Whispering AshNew York Asia Week Fall 2019: Yakishime 焼締 5 - 20 Sep 2019Yakishime represents a unique chapter in modern art’s engagement with indigenous and ancient artistic traditions. After World War II, Japanese artists experimented with Western styles of modern art while reconsidering their own national identity. Ceramicists explored the legacies of artists like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, who looked to non-Western and ancient influences for inspiration and self-reflection, contributing to a movement that has been called primitivism. Such outlooks have since been criticized by historians for reinforcing imperialist hierarchies and notions of otherness. Operating decades later and in a starkly different political reality, Japanese artists looked inward to find their distinct voice in global conversations on modernity. Yakishime moved Japanese traditions away from its recent imperialist legacy and toward a new modern outlook.
The perfect texture must start with the perfect clay. Whispering Ash presents works created from Iga clay, the iconic kilns of Bizen, and much more. Japanese ceramic artists have been known to go to extremes to find the perfect clay texture and ash deposits, a tendency only encouraged by Yakishime. A specific clay deposit can pass from one generation to the next, a carefully guarded resource. While some potters chew a piece of clay to determine its quality, others smell and feel it, highlighting the sensory knowledge required. Certain clays and textures produce different ash colors depending on the kind of wood, and each potter must calibrate his materials and his kiln carefully to achieve the desired result, a perfect wabi-sabi balance. The Yakishime work passes on the sensory knowledge of the artist with its composition of clay and ash. 土の味 refers to “the flavor of clay” while 景色 is another key term that means “the marks from wood fire,” the two protagonists of wabi-sabi excellence in yakishime pottery.
For our Whispering Ash exhibition, we have carefully selected several distinctive clay surfaces and have studied the historical progress of the Yakishime style in order to examine just how artists have orchestrated the great symphony of clay and ash.