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Abe Hitoshi (Shigaraki, Iga, Shino)



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Abe's enchanted villa inspires sublime pottery
by Robert Yellin
for The Japan Times, April 11, 2001

Photos of Abe's Work
Abe Hitoshi Sake Vessels
Abe Hitoshi Exhibition

In peaceful hamlets throughout Japan, local potters work at their own pace while garnering a loyal local following. There are literally thousands of such ceramists, and the serene environment in which they work nurtures and supports their artistic endeavors in subtle ways.

A famous celadon specialist I visited recently illustrated this point to me in a very specific way. He brought out a white kohiki slipped-style tokkuri (sake flask) that he had thrown in Korea, which was completely different from any of his usual shapes. He told me that when he was throwing the tokkuri the clay had refused to cooperate -- instead of taking the shape he intended, it insisted on taking the shape of the ancient wares from that area.

Upon returning to Japan he tried to replicate the Korean forms but it just didn't happen. Something about the place -- mood, energy, whatever you'd like to call it -- subliminally dictated direction.

Environment and personality affect all human endeavors and it should come as no surprise that those closest to nature have the deepest vibrations in their work and life. In fact, aloofness from society and closeness to nature are almost a prerequisite for thought of any lasting value. There's just too much unnatural change happening in the cities.

I felt this intrinsically at the home and studio of Izu potter Hitoshi Abe, whose latest exhibition opens today in Ginza at Matsuya's seventh-floor gallery and runs until April 17, 2001.

Abe Hitoshi

Hitoshi Abe holding a Shigaraki pot in his 350-year-old home.

Abe lives in a 350-year-old warabuki (thatched-roof) home that has the feeling of an enchanted villa. It's surrounded by nature's cathedral -- a heavenly bamboo forest that sways with the wind and allows sunlight to dance on the ground in delightful shadows.

Abe's work is fired in an anagama tunnel kiln. He makes sturdy Shigaraki and Iga and some Shino wares. The Shigaraki and Iga pieces are all fired up front of the kiln where the intensity of the heat is highest and ash fuses and encrusts the bodies, while the Shino works are placed on shelves in the back of the kiln. It's all good stuff -- not worthy of museums, but most welcome to any dining table. As I always say, if you choose to live with disposable plastic items, an "environment of the wasteful" will surely become part of your persona. Yet if you choose to complement your daily eating and drinking rituals with items full of beauty and grace.........well, you get the point.

Abe's understood that for years. From 1968 to 1975 he worked as a chef at Osaka's Kiccho, one of the premier ryotei in Japan, where he served food on the finest dishes and eating utensils (much as Rosanjin did at his legendary Hoshigaoka restaurant in the early Showa Era). He does the same in his own kitchen, where he complements his culinary creations by placing them on his own platters and dishes. Some of the Shigaraki pieces have a rich hi-iro (fire color) orange glow, while the Iga pieces are more subdued with dark patches of ash and rivulets of greens. 

In addition to his shokki (tablewares), Abe also makes kaki (flower utensils) and chadogu (tea ceremony wares) in the same styles.

Abe's an able potter, not one who is going to rewrite ceramic history nor have his work shown in museums, yet that's not what nature tells us to strive for anyway. It's the linking of heart, mind, environment and daily routines where lasting beauty is found, and that, like a bamboo forest, is breathtakingly simple.

The Japan Times: Apr. 11, 2001
(C) All  rights reserved.

For more stories on Abe Hitoshi, click a link below:
Abe Hitoshi Sake Vessels
Abe Hitoshi Exhibition


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