Monday 30 June 2008

The week that was.

This last week has been hectic. On monday the Japanese pottery magazine "Tsukuru Toujiro" came to photograph and interveiw for the August issue. They are dedicating six pages to me and my coffee mugs.
My studio normally feels too small, but with the back drops and camera equipment it was like potting in a shoebox.

I finished the mugs ( all 200 of them), handled, dried, glazed and fired them by Saturday. I had to fire by then so that I could unpack and deliver to a gallery in Utsunomiya today. While I was firing the kids "hung around" and enjoyed the fine weather.

Yesterday was a day of rest and Mika celebrated her birthday.
The children and I baked and decorated her cake.

Tomorrow I fly out to the UK, to build and fire one of my kilns at David and Margaret Friths pottery in Denbigh, North Wales for Steve Tootell. I will also be giving a lecture and demonstration for the North Wales Potters Association on the sixth. Hopefully I will be able to research some traditional beer at the local pub while I'm there!

Sunday 22 June 2008

Art and Artifice

That which is beautiful does not cease to be so merely because we are inured to it. Modern society tends to cauterize ours basic senses and makes us blind, deaf and insensitive to the simple and essential beauty that is inherent in nature, surrounding us every day. It takes a great deal of effort to peel away the veneered layer upon layer of false values and preconceptions that have been pasted over our perceptions and become aware of the simple truths that are self evident around us. It is easy to judge your life, your success, by monetary standards, but those standards are artificial and manmade, not intrinsic or even necessarily real. Nor is it healthy to constantly judge yourself based on opinions of others, for everyone of us has the freedom of thought to define themselves.

I find great joy in simple things. "They" say that "small things amuse small minds", but I disagree. The ability to perceive the magnificence of nature in something as simple as a sea shell, or to find joy and satisfaction in making a coffee mug, or two hundred coffee mugs, is acknowledging ones place in this droplet of life in the vast desolate cosmos. Every day is a miracle, every moment a revelation.

God is in the details, I have heard said, and I think that is true. Nature does not forget the underside of a shell or leaf, each is a masterpeice, no two the same, and yet they are all in harmony with each other. Modern society has set too much value on uniformity, on sameness, and lost the beauty of pattern and rhythm that is a part of nature and traditional craft and society.
The things which we make with our hands, for our hands to use, should be as beautiful and immediate to us as the beauty of nature. They should not be mechanical sterile barriers between us and nature. That is the difference between art and artifice, a difference that is vital to the future of human society.

Monday 16 June 2008

A Small Journey

Since feudal times Japan has had a "self government system" which has it's foundation in local community groups known as "Han". Government filters down from parliament through prefectures to cities and towns, then to the districts within them and finally the local han. Everyone knows each other, and there is an obligation to help each other in a crisis. In times of sickness, emergency or tragedy, the leader of the han ( the "Hancho") will notify all the householders and they will gather together to deal with the problem. There are also many regular local events, festivals, cleaning and repair of shrines and temples and other such gatherings that ensure a community identity. One such event is the annual weekend excursion.

This year I am the Hancho of our community, and we journeyed off to niigata for the weekend.
Our journey began with a visit to the emerald lake on mount Bandai, an active volcano. The blue colour of the water is due to minerals from the volcanic activity.
]We then stopped for lunch at the "Bukeyashiki" samurai barracks in Aizu wakamatsu. I was particularly moved be the simple beauty of the tea house.
In the afternoon there was time to visit a garden of iris blossoms, where the whole valley was planted with 60,000 iris bulbs. The essence of japanese beauty is not, however, in a vista of flowers, but rather in a single bloom.
The carp in the ornamental garden of the onsen (hotspring) hotel where we stayed, rose eagerly in the pool at the foot of the waterfall in search of hand feeding.
We visited the shrine of mount Yahiko on the second day. The architecture blended calmly into the forest.
Unlike many shrines this building was unadorned, emphasising the qualities of the timber from which it had been made and the skills of the craftsman that built it.
Our final destination was the fish markets on the waterfront at Teradomari on the Sea of Japan. It was my first visit to the west coast, and my first visit to the beach for four years. The last beach I went to was bondi.
There is nothing like the feel of the sand beneath your feet as the waves lap over them.
Of course no journey is complete without tasting the local beer, so here's cheers!

Thursday 12 June 2008

Money Spiders?

Last year we found a silver spider under the eaves and left it alone to eat whatever mosquitos or other annoying insects it could. In the back of my mind I also hoped that it might bring us a bit of good luck in the "Silver" department. Admittedly things have been going pretty well for us over the last year but whether that's due to luck or hard work....

Today we discovered a half a dozen of them around the outside of the house. They are only small, their body is about the size of a grain of rice, but they shine like a nugget of pure silver.

They say that spiders in the garden are a sign of a healthy environment and, unlike Australia, Japan doesn't have a problem with poisonous spiders. So we shall leave them to share our home and, who knows, they might be lucky afterall.

Monday 9 June 2008


Australia is old, you can feel its bones beneath your feet, see the skin and sinew of the soil stretched across the shoulder of the horizon. Long dead volcanoes had lain a layer of basalt across the broad plateau, and millenia of erosion had worn a web of deep valleys through it.

Once upon a time a young man sat on a boulder atop a mesa and gazed westward over the flat top hills towards the setting sun. Below him on the left, at the bottom of a steep ravine, flowed the river Colliban, and to the right Spring Gully creek. Storm clouds were blowing towards him, black and ominous. Between him and the sunset the rain began to fall in billowing curtains, and shafts of gold and rainbow light radiated across the land.

Down in the valley a pair of kookaburras laughed at some private joke, while magpies warbled a song of longing to each other in red gums on the ridge. A flock of pink and grey galahs screeched southward toward the shelter of the bush, the sunset edging their feathers in gold.

Suddenly lightning flashed, a bolt of fire that reached from the clouds to the earth, the burning passion of the heavens reaching out for his beloved. The young man could smell the rain like perfume on the breeze that caressed his cheek and ran its fingers through his hair. Unbidden a tear rolled down his cheek to lay a gentle, salty kiss upon his lips. His senses tingled and his heart swelled. Here, alone with the world, he was less lonely than he had ever felt, filled with a sense of belonging. He was a witness to, no, a part of these forces of nature, nature aware of itself, experiencing itself and saying "I AM". No judgemental eyes to look down on him, no nagging voices telling him who he should or should not be. He was home.

The sun has risen and set every day since the earth began. There had never been a sunset exactly like this before, there never would be again. Each day is a precious and unrepeatable jewel in the passage of time, each hour, each moment a treasure that enriches our lives.

My life has been a journey of discovery, my work has been an attempt to give form to the passion that the beauty of this world has filled me with.

The hills and mountains of Japan are young, still buxom and vital in their youth. Their slopes are covered in lush forests, and rice paddys stretch wet and shining around their feet. I watched the sun set behind the mountains of Nikko today from my front yard, as a thunderstorm rolled across the rice fields. A lone heron winged silently across the valley, as the sun slowly faded behind a cloud band, an orange smudge on the grey canvas of the summer sky. In my hand I have a goblet of australian merlot, and my family wait for me in my home, for they are my home.

I remember the young man who came down from the mesa so long ago, not as if it were yesterday, but as if it were today. Every sound and touch, fragrance and flavour, every mote of light still lingers inside me. As I walk back to the house I carry him inside myself, along with all the other memories of the man or boy I was on other days. And I will carry today along also into the undiscovered future that awaits me and it gives me hope, for there will always be beauty waiting for me to find it, and passion left to share. I can feel it in my very bones.

Saturday 7 June 2008


The Ebiya exhibition was a great success, so busy in fact that I had no time to take photographs. My focus this year was on pottery for my family, for my own home, that I would like to use myself. For the last few years I have been doing collaborations with chefs and it has been a major influence on my work to design for professional use.

Even though this years theme was for more domestic ware, several restaurants from Nihombashi took interest in my new work this year, and a number of substantial orders have sprung from it. The first is for lidded bowls for "hamaguri suimono" (clam broth) for the "Yanone" (Arrowroot) shushi restaurant. The lids I usually make double as small plates, but the chef wants the lids to be just lids this time. I sketched up a design for him before I left Tokyo on Monday, calculating the shrinkage and defining the details.

I have just started trimming them today, and it is interesting to note the slight differences between the two dimensional drawing and the three dimension pot. Particularly the knob on the lid needed to be adjusted to give structural strength to the curve and prevent warpage.

On the foot are the mark of the ebiya gallery, the mouse for 2008, my logo mark and an arrow which symbolises Yanone.