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Mamoru Taku
Japanese potter; Article by Kiyomi Noma

An Encounter with Organic Beauty II

Hidasuki Tsurukubi Vase at Exhibition Landscapes, Drawn by Fire
One of the characteristics of Bizen-ware is that there are no paintings or intentional glazes on the ceramics. Instead of these man-made finishes, Bizen-ware has patterns drawn by the force of the fire. Based upon the patterns (or 'landscapes' in pottery terminology,) they are categorised into the following; 'Sangiri (oxidised),''Hidasuki (fire patterned),' 'Botamochi (rice-cake patterned)' and 'Goma (ash covered).'
  Landscapes on Bizen potteries (opens in new window)

Landscapes on Bizen potteries
Landscapes on Bizen potteries
Taku-san also applies his principle, of having the 'Right-thing-in-the-right-place,' to create the landscapes. He stated that it's not just fire that makes landscapes, but also factors such as clay and shaping. An holistic balance throughout the creative process produces more harmonised works.

Even as early on as selecting the clay, Taku-san has the design of landscapes in his mind already. Based upon the design, he uses the most suitable shaping techniques and firing environment.

"Rather than making arbitrary finishes caused by unbalanced forces, I try to control 98% of the colour, landscape and shape results. I leave 2% to nature's hands."

Taku-san explained to me as I was looking at a 'Kigoma (Yellowish Ash-covered)' Tokkuri (Sake Vessel), which had a small bluish glaze.

"That glaze is developed with melted ash that dropped from the kiln ceiling. I expected it would happen, though I did not want it to. I can still enjoy this natural creation. If the unexpected creation goes beyond two percent, then I would consider the work to be a failure and you would not see it on the shelf."

The 'Goma' Sake Vessel has a yellowish ash-covering layer shimmering on the surface of a dark brown base clay colour. It has multiple flavours like toffee. The flavour from the top layer has melted into the core layer of work.

Imbete KigomaTokkuri "I applied a technique called 'Imbete' to that particular piece. Imbete is a method where a layer of clay is placed on top of pre-fired potteries. I started seriously working with this method over ten years ago. It gives me a very different perspective."

From the conversation with Taku-san, I envisioned that the Imbete technique was a little similar to the process of making the German cake 'Baum Kuchen' where one layer at a time is baked, before the next is poured on.
Although there are critics who claim 'Imbete' is an ugly patchwork technique, Taku-san's years of research and achievement bring out an artistic harmony from the core and covering layers of these pieces.
  Learn about 'Imbete' Technique (opens in new window)

Tiers of Experience and Drawers of Logic
"I entered the pottery world in my mid twenties. My background was in machine design, not in pottery."

Taku-san visited a Bizen potter by chance. The potter let Taku-san wheel a work and he enjoyed the experience a greatly.

"At that time, I thought 'Wow. There is a profession like this.' Gradually, the 'wow' become a reality in me and a year after my first wheeling experience, I was at the entrance to the Bizen pottery world."

"Compared to those who started pottery as a family profession, I had many disadvantages in my knowledge and experience. I filled these gaps by making countless trials and spending hours conducting research. The advantage I did have was some useful experience from my previous profession. The logical perspective from my training helped me understand the features of ceramics from a different approach, such as classifying the character of clay from the geographical condition of the site."

Firing Time Table Taku-san has been keeping records of his production data such as different clay blends and firing environments.

"They are simply revisionary records to confirm whether what has been done was appropriate or not. The Important point is how YOU diagnose what to apply, not the data itself."

Those records are just tiny bits of what Taku-san has built up around him. There are no short cuts here, just years experience and drawers of knowledge.

The Sophistication of Tea
Hidasuki Lidded Jar Tea Bowl-Hidasuki and Imbete There are two categories of works in Taku-san's collection, the introductory works and the classic works. Taku-san expresses his debt to the old Bizen masterpieces in his classic collections, which include various items for tea ceremonies, such as water jars and tea bowls.

"Tea ceremony ceramics are one of the most challenging categories for me. As Bizen-ware is elevated to this level of sophistication by tea masters. You would find extreme dignity in old tea wares, especially those made in Momoyama period, in the 16th century.

Before this time Bizen-ware was produced only for everyday utensils. The Momoyama period is culturally significant in Japan's history for the development of highly sophisticated aestheticism such as 'Wabi Sabi' in the way of tea. Sen Rikyu, the great tea master found an earthy beauty in Bizen-ware and started using these ceramics for tea ceremonies. Since then, Bizen potters have been asked to make organic yet sophisticated potteries to meet the tough requirements from tea masters."

"I wondered how these items were used in tea ceremonies and started lessons with a tea master. You need to follow a strict code of manners during a tea ceremony, such as placing the tea bowl in the correct position after making tea. They all make sense if you come to know the original meaning which is rooted in natural movement. For instance, the placement of the tea bowl is set as it is, simply because it is the most natural way.

Also, tea ceremonies are the form of composite art that expresses hospitality. Tea utensils play an assisting role to serve the guest in the ceremony.

Bizen-ware is one of the best pottery styles in its natural character to play this role, modestly assisting the hospitality from the tea host.

In this sense, the influence of the way of tea and Wabi Sabi is indispensable in the growth of Bizen. The spirit, which Sen Rikyu advocated in 'Wabi Sabi', of hospitality, philosophy and aesthetics is the core essence of my pottery as well."

Challenges to Old Bizen masterpieces
I heard Taku-san talk of 'old Bizen masterpieces' as his goal and I wondered how exactly they inspired him.

"Well, these days I describe myself as a potter, but in the early days, I thought of myself as a contemporary Bizen artist."

"After three years of training, I launched my own studio. I started to express myself in my work. I created all sorts of contemporary Bizen-ware that attempted to go beyond the influence of my master. It was exciting at the beginning and my clients found my works interesting. However, I soon found myself getting bored. I could not keep up my enthusiasm and I felt myself to be in a deadlock."

"I started to look for a genuine axis that could keep me inspired. The old Bizen masterpieces held the answer. The authentic beauty never changed over centuries of time. This lasting magnetism certainly keeps attracting people including me beyond history. This is how I started to climb the mountain of old Bizen masterpieces."

"As my steps went forward, I realized that if I only followed the masterpieces, I would be lost in the massive power of them. So, I fixed my aim to bring the essence of authentic dignity in these masterpieces into my own work."

"The mountain is extremely genuine and enormously profound. I am fortunate enough to be on it. I have not had a second to get bored ever since."

"Time is indeed too short to achieve all I would like to in my lifetime.
I understand now why potters are trained in an apprenticeship system."

Soils to Pass On Taku-san and Shusaku
In the studio, Taku-san was showing precise solutions to the questions his son, Shusaku raised. Overhearing their technical discussions, I felt that they share a lot beyond the master and the disciple relationship. It was more like a collaboration.

"It has been three years since my son started working with me. I did not have him directly into my studio. If I had done, he would be influenced by my current work before developing his own ideas and creations. So, he went to a school specializing in porcelain outside Bizen."

"As he started to work with me, I made it clear to him to utilise my path as a stepping stone to make his own step forward. As long as he understands my themes and perspectives and shares them with me, then I can give him as many tips as he needs. He can acquire highly condensed experience, efficiently from the trials I have made over the last twenty years. While he works with me, he shall follow my way and ultimately go beyond me.

However, I would not force him to follow me if he does not wish to. "

Shusaku seems to be proud of his master and father. I could see his respect for the clay is as high as his master's from the way he works with it. I am not the only one to notice this, as Shusaku has received a series of best prizes for his works.

"The mission of potters could be similar to farmers. Potters deliver the best harvest as a result of proper cultivation. They then pass on the nutritious soil to the next generation."

"Having Shusaku as my partner encourages me to challenge myself further. I can share all my experience with him, and do not have to worry about failure. Even if I am not able to, Shusaku can turn my failures into something fruitful."

Article and images courtesy Kiyomi Noma and wazen-online. © wazen-online.

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More on Mamoru Taku

  Mamoru Taku's biography
  View Mamoru Taku's Collection

  View Mamoru Taku's Special Collection
  Takebe - Mamoru Taku's Studio
  Learn about the "Himo-tsukuri" Method
  Landscapes on Bizen potteries

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