Saturday, 22 February 2014

A Visit to Oz in May

THE LIFE OF CLAY: The lessons of 25 years in Japan A Demonstration and Talk by Euan Craig

Thursday 29 May 2014; 10am – 1pm

Ceramics Department @ National Art School Forbes St, Darlinghurst Sydney NSW 2010

Euan Craig has spent a lifetime as a potter and the last 25 years in Japan as part of the Hamada Mingei tradition. He will demonstrate the wheel techniques he has learned and developed as a master potter in Japan, and share the experiences and lessons of his life before and since the Great East Japan Earthquake;;

Cost: $30 per person ($25 TACA members)

Please note: Full payment is required to ensure a place.

Minimum number: 10; Maximum number: 25

Please arrive by 9.45am to enable a prompt start.

There is no parking on campus, however metered street parking is available in the local streets. Tea and biscuits will be available. Coffee is better from the local cafés.

Payment for workshop:

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Heart of Mingei

My breath steams as I light the fire in the studio this morning. Icicles hang in a crystal fringe along the eaves as I brave the predawn cold and go outside to open the storm shutters on the house. Snow has made the world a study in black and white, and it creaks beneath my boots as I cross the driveway to the kiln shed for a bundle of firewood for the living room stove as well. I carry the wood back to the house, stamping the clinging snow from my boots on the earth floor of the studio before removing them, and climb the step onto the wooden gallery floor. Sliding the paper shoji screen open, I carry the wood across the tatami mat floor to the slow combustion stove by the window and stoke the fire. This is our third winter in this house in Minakami, our new home.  It still feels strange when I drive to Mashiko, for clay or an exhibition, that a mere 200 km away, two and a half hours on the freeway,  it is a good ten degrees warmer during these winter months. However, here inside the house, and to a lesser degree the studio, we are warm and comfortable. 
Alarms start to buzz and chime as various clocks in the next room join cacophonically with the town sirens. Despite all this noise, which gradually dwindles as each snooze alarm is hit, it still requires the Daddy alarm to finally get the tribe moving. Nothing is as effective in getting a child out of a nice warm futon on a cold morning as someone removing the futon, folding it up and putting it away neatly in the next room. 
Amid the bustle of morning ablutions , Mika and I prepare obento lunches for those who need them and breakfast for all. Savoury ommelette, some stir fried vegetables, "natto" fermented soy beans with some chopped leeks, mustard and soy sauce, white rice, "umeboshi" honey pickled plums and, of course, miso soup with tofu and wakame. It is a classic Japanese breakfast today and, though we have a wide variety of western style breakfasts as well, the food is always served on hand crafted vessels, usually my own but often those made by my friends and colleagues. We always sit down together and chorus "Itadakima~su!"  sharing our meal with those we love. Even the simplest of meals, prepared with love, served on hand made vessels with care for colour and balance, can turn the everyday into art. It can make the difference between living and merely existing.
  The morning sun is a pale thumb smudge in the leaden sky as I drive the children to school through flurries of snow. I washed the rime of ice off the windscreen with a bucket of water from the bath, and the children watch in wonder as frost crystals grow before their eyes along the edges where the wipers do not reach. Nature shows us sublime beauty in the most unexpected places, if only we have eyes to see.  The understanding of this beauty is common to us all, regardless of various cultural biases. It is this common beauty that forms the heart of mingei, and the call of that beauty is what brought me to Japan.

As I enter my twenty-fifth year in Japan I am honoured to be included in the Tochigi Prefecture Mingei Association Members Exhibition. I remember the young potter who arrived at Narita with all his worldy possesions in two carrier bags and a two year plan. A new life, a new culture, a new language. I could never have imagined the journey that has brought me here.
I was once told that I should strive to live the ordinary life in  an extraordinary way.  Not success in the conventional measure, and never easy, but a simple, honest life. Full of love and laughter, beauty and hope. If, through my work, I can bring this simple beauty to the lives of others, then that is a life worth living. 
I return home through the thickening snow. Perhaps I will be able to make some pots today, or perhaps the winter tasks will keep me away from clay. It is what it is, and I am happy to be who and where I am. Yes, it has been a long and difficult journey, but I would not change a single day.
A Message from the Mingei Association

 The Tochigi Prefecture Mingei Association presents this exhibition of works by its members who are involved in the making of objects.
Our ancestors nurtured a "Culture of Handcraft" in their everyday lives, a cultural heritage which it is the mission of our association is to pass on to the next generation. As makers, those exhibiting here shoulder their part of that responsibility, however,  the hand of the user exists in the "Culture of Handcraft", and it is there that a point of completion is first achieved. We hope that many people can receive an understanding of the pleasure of selecting a handcrafted "object", along with the joy of using it. 
That is the reason why this exhibition is titled "The Craftsman's Proposal for Life".
The meeting with a handcrafted "object" gives birth to a moment of resonance between the feelings of the maker and the user. At that moment the "object's" brilliance grows and fills the life of the user with colour.
This exhibition also invites you to love and cherish these "objects" 
and to "live beautifully".  It is our hope that it will give rise to many such encounters.

" A Sensibility Cultivated by Mashiko; The Craftsman's Proposal for Life."
The exhibition is of recent work, about thirty per craftsperson, by the 21 craftsman members of the Tochigi Mingei Association; Akashi Shousaku, Ishikawa Masakazu, Ohtsuka Kazuhiro, Ohtsuka Seiich, Ohtsuka Masayoshi, Okada Takahito, Ogawa Hirohisa, Kasahara Yoshiko, Sakuma Fujiya, Shimaoka Kei, Tokoi Takaichi, Hamada Shinsaku, Hamada Tomoo, Hamada Hidemine, Hagiwara Yoshinori, Higeta Masashi, Fukushima Haruo, Matsuzaki Ken, Matsuzaki Touru, Matsuzaki Osamu, and, of course, Euan Craig.

By popular demand, the exhibition has been extended till the 16th of February

Friday, 29 November 2013

20 years...

The charcoal brazier glows red in the shadows of the gallery. The air is fragrant with charcoal and grilled chicken; this evening I dined at home. Some fresh bread from the Mitsukoshi bakery, an avocado, half price because it was perfectly ripe, a sachet of tartare sauce. One of my guests at the opening brought a bottle of red which needs to be drunk...perhaps I do, too, but one bottle of red does not a summer make. All that is lacking is a book of verse and thou...and some order to be paradise enow. For the middle of Tokyo, however, this is close enough.

It is twenty years since my first exhibition in Tokyo, here at the Ebiya Bijutsuten. A lifetime, well, thinking of my children, maybe four lifetimes ago. The eleventh of November, 1993, representing "Australian Ceramics" as part of the Australian embassy "Celebrate Australia" campaign. On the 1st of January, 1994 I married Mika in Sydney and have been working very hard at happily ever aftering ever since. It has been a long journey, and, barring earthquakes and nuclear disasters, it has been annually punctuated by a nine day sojourn here at Ebiya. This years opening was blessed with the performance of my good friends Bill and Eric. The children sang and it was a joyous celebration.

Each morning I rise and light the brazier, and after breakfast I prepare the gallery for the coming day; clearing away my futon and chattels, rearranging the display, polishing each vessel with a soft cloth. Miyake san comes down from his home on the tenth floor, replaces the water on the "kamidana" (god shelf), pays homage to the god above the door, opens the "Butsudan" (family shrine) containing his father, the eighth in the Miyake dynasty and with whom I share the tea room, and lights incense for his ancestors. After he vacuums the floors and waters the plants, the kettle has boiled and we often sit and chat over a bowl of tea in my most recent tea bowls. The bustle of Tokyo shuffles past outside, we can hear the commuters chatting to each other beyond the shoji, admiring the window display, making a verbal note to come back at lunch time....

The Gallery opens at 11:00am, and I don the official ebiya "Hanten", a light smock of sorts, open at the front, which bears the insignia of the Ebiya Bijutsuten, purveyors to the imperial household for nine generations. Miyake san makes me wear his, the "ten shuu" (shop master) hanten, for he says that while my exhibition is on, I am the master. I'm not sure that that is true, but it is a sign of his humility that he should make such a gesture. He is a very kind and generous soul, and I am proud to count him as one of my very best friends. 

Visitors arrive, one after another, many of them old friends, some of them visiting for the first time. The gallery stands on the corner of Chuo dori, the main street of Tokyo, not five hundred metres from the Nihombashi Bridge, the geographical centre of Japan. All roads lead to Nihombashi, the Bridge of Japan, and even the river which flows beneath it is called the "Bridge of Japan River", a temporal conundrum in and of itself! 

Ebiya is a dealer in antiquities, and has been since 1673. My work is displayed on furniture from the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. In the "Tokonoma" display shelf, Miyake san has hung a Kakejiku scroll from the mid edo period, a painting of a shrimp, its back bent, a sign of longevity, a "Tai" (Schnapper) which is a play on words implying "Omedetai" which is a great celebration, and "Tako" (Octopus) which, when written in different Kanji as a pun, means "great good fortune". What better symbols could be imagined for a dealer in antiquities, the name of which translates as "Prawn shop", its Master and an expatriate Australian who form the core of the "Oyajigag Fukyuurenmei" (Society for the revival of old bloke puns).

"Okyakusan" in Japanese encompasses both customers and guests, and we greet each guest as we would a friend. We explain the work to them, share tea with them in my cups, laugh with them...many of them have been using my vessels for years and come to add to their collection; not to display but to use. So many of them tell me how my pots have become a part of their everyday lives, and that they find solace and peace in them which is a relief from the stress of modern life.

Sometimes we sit around the charcoal brazier and talk about life, the susurration of the kettle hanging on its "Jizaikagi" hook above the embers weaving subtly through the conversation, the wall clocks striking the approximate hours, one after another.

The vessels sit comfortably on the furniture of ages past. They belong here. There is a beauty which can be found in the natural functionality of life, which is not swayed by fashion and transcends language and culture. A beauty which is humanistic and common to us all, and which is relevant regardless of era. It is this universal beauty for which I strive, and there is no better place to test it than in the hands and on the tables of my customers and guests, in the hands and on the tables of professional chefs, and in the peace and harmony of the classic furnishings of this gallery. 

Ever since the first opening party here, the food has been provided by Chef Hashimoto Touru of Kappo Toyoda, a fifth generation Japanese chef and one of the finest Kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo. Much to my chagrin I was unable to provide enough vessels for a course menu at his restaurant this time. But we have great plans!

This week I have dined at several restaurants in Nihombashi which are using my vessels, and it is of immeasurable value to learn the role these vessels play in the meal, the harmonies that they make with the food and the orchestration that the chef creates with the total meal. I will take these lessons home and strive to add to that great song. 

In the end, it is those who use my vessels, who find joy in them, that bring my vessels to completion. I offer them here, in the best way that I can, so that others may see them and feel the spirit with which they were made. I wait here for those who have used my vessels to tell me how they fare. I bide here waiting to return to my loved ones and share my life with them. I will be here a few more days, and then I can go home to where I truly belong. Till then, I await you here, at Ebiya in Nihombashi, as I have for twenty years, and I hope for many years to come.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Proposition on MINGEI

It is quiet in the Ebiya galley this morning, just the sound of time pouring steadily out of the wall clocks one tick at a time. It has been a very hectic few months, and I am taking these hours before the gallery opens to catch up with myself.
I have spoken about mingei, about my philosophy on life and art, and heard argument around and about concerning what Yanagi and Hamada and Leach did and did not say, do or mean. I was looking through a book on Sunday morning and found this very succinct passage written by Yanagi. It does not require my embelishment, so I share it with you here, and will let you think about while I compose my next blog.    
Proposition on MINGEI
Soetsu Yanagi
Mingei (the abbreviation of  minshu-teki kogei ), which means the crafts or arts made by the people to be used daily by the people, was coined to imply the opposite of bourgeios fine art. Mingei is
I. utilitarian oriented
II. commonplace ordinary or "normal" things.
Everyday necessary items such as clothes, household utensils, furniture and stationary articles are included in mingei. What is luxurious, costly and rare is not mingei.
Those who make mingei items are not notable individuals, but nameless craftspeople. What is made is not to be displayed but to be appreciated through everyday use. They are regular indispensable things made in quantity and affordably priced. The nature of mingei is born from the community's way of life.
However, mingei is not every single inexpensive necessity you see lined on shop shelves. Mingei must be honest to its utilitarian purpose. Items created with commercial motives are dishonest to its purpose.
Items made in fashion are elegant and refined and often based on distinct preferences. They are not mingei because the concern in decoration and ideas preceed utilitarian basics.
 Mingei items must be:
I. honest to utility and "healthy" in form
II. particular about quality
III. produced without being forced, artificial or self-imposing
IV. conscientious of the user
Things made with appearance above quality, intentional negligence, vulgar colours, and those that are cheap, easily breakable, flimsy and not user-oriented are dishonest and unethical.
For these reasons, mingei must be faithful to everyday life and "healthy" (both physically and spiritually). True mingei is your true companion for life. It has the virtue of being useful, dependable convenient, and comfortable to live with. It has the affection to grow on you. Mingei is therefore natural, genuine, simple, durable and safe.
The sincerity of the peoples' craft created mingei, and its beauty emanates from the items' purpose and utility. It is a "healthy" beauty; a beauty that Yanagi called buji-no-bi (the beauty of spiritual freedom and self sufficiency).       

Friday, 22 November 2013


I'd like to inform you of my 20th Anniversary Exhibition at EBIYA BIJUTSUTEN in Nihonbashi, Tokyo.



Euan Craig, Ceramics Exhibition
ユアン クレイグ作陶展


3-2-18 Muro-machi, Nihonbashi, Chuoh-ku, Tokyo 103-0022
Tel 03(3241)6543       Fax 03(3241)1914

Opening party from 11:00am, Nov. 23rd 

with live Music by Bill Scholer.

This year I celebrate my 20th anniversary exhibition at Ebiya Bijutsuten. My work has evolved over those years, and though my life has changed in so many ways, Ebiya has been a constant anchor. It has been a long and exciting journey, full of joy and sometimes sorrow, rich in experiences and fulfilling in so many ways, and I am honoured to have shared it with you. I look forward to sharing my new works with you this year 
and for many years to come.


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Kuza Nama

Listen again. One evening at the close,
Of Ramazan, ere the better moon arose
In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

And, strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried-
"Who is the Potter, Pray, and who the pot?" 

(Omar Khayyam, "Kuza Nama", Book of Pots, 12th Century)

As evening fell just the other day, I sat in the studio twisting Igusa around the last of the coffee mugs and drippers. Cool air wafted down from the hill behind the house and through the open window, while birds and cicadas sang songs to me. Occasionally I would look into the back garden, the face of the Nobotoke buddhist statue greeting me calmly, the "koushintou" stele behind his shoulder and the shine to Inari off to the left. 

Our lives are served to us in easily digestible bite size pieces,  those moments when our little patch of the earths surface slides beneath the bright space between sunrise and sunset, and gratefully we are allowed to rest between mouthfuls. Some of them are hard to swallow, but others are sweet, and there are never any two the same. It is, therefore, important to savour each and every one of them.  

I have often been asked how long it takes to make a pot. The real answer is a lifetime. But, this last month, I have made about four hundred, large and small. It is a process that cannot be hurried, and the role of the potter is to be patient, taking action when the clay is ready, guiding the vessel into it's finished form. Rather like parenting.

When we look back over the days and weeks and accumulation of moments that have brought us to today, it is astounding to see how far our small steps have journeyed. I know how easy it is to become despondent, feeling that no matter how we strive and struggle we seem to make no headway at all; but it is not the destination that is important, so much as the journey. 

Each day, each moment, every movement that helps create the vessel is a precious gift, and it is important that we notice and take joy in them, no matter how small they may seem.

As each pot is trimmed on the wheel, as I place the chattering tool to its surface, as I listen to the sound of its rhythm, I am in the moment. An adjustment of speed, a change of angle, a touch more pressure, and magically the rhythm becomes a clear hum, and for these few seconds I hold to this course, from the centre to the edge, striving not to break that rhythm. When the wheel stops, when the silence falls, then I find the evidence of those moments, the accumulation of a life time of moments, a gift of beauty.

Step by step we move forward, and each step is always the first. 

These vessels which I make are not for me. They are for the hands and lips and lives of others, friends, family, strangers. They will become a part of their daily lives, for a moment, a day, perhaps a lifetime. They will live beyond my life and speak for me, telling the world about the beauty I have seen and the passion I have felt. I make the vessel for others, but the making of the vessel is for me.

It has taken nature aeons to create clay for me. Thank you, I will do my best not to waste it. Each morning my studio is filled with the light of day, and by this light I make my pots, and in the evening when the light fades I put down my tools. This was the way people lived for thousands of years, I am happy for Mr Edison to not interfere with that. By all means let him light the evening meal which I share with my family, keep my food cold and fresh, help Mika wash the clothes, these are very helpful things. But I am not happy for him and his minions to dictate society and economics while they poison the air and the land and the ocean. There must be a better way.

We are husbands to this world, not the owners of it, and it is not disposable. When I draw fresh clear water from my well, I do so in gratitude for a world which is beautiful and good. It is my role to ensure that my children and theirs can live lives which are just as beautiful and good. 

So I take each step in my process carefully. I strive to work with the forces of nature to create a lasting beauty, by making every moment an ephemeral beauty. It is nature who creates the curve of my handles, the spiral of my throwing rings, the rhythm of my forms. 

These vessels are beautiful and useful, part of the art of living. I make them with as little impact on the environment as I can, with natural and healthy materials, in collaboration with natural forces. When complete they will potentially serve their function for ten thousand years, and if they are broken they will return to the earth from which they came, with no more environmental impact than pebbles and grains of sand.

None of us know what tomorrow may bring. It is, therefore, important to make the most of today. To make our plans for forever and live each day with love and joy, knowing that you have done your best. No one can ask for more than that.

I look back at what I have achieved over the last month. I have wedged clay, thrown pots, trimmed them, decorated them, handled them and put them out to dry. I have waxed them, made glazes and glaze tests, and glazed the pots. I have cleaned the kiln, cleaned and kiln washed the kiln shelves, tested new coatings on the inside of the kiln.  Yes, it has been a good month.

I have also tended the garden, heated the wood fired bath every day, prepared meals, baked bread and cakes and scones, and done all of the thousands of little tasks that daily life requires. Mika and I have helped our children with their homework and shuttled them to school and choir and sports. We have listened to their troubles and hopes and dreams and told them about our own. We have hugged them often and told each other "I love you." It is all these things, these little moments, these building blocks that make our lives, that make us who we are. There is not a moment to be missed!

 Yesterday I stacked the kiln, the penultimate step in the making process. Each pot carefully placed, thinking of how the flame will flow through the kiln, where it will touch the pots. Not all of the pots I have made this month fit in this firing. I hope to stockpile work to fire in winter.  As the last light of day washed obliquely into the kiln shed I bricked up the door, washing each brick as I set it to avoid dust falling into the pots, for just one grain of sand in the wrong place can ruin a vessel that has taken a month to make. I plan to fire tomorrow, today I will rest. The morning air is cool as I write, and the family begins to stir. I will take them to the river today, we will have a barbeque. This, too, is part of the making of pots, and the making of a potter, another page in my book of pots.