Exhibitions and Events

The studio of ceramic artist Sajiro Tanaka is located 700 meters above sea level, in Yamase, Hamatama-machi, Saga Prefecture. Yamase was where potters, during the Momoyama period (late 16th century), built kilns and produced Karatsu ware. I remember first visiting Sajiro-san's studio about two decades ago. The studio still remains the place where the artist lives and produces ceramics to his heart's content, removed from worldliness.

Sajiro-san chose to build his kiln in Yamase because of a pottery fragment he found at a waster dump at the Yamase Shimogama pottery site. The Madara Karatsu ware fragment, bearing painted decoration, made him vividly imagine its 16th-century maker--an uprooted Korean potter--toiling at his potter's wheel, lonely and homesick. The image "kept me crouched at the spot, unable to move," recalled Sajiro-san in an anecdote that hints at the remarkable sensitivity of the ceramicist in his youth.

Indeed, I know of no other ceramicist active today whose pursuit of art is more integral to his attitude to life. So much so that it is almost like watching a Zen Buddhist monk in training. The seamless integrity could be described as, "陶禅一味" (ceramics, Zen, one taste) in emulation of the Chinese saying, "茶禅一味" (tea, Zen, one taste)," which describes how integral tea is to Zen. The tea ceremony is at once a highly elegant pastime, a sophisticated art, and a character-forming pursuit, though becoming accomplished in all three respects is no mean feat. Sajiro-san is deeply learned in calligraphy, Chinese poetry, nanga, tea ceremony, and chabana (tea flowers); and he has trained at a Zen temple and received the precepts as a lay person, all of which makes him something of a Renaissance man who is cultivated, well-versed in a broad spectrum of arts, and mature in character.

The tribute "陶禅一如" (Tozen Ichijo) in the exhibition subtitle was given to the then 38-year-old artist on the occasion of his zaike tokudo (lay ordination) ceremony by Zen master Ryodo Kitano, who held the office of Fuku-kanin at Eiheiji Temple. Tozen Ichijo means that a ceramicist's mental training and the spirit of Zen is one and the same.

Sajiro-san believes that products are shaped by the ideas of their makers. His tea bowls are characterized by a unique dignity, and uphold a consistent aesthetic principle that is entirely his own, unlike many Korai tea bowls created by contemporary artists, which seldom achieve more than emulation.

Seizo Hayashiya, who was a leading expert on tea ceramics, is recorded to have once said, "Sajiro-san, any tea bowl made today, whether it's an Ido or Irabo, is but a copy of the ones created in the past," which, according to the artist, felt like having his skull smashed by the impact of hitting concrete. This eye-opening conversation proved a watershed moment for the artist, whose work underwent a complete change of direction, leading eventually to the birth of Sajiro Karatsu, an artform that transcends the definition of traditional Karatsu ware. Sajiro Tanaka's works today encapsulate the many and varied challenges he had to tackle in order to perfect Sajiro Karatsu, such as building a kiln in Korea to attain the high firing temperature of 1,330 °C.

This exhibition presents some of the latest examples of Sajiro Karatsu ware. Included are Madara Karatsu, Muji Karatsu, Irabo, Shuun, Genko, and Seisho tea bowls, as well as Suiyo and Butto jars, a footed dish, ceramic plaques, and a large dish, which are invariably dynamic, exhilarating, and refreshingly devoid of superfluousness, mirroring their maker's present state of mind.

MORI Koichi, Art Critic; Executive Director, Japan Ceramic Society

  • May, 2019
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    photo:Hidekazu Oginuma
  • May, 2019
    photo:Hidekazu Oginuma
  • May, 2019
    photo:Hidekazu Oginuma
  • May, 2019
    photo:Hidekazu Oginuma
  • May, 2019
    photo:Hidekazu Oginuma
Date 26 April - 11 June, 2019
Open Hours 10:00-18:00
Closed Wednesdays, 26 May 2019
Admission Free
Planned and organized by LIXIL Corporation

Profile

1937 Born in Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture
1965 Excavated Jomon and Yayoi pottery in various regions, and researched dolmens
Began hand-formed ceramics
1971 Started excavation surveys of the Karatsu old kilns
Began creating ceramics with wheel
1975 Built a climbing kiln inside Jorakuji Temple in Hada, Karatsu City
Entered the priesthood at Eiheiji Temple
1979 Met and studied with Tokuro Kato
1985 Solo exhibition at Shibuya Kurodatoen, Tokyo (afterward held every year)
1987 Relocated the climbing kiln in the mountains of the Yamase old kilns and named it “Yamase Kiln”
2003 Built a six-chambered climbing kiln in Eonyang, Ulsan City, Korea and named it “Kizan Kiln”
Continued firing ceramics for seven years
2009 First Japanese solo exhibition at Lotte Department Store, Seoul (October 23-27)
2011 “Enyo 40th Anniversary Sajiro Tanaka Exhibition” at Nihombashi Mitsukoshi, Tokyo
2014 150th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Switzerland and Japan “Sajiro Tanaka Exhibition” in Geneva, Switzerland
2016 “Munemaro Ishiguro & Sajiro Tanaka Joint Exhibition” in New York
2019 “Sajiro Tanaka Tozen Ichijo Exhibition” at Nihombashi Mitsukoshi, Tokyo
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