When a Woman Tends the Flame
By ROBERT YELLIN
for The Japan Times, July 22, 2000
Women potters have been on the move in recent years in Japan, which is quite a contrast to bygone days when they weren't even allowed near a kiln.
Veteran potters like Kyo Tsuji, Takako Araki and Yuriko Matsuda have paved a road that makes it easier for younger women to become established. I have followed the work of quite a few of these new ceramists, and one who has caught my eye is Mamiko Hayashi. She's having an exhibition in Ginza until Aug. 1, 2000, titled "The Possibility of Porcelain Clay: Softness and Tension."
Many people around the world are always bickering about the art vs. craft issue. Some say that anything with an open top or functional use is craft and only the creations that baffle the mind with their esoteric holiness are art. I don't buy either side's argument; it's a merry-go-round of the cerebrally inclined, and talk, well, is just that.
When I look at Hayashi's work I can see the fusing of the two: Her artfully crafted vases, bowls and other vessels have the look of fine Italian marble, smooth silk gowns or simple everyday tableware.
Hayashi uses a rich porcelain clay (jido) that she gets from Gifu Prefecture, the place where she studied ceramics for seven years, first at the Tajimi Ceramic Research Institute and then with veteran potter Keiji Ito.
"I studied the grand masterpieces of Mino pottery [i.e. Shino, Oribe] but never felt I wanted to copy those," she told me recentlyin Tokyo. "I wanted to create something that is mine and came from inside me."
In 1991 she established her kiln in Yokohama and has since created a very contemporary ambience in her work, equally suited to an urban environment or an old Japanese minka. Many of her works have swirling gray lines around the body that remind me of calligraphy, some of Hamada Shoji's works or even a Jackson Pollack canvas.
In fact, Hayashi does spatter the gray (uwae-tsuke) in the same manner as the action painters. Many potters use cobalt blue (gosu) to create movement on a piece, but Hayashi uses gray, and it gracefully matches the temperament of her work. She has named this style "himon."
Another first is that she deliberately uses patches of silver as embellishments. Silver on pots often indicates a repair. On some vessels tiny speckles of gray dot the surface, blown on using a technique called fukizumi (blown ink); fukizumi is most often seen on the porcelain of Living National Treasure Imaemon Imaizumi XIII.
The plate pictured here (sorry, said photo not shown here) is described as a koiro ginsai ichimatsumon shiho sumikiri sara - now try and say that three times fast! Ginsai refers to the silver patches and ichimatsumon is the checked pattern, while the last three names refer to the shape: shiho means square, sumikiri refers to the cut corners and sara means plate. Sumikiri is usually a feature of lacquer trays.
This exhibition has many of Hayashi's works bearing the koiro label. It basically means incense-colored, or light beige. Koiro was popular during the Heian Period and among Buddhist priests ranks second only to purple for color used in clothing.
Many of you know that Japanese tradition dictates changing the tableware with the seasons. Now is the perfect time for porcelain's light and cool feeling. During the hot summer months most high-fired stoneware is too cumbersome to use. Mold is also a problem on stoneware such as Hagi or Shino in humid conditions; porcelain, not being porous, doesn't invite fungus. Hayashi's work will, of course, please all year round, but no time is better than now.
The gallery, Ecru + HM, is located in the funky old Okuno Building, which would be more at home in New York's SoHo than glitzy Ginza. It was built in 1932 and has housed many famous artists and writers. The outside has rows of planters and the doorway is dark and inviting. Since the decrepit elevator only goes to the sixth and seventh floors (Ecru+HM is on the fourth), it's better to take the stairs - you'll be surprised at how short they are. Then you can also pop into some of the many other gallery tenants.
Ecru + HM is a cozy one-room space that is run by Akiko Yokomori. Like Hayashi, the gallery has a quiet charm and elegance that is noticeably absent from department store galleries and a welcome change.
Works by Mamiko Hayashi until Aug. 1 at Ecru + HM, Okuno Bldg. 4F, 1-9-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku, (03) 3561-8121. From Ginza subway station, go out of exit 10 and you'll see the Okuno Building.
The Japan Times: July 22, 2000
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