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Drinking Out of Cups? Eccentric Ceramics Reinvent the Tea Ceremony

Turning tea cups into stalagmites and toadstools is the calling card of artist Takuro Kuwata.

by Anna Marks
22 September 2016, 5:45pm

Kairagi Shino Bowl, 2013. All images copyright the artist, courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London

Toadstool-like sculptures, nugget encrusted stalagmites, and cracked, paint-oozing tea cups comprise From Tea Bowl, Japanese ceramics artist Takuro Kuwata's first solo exhibition in London. Opening in October at the Alison Jacques Gallery, the show comprises sculptures that bring a contemporary consciousness to traditional Japanese pottery. 

Inspired by the natural world’s fractured stones and broken surfaces, Kuwata uses pottery to reflect Japanese history while illustrating modern values. As the artist tells The Creators Project, “I was completely absorbed when I first tried pottery. While experimenting with my ceramic making process, my ideas started to take off. I was amazed by how I could change and manipulate basic materials into something very different.”

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Various works, 2016

Inspired by wabi-sabi, the Japanese philosophy exploring the relationship between imperfection and beauty, the Hiroshima-born Kuwata highlights post-war anxieties and the spiritual connection to the destroyed landscapes and buildings. Reflecting this sensitivity, From Tea Bowl exhibits a range of his standing sculptures and brightly colored tea bowls (often referred to as 'drip bowls' with their glazed beads mirroring the appearance of human sweat). Kuwata uses a traditional Japanese pottery technique, ishi-haze—also known as stone explosion—where stones overheat in a kiln and rupture. Usually this method involves using very small stones to make tea ceramics, but Kuwata uses oversized pebbles and rocks to distort the shapes. In doing so, the stones explode and melt, resulting in his distinct, distorted ceramic designs.

Using a technique called kairagi, a process of deforming the ceramic glaze by shrinking and cracking it, Kuwata creates layers of ceramic fractured from the colors underneath, similar to the fossilised layers uncovered when stones are naturally broken. “My work results from ideas conceived during the process of handling the materials. The materials themselves remind me of staying close to the environment and being in the present; the moment I am in at the time,” Kuwata explains.

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(L) Untitled, 2016 (R) Untitled, 2016

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Though highly contemporary, Kurata's work is firmly rooted in traditional Japanese aesthetics, values, and history. “Although the tea ceremony culture originally came from China, it developed in original ways in Japan and has survived as a traditional Japanese culture," Kuwata explains. "This tea ceremony is important—it still influences contemporary lifestyles and principles. [...] The tea ceremony values being in the present and this is something very important in my work.

“I have many ideas I want to try, especially the idea of making a special cup popular," he continues. "I hope that using a special cup on daily bases will become common. Even though some of my work is a little bit uncomfortable to use, using the cup is a ceremony. I also think there should be cups that go beyond just functionality.”

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(L) Untitled, 2016 (L) Untitled, 2015

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(L) Untitled, 2016 (R) Bowl, 2016

From the Tea Bowl runs from October 7 though November 5, 2016 at the Alison Jacques Gallery in London. Click here for more information.

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Tagged:
japan
ceramics
pottery
tea ceremony
Japanese history
Japanese pottery
Japanese tea ceremony