Ippodo Gallery is pleased to present Magic of the Tea Bowl Volume III, a showcase of eighteen selected ceramic artists representing styles from traditional to modern — emerging visionaries, rising stars, respected masters, and a living national treasure — on view from June 8 – July 13.

“Way of Tea” began in Japan during the sixteenth century with the famed Sen no Rikyu, who initiated an aesthetic movement that has become a treasured facet of Japanese life: sadō or chadō. This “way of tea” has been a source of cultural enrichment, a philosophy of ichigo ichie “cherish every moment, for it may never return,” which is the fundamental basis of a Japanese sensibility.

The tea bowl (chawan) is the only art form that arouses such intimate emotions or possesses such a close and physical sensitivity. Japanese artists have ingeniously sought out the perfect chawan form for more than four centuries. This precious history flourishes at a regional level; Bizen is one such example of Japan’s “six great kilns,” continuing procedures that have passed from generation to generation ( Jun and Koichiro Isezaki, Hiroshi Goseki). Yet, the modern era brings new developments in kiln machinery and modern pieces of original character, such as the work of Yukiya Izumita in Japan’s northeast Tohoku region or Kodai Ujiie in the southern-central Chūbu–Tōkai region.

Tea bowls are a key that activates the five senses with tactile effect. Each artwork unveils its charm with use and appreciation, be that by participating in chadō or as a visual art form. Alluring patterns and shapes unfold as one witnesses the poignant power of each artist’s mastery. Hence, tea bowls operate to form relationships, linking together two souls—host and guest—who may never meet face to face. For fifteen years, Ippodo Gallery has emphasized the benevolent spirit of chadō, welcoming you to embrace the peaceful sensibility of the tea bowl despite life’s tribulations.

With over 100 artworks joining the exhibition, Ippodo Gallery invites you to discover contemporary achievements in Japanese tea culture and experience their beauty for yourself. Magic of the Tea Bowl Volume III is an audience’s opportunity to behold the spellbinding effects of eighteen virtuoso ceramicists who keep the tradition of chawan alive today: Ryusuke Asai, Yasushi Fujihira, Hideyuki Fujisawa, Noriyuki Furutani, Hiroshi Goseki, Tomoyuki Hoshino, Morimitsu Hosokawa, Agnes Husz, Takeshi Imaizumi, Jun Isezaki, Koichiro Isezaki, Yukiya Izumita, Wakao Makoto, Kohei Nakamura, Mokichi Otsuka, Shion Tabata, Kai Tsujimura, and Kodai Ujiie.

Preserving venerated traditions

Noriyuki Furutani, based in Shigaraki—one of the oldest ceramic regions in Japan—focuses singularly on the classical tenmoku style brought to Japan from China during the thirteenth century. Furutani’s pursuit has led him to classic glazes such as the ‘hare’s fur’ and ‘oil spotting’ methods, which are excellent expressions of historically significant techniques. A member of the Hosokawa samurai clan, Morimitsu Hosokawa follows in the footsteps of chadō pioneers Sen no Rikyu and Chōjiro. His featured work continues the rich Japanese tradition of black and red Raku tea bowls.

The hand-built nature of Raku is inviting as you can observe the subtle marks of Hosokawa’s sculpting techniques in the waves of the bowl’s lip and soft pool where the matcha residue gathers. A living vestige of Kanazawa’s renowned potter family, Kohei Nakamura contemplates contemporary ideas from the mimesis of the timeless forms of Raku, Ido, and Kohiki. Shion Tabata is a great utsushi artist, cultured by her expertise in antiques. Shigaraki, Iga, and Shino are three such forms in Tabata’s repertoire, and it is rare for a female artist to fire the kiln seven days without rest; but the result is energizing and soulful.

An eye on the past, an eye on the future

While the bygone masters have much wisdom to impart, there is a certain necessity for looking towards the uncharted possibilities of the future. Makoto Wakao introduces opportunities for classic celadon to appear a new, by accentuating asymmetry and crazing designs. Takeshi Imaizumi, on the other hand, creates not only celadon, but also modern, iridescent works in refined black and white. Unlike the great dynasties of old, Japan’s ‘six great kilns’ are living heritage.

Living national treasure Jun Isezaki, his son Koichiro Isezaki, and former apprentice Hiroshi Goseki are contemporary Bizen masters who honor the practice of non-stop fourteen-day firing periods. Though each artist has a strong voice of their own, they are bound together by their choice of authentic clay, mastery of the kiln-effect (yōhen), and unglazed decorations that are the emblems of Bizen. Kai Tsujimura inherited an intuition for ceramics from his father, the famed Shiro.

Kai is relentless and highly selective, building mounds of discarded works that rival the hills of Nara, in his total dedication to mastering all sorts of traditional styles. Following a similar path, Yasushi Fujihira trained under his father Shin, who was a legendary master of the whimsical cinnabar glaze. Yasushi has discovered, in addition to his own skills with cinnabar, a contemporary style of unconventional form coated by metallic glazes of varying reflectivity and shimmering chroma. His luxurious stonewares are sculptural artworks, transcending the role of the tea bowl as a utensil.

Formal divergences

The model techniques of classic Japanese taste have inspired new generations to explore the infinite promise of the tea bowl with an innovative spirit and determination to break from tradition. For these artists, tea bowl making is a mode of self-expression, a form that invites meaningful statements in the language of chawan. Tomoyuki Hoshino derives a universal message from clay by embracing an unusual pink pigment. Though skin color may appear to vary widely, every person is pink within. This empathetic message, paired with Hoshino’s sugar-like glaze, is a sweet and endearing sentiment.

Kodai Ujiie is another artist who expresses compassion in his tea bowls by calling attention to abnormality. Ujiie’s avant-garde method incorporates textures emulating animal scales, plant veins, mucus, and skin. His hand-built creations extrapolate the mending technique kintsugi in prismatic hues, forming interlaced networks of colored lacquer. Yukiya Izumita evokes the harsh and powerful seaside environment of northeast Iwate by layering gravity defying ceramic waves. Working with local iron-enriched clay and driftwood brought in by the tides, Izumita’s ceramics appear brittle and coarse yet are warm to the touch.

Agnes Husz, though Hungarian born, has received the chawan tradition during her three decades in Japan. Her rustic, spiraling designs are styled from cut slabs of clay, which coil and converge in twisting abstract patterns. Mokichi Otsuka studied sculpture in Italy, which strongly influenced his view of the tea bowl. Otsuka introduces abstract painterly effects that transform the chawan into a picturesque scene. Ryusuke Asai focuses strongly on the relationships between colors, activating the surface of the tea bowl with vibrant glass-like glazes over stoneware. Lacquer artist Hideyuki Fujisawa emulates the tenmoku in urushi lacquer with flawless precision. Unlike ceramic, lacquer allows Fujisawa to inlay mother-of-pearl, fashioning iridescent and mesmerizing patterns.