Kondo Yuzo was designated a Living National Treasure in 1977 for his work in underglaze cobalt blue (sometsuke). Following his graduation from the Kyoto School of Arts, he worked as an assistant for Tomimoto Kenkichi between 1921 to 1924, while employed on the recommendation of Shoji Hamada. For many years he was considered one of the most skillful potters in Kyoto. As the story goes, Tomimoto eventually took him in hand and told him that unless he could draw, he would never be a great potter. Kondo responded by enrolling in courses specially teaching drawing and haltingly started applying these skills to his pots. The outcome of all his effort was a superb body of work where his dynamic, large scale decoration based on a set number of themes, reinvigorated the notion of just what blue and white decoration could achieve. His skills as a potter still emerge in his work with high-shouldered vases. These forms are instantly recognizable as Kondo’s forms and are as much his hallmark as is their decoration.
Kondo’s themes – pomegranates, mountain ranges, pine, plum, bamboo and thistles reoccur in his work and have maintained their vivacity across time and in use on alternate forms. The pieces in this exhibition show the use of his motifs such as the thistle on both a cup and a vase, nicely proportioned to relation to the form they decorate. Landscape appears on the later box whose background has been gilt, perhaps a homage to later work by Tomimoto or simply Kondo’s response to the Imperial taste of old Kyoto. Again, they represent a highly original body of work and they have no equal.