Thursday, 31 December 2009
We are enjoying our "Toshi koshi soba"(Buckwheat Noodles to traverse years) in traditional Japanese style, and will see the New year in with traditional Hogmanay, Auld Lang Syne and first footer celebrations!
Happy New Year everyone, and all the best for the '10's (the Teenies)!
Thursday, 24 December 2009
In the time between I have been trying to fill orders and have managed to deliver them in time for Christmas. Of course the kiln can't be fired unless it is completely full, so to fill the kiln I made these 300 beer cups as well as the orders.
Japan is not just the land of the rising sun, but also of the frequent earthquakes. Last Friday, just when the firing finished and the pots were still hot and sticky inside the kiln, we had two fairly large earthquakes here (the epicentre was the other side of Tokyo, but it was still significant here!). So, I waited with baited breath for the next few days for the kiln to cool enough to unpack it and assess the damage.
So, I am grateful for all my blessings, hopeful for a bright new year, and I pray for the health and happiness of all those I love.
I wish you all a blessed Christmas.
Saturday, 5 December 2009
I would never presume to value any of my pots in that way. For me they are fragments of my life and natures process captured in physical form, and as such each one is an irreplacable art work. As a maker of future antiquities, knowing that the teabowls that I make may last hundreds of years, it is, therefore, important to present them in the traditional way. I am constantly striving to create the best teabowls that I can, but not all of them come out of the kiln successfully. I select out the best for exhibitions or private sale, and for these I have boxes made.
The boxes are made from paulownia wood, which is a fine straight grained softwood, resistant to rotting and doesn't burn easily. This makes it ideal for protecting tea ware. The boxes are made with slots in the base to thread cords through so that they can be tied closed.
In order for the contents of the box to be identified without opening the box, I sign the outside of the lid. The "Kanji" characters at the top right of the box say "Cha Wan", simply "Tea Bowl". At the bottom left is my signature, in English horizontally, and in kanji vertically. My kanji "釉 庵", read phonetically as "yu an", and mean "pottery glaze" and "Tea house" respectively. Were the bowl to be named or described, I would do so on the inside of the lid.
Japanese is, of course, my second language, so reading and writing do not come as naturally to me as English. Signing boxes can be somewhat of a challenge, as the characters are written in "Sumi" (charcoal) ink with a brush, and cannot be erased. You get one shot. I used to practice on paper for an hour before signing boxes, but I am much more comfortable with it now. It is important to have the ink at the right viscosity, as if it is too thin it will bleed into the wood grain, too thick and it won't flow, a piece of advice that Shimaoka sensei gave me. I grind the ink in a stone ink tray to get the consistency right before I start.
I had trouble finding a brush I liked, so I went to Yubendo in Nihombashi, a brush specialist, and spoke with the expert. After explaining what the brush was for, he asked what sort of brush I preferred to use. I said " I'd prefer to use a magic brush which makes everything I write beautiful, if you have one in stock?"
"Sorry," he said "We're fresh out of those today." After we stopped laughing he let me try several different brushes till I found one which suited me. The brush is called "大竜眉"(Dai Ryuu Bi), which means "Great Dragon Eyebrow". (It sounds better in Japanese, believe me!) It is a fairly narrow brush with a core of "Itachi" (weasel) surrounded by "Shima risu" (striped squirrel). It was rather like buying a wand at Ollivanders. As a result, however, my writing improved dramatically, almost as if by...Magic!
In the bottom left corner is my "Hanko", my stamp. This is once again my Japanese Kanji, and it was carved out of stone by a friend in Utsunomiya. The stamp ink, called "Shuuniku", is very thick, rather like printers ink, and needs the be worked with the ivory spatula before it is used.
The same hanko is used on the yellow turmeric dyed cloth that the bowl is wrapped in before it is packed in the box.
As with all of my work, my teabowls are made in collaboration with the forces of nature, and I discover them when I unpack the kiln. There are a few which really appeal to me, and it is these which I select out for exhibition and sale, these few which I take such care to box. This year I have selected out twelve bowls for my "Recent Works" Gallery blog, each with a full description, please take the time to view them. The tea bowl is part of the greater art work which is the Tea Ceremony. There are many elements which make up that work, including the tea drinker. The ceremony itself is ephemeral, and once finished lives only in our memories. The tea bowl, however, is a treasure which will last forever.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Sora, my daughter, turned twelve last month. I baked her a cake, Mika decorated it, and we all sang happy birthday as we have for the last twelve years. She is now in year 6 at primary school, and every year the grade sixers at our local school get a chance to learn how to cook a five course dinner, taught by a professional chef.
Today the children prepared a meal for their parents, dividing into five groups, each group responsible for a separate course. They then prepared the meal from scratch for a total of sixty people, students and parents, and the parents were allowed to watch, but not interfere!
Of course the meal needed plates, and each child had to take dishes from home, so over the weekend Sora selected out some of my vessels for the meal. I watched, as the children cooked under Otowa chefs guidance, biting my tongue. The other parents shared this new spectator status, wanting to help, advise...but we must merely watch and wait.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Autumn is in full swing. The trees are shedding leaves in flurries of amber and gold, the days are shortening and the evenings are cold enough to need the wood stove. The rice harvest is done, and we have new rice from Mika's parents paddies, grown with pure spring water and no chemicals. We have picked the last of the capsicums and the first frost has withered the plants.
Yesterday our neighbour brought us a salmon which he caught in the Nakagawa river during the afternoon. The Salmon run up the river every autumn to spawn, searching for their own birth place to lay their eggs. Our neighbour is licenced to fish a limited number every year, and brings us a few over the period. We give them vessels from the kiln in return.
I decided to bake the fish whole in the wood stove for dinner last night, and as I opened the fish to clean it discovered two huge sacks of roe inside! I reserved these in a bowl while I finished dressing the fish and put it in the slow oven. I added nothing to the fish, allowing its own flavours to develop. It took an hour to cook, so while I waited I prepared the roe to marinade.
I followed Mika's recipe, pouring 70 degrees hot water into the bowl with the roe and separating the roe from the sacks. I then rinsed the roe several times in cold water before putting it into the fridge to chill. Once chilled I added a mixture of 6 tablespoons of Soy Sauce, 2 tablespoons of Sake and 2 tablespoons of Mirin, and then left it in the fridge overnight.
We ate the baked salmon with steamed vegetables and rice, but there was far too much for one meal, even with the 6 of us! I boned the remaining fish and put it with its own baking juices into a sealed vessel in the fridge.
Today we made steamed rice with a slice of "Kombu" (kelp), the fragrance of its cooking like the distant smell of the sea. When the rice was cooked I added a mixture of vinegar, sugar and salt to make sushi rice. For 3 cups of dry rice, I would add 4 tablespoons of vinegar, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 2 spare teaspoons of salt.
I made a series of stackable cylindrical bowls for the dinner and exhibition last month and use them today to make individual "Chirashi Zushi". Firstly I spread a serving of the sushi rice into the bottom of the bowl. Then I make a few thin omelettes and slice them into fine slivers and spread this on top of the rice. On top of this I sprinkle sliced red and green capsicum and avocado. I then flake the cold salmon from last night and add that to the top of the dish. Last of all I sprinkle the marinated roe and "Lo, a feast for the senses!"
The seasons come and the seasons go. This day, this moment, however, is ours to share now, and it will never come again. Oh, there will be other days to come with other joys, just as there have been times and seasons past that we have shared with others that we have loved. The ones gone remain in our hearts forever, along with hope for the ones to come, but there is no where I would rather be than right here, right now, with those I love, sharing the simple joy of this season.
These vessels are available for purchase on my Recent Works Blog
Friday, 6 November 2009
For two hours the gentleman quizzed me about Australian culture and what peculiar customs we performed in our home that they could notch into their program. Christmas was discussed, as was New Years Eve. He asked me if there were traditional songs and dances that we do, and even if I'd won any major awards. Basically he was hunting for the "Oh, aren't they different!" factor.
Australia is a multicultural nation, each family has its own traditions. If, as a nation, we have a defining quality, I should imagine that it is our recognition that all humans, regardless of culture, race or creed, share more commonalities than differences.
Mika waited dinner for me, but by the time I got off the phone the kids were starving, so we had a quick curry and rice and off to bed boys and girls. After they were in bed I cooked apple chutney like mum used to make, and tonight we had a real curry dinner, as promised, with naan and saffron rice.
If just one phone call could spoil our weekday dinner, imagine a TV crew at Christmas? It was kind of the gentleman to enquire, but I don't think my family or our customs are peculiar enough for his program. Needless to say, I declined.
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Fourteen potters, artists and art educators gathered last weekend in mashiko for the tenth World Art Educators Workshop. Fujiwara Ikuzo, the premiere mural and architectural potter of Japan was the presenter of the workshop, and played host to us in his own studio here in Mashiko. It was a brilliant experience for everyone, and far more than I can put into words here (particularly considering I am writing this during the Mashiko Pottery Festival...no rest for the wicked!)
For me personally it was a chance to understand the philosophical and religious basis for his sculptural work. Translating and interpreting depends on my understanding the original expression, then re-expressing it so that others can understand it. As Leonardo Da Vinci said; If you can't explain it, you don't understand it. Hopefully, everyone came away with a greater understanding of Fujiwara san and the Japanese culture.
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Monday, 19 October 2009
"As I was going down the stairs,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish that he would go away."
After a hundred or so years of being polished by slippered feet, the stairs of the Okazaki Ryoukan have worn into soft waves around the wood grain. As the morning light caught the edge of the step on my way to the onsen, I felt part of the long line of guests who had unwittingly participated in the creation of this beauty.
Traditional Japanese architecture is a study in light and shade. Shoji screens that allow diffused light to enter a room, light filtering through the "Ran Ma" screens above the walls, light reflected off the tatami floors. These Ran Ma also allow a flow of air between rooms, helping to prevent mold and ventilate the rooms.
There is no glue used in making this screen, the component parts having been cut by hand with impeccable precision. There was a pride in the creation of these works, made by unknown artisans. It was not about fame or wealth, though reputation brought work, and work brought income. It was about the beauty of the every day, and creating beautiful spaces in which to live, and finding value in living every day.
The light changes with the seasons, and the symbols of nature were used as themes in the architecture. These clerestory screens have sprigs of pine needles incorporated in the lattice. It was beautiful waking in the morning to the soft autumn luminescence, and the view of the leaves changing across the mountains beyond the hand made glass of the engawa. I look forward to returning again next year.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Monday, 5 October 2009
This year the theme is architectural ceramics and we will be working in the studio of Ikuzo Fujiwara. Fujiwara san is the leading architectural ceramic artist in Japan, with murals and monuments and other large scale public works throughout the country. I will be visiting him this week during his Anagama firing to fine tune some details, and will be interpretting throughout the workshop.
We will be staying at the old potters inn at Mashiko pottery club, with its open charcoal brazier over which we will prepare a traditional "nabe" supper to welcome everybody on the Thursday night.
On Friday and Saturday we will be going to Fujiwara sans studio where he will demonstrate and teach the techniques he uses for large murals, solid clay sculptures which he fires in an anagama, and glass casting with recycled glass. Participants will get hands on experience using his techniques to produce large and small ceramic reliefs.
On Friday night we will be enjoying a Japanese Kaiseki meal, with the option of an onsen afterwards, and on Saturday night a Cajun meal at the log house restaurant of George Guine.
On Sunday participants will be able to enjoy the Mashiko Pottery Festival, with 600 potters from all over Japan displaying their works (Including Me!). Everyone can then return to the real world from which they came....
The Organizer, Steve Tootell, tells me we have a very varied international group this year, but there are only 4 places left, so if you want to participate, please contact him for more details.
Hope to see you there!
Thursday, 1 October 2009
This is my first exhibition at Mitsukoshi, which is the oldest and most prestigious department store in Japan. I am very pleased with the display, the staff have been fantastic and their advice has been invaluable.
The full course "Kaiseki" menu at Toyoda is amazing (as always)! This really is the culmination of years of collaboration between Hashimoto san and I, and the new works come to life with the cuisine. The pinnacle must be this "Usuzukuri" sashimi plate with chattering and a celadon glaze. The interaction between the lace like translucency of the sashimi and the chattering is just magic.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
When I was young and troubled, trying to get a handle on life, my Aunty Thora gave me a book to read. "This might help put things into perspective for you." She said. It was the "Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám", translated by Edward Fitzgerald in the mid 1800's. You may have heard quotes from it, possibly the most famous of which is;
We came home for lunch. Mika had baked bread; I had cooked soup; We enjoyed them as a family. Later I will have a goblet of wine with Mika. Today I will just be happy; tomorrow, I shall be quite happy to work.
Our Basic Bread
260ml of Luke Warm Water
1.5 teaspoons of Dry Yeast
4 tablesoons of Sugar
1.5 teaspoons of Sea Salt
3 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
200gm Plain Flour
200gm Gluten Flour
Mix the ingredients in a bowl in the order given. When thoroughly mixed turn out onto the bench top and knead for ten minutes. Put into a bowl and cover with a damp cloth to rise for an hour. Punch it down and reshape it, then let it rest on the bench for 30 minutes. Oil a baking tin, roll the dough and place it into the tin, covered with a damp cloth again, and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes.
This recipe can be varied by using wholemeal flour or adding grains, and it is always successful for us. It also works perfectly well in a Bread Machine if you have one. I use Olive oil, but any mono or polyunsaturated oil or Butter is fine. Never use margerine or other hydrogenized trans fatty acids, they are bad for you!
Monday, 31 August 2009
Sunday, 30 August 2009
It is no accident that there is a similarity in form between thrown cylindrical pots and the structure of bamboo. Though they are not "Copies" of bamboo, a cylinder is a cylinder, and man made forms will naturally have commonalities with natural forms.
When learning to throw on the potters wheel the most basic skill one must master is the making of cylinders. All other forms thrown off the wheel head are based on this form. So, step one; Make one hundred cylinders.
It is important that they be accurate in size. These pots are 300 grams each, so if the weight of the clay is the same, and the height and diameter are the same, the wall thickness will also be the same. By turning the foot in a curve from the hip to a foot ring slightly smaller in diameter than the inside of the lip, the pots can be stacked for easy storage in the home or restaurant. The external rim measurement for these cylinders needs to be 72mm when fired, so allowance is made for shrinkage, which in my clay is exactly 10%, so the wet measurement was 80mm.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
I am careful to reduce dust and use a dust mask wherever necessary (special thanks to Phil Rogers for sending me a Dust Mask from the UK that didn't bend my nose over like the Japanese ones do!), and I use eye and ear protection where appropriate.
I have therefore always known that my products were safe for the consumer. This has always been a primary concern for me.
However, in order to sell my work at Mitsukoshi Department store I had to have my work tested by a public authority to prove it was safe for use with food. This is now necessary for all ceramics imported into Japan, and will apparently become standard practice by law for local production as well in the near future.
So, I sent my work to the Tajimi Ceramic Institute for testing and received this certificate proving that my work is perfectly safe for use with food. You no longer have to take my word for it!