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.