Friday 31 July 2009


To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose. There are times in our lives when we feel that we are getting nowhere, other times when we suffer trials and feel that we may not have the strength to endure. Sometimes we feel alone.

There was a time, when I was a boy, when I felt like that. But I found solace in nature.

At night, I would sometimes sit on the slag heaps of the "Dai Gum San", the refuse of the "Big Gold Mountain" that was the Bendigo gold rush in the mid 1800's, and look out over the city lights. There was nobody to see me, to judge me, to mock or ridicule me. No one to bully or brow beat me. I was alone, but less lonely than in the company of others.

The night breeze ruffled my hair, caressed my cheek, and the darkness embraced me. My senses were filled with the fragrance of the gum trees, the whisper of the breeze through the whipstick forest. The shale was firm beneath me and I could taste the air on my lips. Over all the moon and the stars cast their soft radiance. I was alive, and the world was beautiful. And as I breathed the air I knew that it became a part of me, running through my veins, coursing through my body, and returning to itself as I exhaled.

I knew then that I was a part of this world, not separate from it, but integral with it. We all are. But we get so caught up in the superficial issues of society that we forget our humanity. We forget that we belong.

I walked home as the false dawn approached, and the cicadas began to sing. "G'day, g'day, G'day, g'day....." For years they live below the ground, waiting for their chance to fly and sing their joy in living. They crawl from their burrows into the cool night air, striving to climb as high as they can into the world, then they cast of the restricting shell of their past and become something new.

We all have that potential, and though the climb seems impossible sometimes, there will come a season, a time when we too can fly and sing our joy in living. Have hope, for the world is a beautiful place, and you are an integral part of it.

Thursday 30 July 2009

Back where I belong

Thanks to everyone who visited me at Takashimaya, is was great catching up with so many of you. My friends were fantastically hospitable, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. My thanks also to the staff of NY Takashimaya HOME, you really made it a fun and successful exhibition.

The metropolis of Tokyo and Yokohama has about the same population as Australia, so no matter how much I enjoy the experience of the big smoke, after an exhibition there I'm glad to be home. It is possible to find reprieve from the concrete and asphalt by walking through gardens like the Meiji Jingu in Shibuya, or the Imperial Palace, but it's not the same as being home in the country, surrounded by rice paddies and forest.

The garden is looking very Shakespearean; "'Tis an unweeded garden gone to seed, things rank and gross in nature possess it merely". I haven't had a chance to attend it for a long while, but Mika has managed to save the vegetable bed from neglect. Hooray for Mika!

I went for a walk this morning, while the dew was still on the leaves, and breathed the fresh, clean air. The Japanese summer is hot and wet, so the vegetation is verdant and the harvest plentiful. We have lots of fresh, sun ripened tomatoes, egg plant, and the children have made a special effort to grow okra this year. It is particularly one of Rohans favourites.

The kids are on school holidays, so we have a full cast for every meal. For lunch today I made burgers of minced chicken breast, then simmered them in a sauce of fresh tomatoes, onion and okra. Served on a bed of organic rice from my inlaws farm in Gunma, with grated cheese melted on it, then the reduced sauce and topped with fried egg plant and a sprig of fennel flowers.

Mika made a delicious summer dessert of yoghurt and mango gelato, topped with a sprig of mint. We make our own Caspian Yoghurt, and the mint from the garden just gave a delightful accent.

Afternoon tea was a gift from our friend who has a cooking school, Takane san. She acquired the rose cup cake mold on a recent visit to the US. The walnut banana bread was rich and moist.

I have been to and worked with some fine restaurants in the city, and the experience is always sublime. Never the less, there is no greater joy than sharing the fruit of your own labour with the ones you love. It doesn't simply feed the body and scintillate the senses; It nourishes the soul.

When all is said and done, this is where I belong.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Takashimaya 2009

An exhibition is generally the first place an artist sees their own works as a body. Most of the time we are focussing on individual parts of the process. Setting up the Takashimaya exhibition today was exciting, because most of the work, as you know, only came out of the kiln yesterday!

One of the things I like about the NY Takashimaya Home exhibition is the dining table setting, which really puts the pots in context as functional art.

Mixing the different patterns as a place setting, putting it together with other genre, cuttlery, crystal and laquer ware. It helps the guests to visuallise the work in their own home.

Of course I had to test drive the new coffee mugs with Mika this morning before I delivered the pots, with a nice cup of cappuccino, on our own dining table.

Monday 13 July 2009

Opening the Box

No matter how cleverly you stack the kiln, or how well you have mastered the firing, the fact remains that the results from a wood kiln are in the hands of nature. You will never know for sure how the pots will come out until they do, actually, come out. It is a matter of faith, of trusting the process of nature. And if you have guided the firing well, the kiln will reward you with exceptional pots, far beyond the limits of your own ability.

My firing on Saturday took 13 hours, so it was fairly fast, but I gave it a very heavy reduction, including a reduced cooling. When I opened the kiln this morning I was surprised by a slightly metallic lustre on the surface of flashing and blue clouding in the black glaze. The pink spot on the rim of the plate is porcelain slip with 2% of Copper Oxide, so it is a good indication of the heavy reduction. In oxidation it would be green. The green slip trailing is also porcelain, but with 2% Chrome.

There was also more orange flashing towards the fire face than usual, which will balance with the heavy carbon trapping from the previous firing when I display them together at my next exhibition.

There were more losses than I've had recently, but that is mainly because of the large number of plates with the black glaze. Just one grain of sand or flake of kiln wash will ruin the whole piece.

Two hundred of the pieces from this firing will be going into my next exhibition and will be available for purchase at New York Takashimaya Home, 10F Takashimaya Department Store, Shinjuku, Tokyo, from next Wednesday, July 15th till July 28th.
I will be at the exhibition on the 15th, 18th, 19th, 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th, if you would like to visit while I am there.

Saturday 11 July 2009

How I Stack My Kiln

There are many people who have now built my kiln, and everyone will stack and fire it differently in order to achieve their desired result. Just for the record though, I wanted to show you how I stack my kiln and why.

Firstly, The brick arrangement under the shelves is designed to force the flame to the front of the kiln. The surface area of the space between the bricks is equal to the surface area of the flame inlet mouths at the back of the kiln which also equals the exit flue in the floor off the kiln. That means that the same amount of flame can come into the kiln, find its way through the work and exit the kiln. draft can then be controlled by the damper and the stoking volume and rate.

The first layer of shelves goes onto the bag wall right up to the fire face. There is a coil of wadding along the bag wall to stop the draft going straight under the first shelf. It forces the flame to go up first without taking short cuts.

There is a gap of 13cm on either side of the shelves. The pots can overhang this gap as much as you like, it won't affect the firing. You will notice how crusty the kiln is; that's because I've fired it 120 times over the last 10 years.

Between the shelves I leave 1.5cm of space only, this is part of the total exit space calculation.

It is important to stack this kiln tight. How tight? Tight as a salmons sphincter should do it. I only leave one or two milimetres of space between pots. Firing raw means the pots will shrink away from each other anyway, but it is also important to stack as tight as possible because the kiln is built of insulating brick and doesn't store a heat mass, so the work must become the heat mass.

I try to get as many pots as possible into the kiln. These cups have no glaze on them at all, I am relying on the wood effects to glaze them for me, the best place for them is at the fire face. Glazed work should be stacked at the front of the kiln away from the direct flame.

The handles force me to leave more space above the pots than I would like. Ideally the space should be about 1cm.

I stack right up to the arch, keeping it as tight as possible. There is plenty of space between the pots for the flame to get through, and as it does it leaves ash and vapour flashing. If there is too much space around, above or between the pots, the flame will rush straight past the pots and up the chimney, taking all its ash and vapour with it.

The front shelves go in with the same 1.5cm gap.
A long brick bridges the gap over the flue.

The front stack is also stacked tightly, with work that I would prefer less ash on, like the black glaze, or pots that I want more red or orange flashing rather than ash deposit.
This firing only used 40 kiln shelves, but the maximum I have used is 80, all plates. The tighter it is stacked, the better. It usually holds about 400 pieces per firing.

Friday 3 July 2009

Fourth of July

An auspicious date to open a new chapter in my pottery adventure. Tomorrow sees my work available for sale in the USA for the first time!

I know there have been many people out there waiting for this to happen, particularly since the Ceramics Monthly feature. The truth is that I have been too busy here in Japan to pursue international galleries. (Which is also why I haven't written any blog entries recently, but that's another story!)

My good friend Gary Jacketti has recently opened a gallery, BEACON ART....SHORTWAVE GALLERY in Stone Harbour, New Jersey, and I have sent him a small selection of work, thirty pieces in total, including Tea Ceremony ware. Gary was involved with the early World Art Educators Workshops here in Mashiko, and is a highly accomplished sculptor and artist in his own right. I wish him all the best with his new gallery, and if you are in the area by all means drop in and check out the work!