Okay, I’m a little late sharing this – the show is over and done, but…
I had an epiphany while visiting the Sugimoto Sadamitsu exhibition, Shigaraki and Iga, at Frank Lloyd Gallery, in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station – one of those infrequent, marvelous, thunderbolt realizations that something I’ve virtually ignored actually provides some real and cogent insight that, for some reason, I’d previously neglected to notice.
Now, Frank Lloyd Gallery primarily exhibits ceramic artwork which ranges from a very contemporary-art-type sensibility to highly refined examples of traditional ceramic craft. And, differentiating between the two approaches is generally pretty straightforward, requiring only the simple recognition that the former tends to conjure up a sense of focused communication and the latter is more apt to spotlight nuance and technique. (Although, thankfully, the two approaches are now becoming more and more blurred.)
And yet this collection of vases and jars, overtly selected based on their technique and prized specifically for the nuanced details that result from those techniques, communicated persuasively and clearly enough to set my mind a-whirl.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s not like Sadamitsu is any slouch – even though this the Japanese ceramicist’s first comprehensive exhibition in America, he is recognized and celebrated as the greatest living master of the Shigaraki and Iga ceramic traditions. Both methods of kiln-work involve the firing of unglazed ceramics in a wood fire; Shigaraki, for 10 continuous days in a cave-like, wood-burning kiln; and Iga, which is fired for seven days, on and off, in a similar oven. The swirling wood ash exposes tiny pebbles in the clay, deposits glassy green color and melds fragile, barnacle-like tumors to the raw ceramic. And, based on the soft, slightly slumped-over shapes of these deceptively crude-looking vessels, either the heat somewhat softens the dried clay, or perhaps Sadamitsu has managed to absolutely perfect the illusion that it has.
The end result is an almost perfect melding of man and nature. The artist battles and collaborates with a process whose product paradoxically bridges focused intention and a literal Zen willingness to entirely let go. It speaks both to the nobility and futility of human purpose; and, the beauty and sad inevitability of time and decay – ultimately communicating an elemental understanding of existence that is almost beyond words – a rhetoric of eternity.