Rounding a bend, I pulled out of the narrow river-valley road into the vast expanse, framed by shaggy cedar and bamboo-covered mountain slopes. A pale mist clung to the slopes, the patchwork of fields, which on my last visit was dry and brown, was now covered with a fresh sprinkling of January snow.
I followed the narrow roads clustered at the foot of the mountains and passed a shrine and a bamboo grove that concealed ancient kiln sites from various centuries.
The morning sun shone dimly through the haze of a silvery-gray sky as I passed an old crumbling climbing kiln that had seen its last firing a century ago and pulled up the bumpy drive leading to Sensei’s studio with its pair of wood-burning kilns.
I got out of the car and stared momentarily at the star-encrusted soil (the crusty nature of the soil here is due to the abundance of feldspar granules which characterises the works of the local potters). The studio with its tiled roof and weathered beams had the usual artistic disarray of pots scattered around, some were placed on plinths. As I was admiring their natural fired textures the master potter appeared.
I was here to help with the firing. We split some logs, cleaned the kiln shelves and prepared the kiln loading. As it grew dark I headed back into town and stayed for the night at a nearby inn.
Next morning we finished the loading: traditional water containers for tea-ceremony, large tsubo jars, tea bowls, gourd-shaped saké flasks and flower vases. Then we closed the mouth of the kiln with bricks and mortar, leaving a gap at the base for a small bundle of twigs to start the firing.
We offered saké to the kiln gods and sprinkled salt for purification, after bowing to the altar, we lit the fire. As twilight was setting in, a light snow began to fall which soon turned to sleet, it was time to return to Kyoto.
under these pine-covered hillsides
of remnant snow …
we light a fire
“With so many potters these days using the star-encrusted clay of Shigaraki and the pine ash look of Iga ? even clay artists working hundreds, or thousands of miles away – it is quite remarkable when one boasts a look so distinctive that their pieces are rarely mistaken for the work of anyone else.
Sawa Kiyotsugu can make that claim. As items emerge from his twin kilns, weirdly tucked into the side of a quarry, the viewer is struck by their powerful originality. The raw, ragged edges and handles seem like God’s rough creation before the smoothing action of time. And the parched, scored surfaces and cracked rims, split open as if by a hatchet, also bring to mind the forces of time dramatically suspended, objects retrieved from a primordial desert landscape.
All this finds fulfilment, of course, with the addition of wetness: flowers, food, tea or sake. It is then that Sawa’s surprisingly utilitarian shapes, already exerting an elemental presence, (think of dry, dry brush calligraphy) achieve the yin-yang union that defines earthly harmony.
Knowing only his works, I imagined Sawa-sensei as some kind of magus, a mediator between worlds. Only when I finally met the man through a foreign deshi of his, did I realise which shamanic archetype he represented, Without doubt he is the lone gnome-like prospector? the one who, accompanied by his guardian dogs and clay jackasses, mines the land before time and hauls back for our emotional completeness its primal artifacts.”
by Peter Ujlaki
SHIGARAKI LEGENDS- SAWA KIYOTSUGU & SAWA KATSUNORI
信楽織部 〜 澤 清嗣 克典 〜 作陶展 7月20日 ー 7月26日 七階 阪急百貨店、うめだ 大坂
20th-26th July: Hankyu Dept., 7th floor gallery, Umeda, Osaka / 10am-8pm weekdays, weekend – 9pm
Besides his traditional Shigaraki tsubos, often perfectly formed and sometimes deliberately distorted or scarred, Sawa Kiyotsugu‘s signature pieces are the “yabure hanaire”, torn flower vases. There is a designated Important Cultural Property, a celebrated Iga mizusashi, a fresh water container known as the “Yaburebukuro”, burst bag, naturally distorted during the firing with a large gash on its front. However most of Sawa sensei’s torn vessels are deliberately done using a saw that he wields to rip the form, the combed surface recalls some of Kyoto’s ‘karesansui’, dry raked gravel and stone gardens.
A four day anagama firing is gruelling to both the pots and the firing crew, as unexpected and uncontrollable accidents might occur during the process. On this occasion, we had to deal with the “tsubure”, crushing of a large tsubo that occurred, a small crack developed into a total collapse that affected the surrounding pieces. Sensei used an iron bar to push back the fragments into the crushed pot and removed some of the nearby pieces.
However, fragmented peices can be repaired by using a technique known as Kintsugi, golden repair or Yobitsugi which is a grafting of different style shards soldered together with gold to create a patchwork pot. Perhaps there are just a few potters who can do this as skilfully as Sawa Kiyotsugu.
Sawa sensei’s son is also a fine young potter, following in his father’s footsteps but also using another style known as Oribe, that he learnt from his apprenticeship with the Oribe legend, Suzuki Goro.
The Hankyu Umeda Department store is one of the premier galleries in Japan. This July’s father and son exhibition shows the continuing traditions of Shigaraki’s yakishime, unglazed, wood-fire and Seto’s Oribe.
The potters will be there every day and the Leach Bar is nearby Umeda at the Royal Righa hotel on Nakanoshima island, where you can see works by Mingei masters Hamada Shoji and Kawai Kanjiro and drink a few beers with LB.
Don’t miss it!