Past Exhibitions

Raku

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi

Raku
About 450 years ago, the Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyū approached Chojiro, a Korean tile artist, and requested him to make him bowls for tea ceremony. He was searching for raw beauty that expresses the spirit of natural simplicity, inherent in tea ceremony and Zen Buddhism. Chojiro adopted the technique familiar to him from preparing tiles: Inserting the bowls into a preheated kiln to a low temperature (1000 degrees), removing them with forceps while still hot and cooling them rapidly in the open air. His technique was considered revolutionary at the time. His bowls were accredited even by the Shogun of Japan, Hideyoshi, who granted Chojiro’s son with a stamp bearing the name “Raku” (楽), which means pleasure and enjoyment. This name given to this family has been passed from father to son ever since; it represents the heritage and status of Raku family among tea masters Japanese culture.
The firing method that distinguishes Raku generates surprising outcomes, which is also the secret of its attraction. The potter is an active participant in the whole creative process and is also taking the risk that his work might break during the transition from the fire to the air. Raku represents a worldview that stems from Zen Buddhism – the singularity of the present moment and the understanding that the creator and his work are not separate from one another. They both receive and accept the constantly changing internal and external forces and the interaction between the elements – earth, water, fire and air. The fast removal of the piece from the blazing fire creates cracks on the surface, but Raku sees the beauty in the imperfect. The artwork transmits and breathes the warmth of the artist’s touch and is free of the desire for perfection and uniformity of form.
Raku was introduced to the West by Bernard Leach, a British artist who studied in Japan at the beginning of the last century. It became popular in the U.S. around the 1950s and was adopted by many artists searching at the time for new ways of expression. Its experimental nature made new developments possible, such as inserting the ceramic object, immediately after firing, into a container with the burning organic materials which consume its oxygen. Such a process of reduction colors the object in surprising and asymmetric ways. Another new technique developed in the West is Naked Raku, in which part of the glaze is partially peeled intentionally.
This exhibition presents works by local and international artists who were captivated with the Japanese Raku and are inspired by its aesthetic values. Their works reveal the tension between skill, control and planning and freedom, spontaneity and total devotion to the unpredictable. Each of the participating artists creates a personal language and expands the range of possibilities that Raku offer in their pottery and sculpture. The direct dialogue with the fire leaves the process’s marks on both the object and its creator.