺いました。ヴィンテージのレースをモチーフにしたとても素敵な作品ばかり、創作方法もユニークです。おっとりとした人柄も魅力的な方でした。

Visited Satomi Den's glass art show on Broadway, I was fortunate to have a conversation with the artist about the inspiration, craftsmanship and Kanazawa where she is from. Very charming person, too!

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