Mastery In Clay

Mastery In Clay

A chance encounter with an exhibition of the works of Sodeisha founder Yagi Kazuo (1918-1975) saw a young Satoru Hoshino adopt clay as his form of personal expression. As young graduates, he and Kayoko sought to enter the world of Kyoto ceramics via a newspaper advertisement for a beginners’ course. A quota system saw them fail to gain entry. Their careers started at the Fujishira studio in Kyoto (Fujishira Shin 1922-2012; Fujihira Yasushi b.1963) and Yagi Kazuo would sometimes stop by and look at the work. Satoru established an independent studio in 1973 and became a member of Sodeisha in 1974 (until 1980). Established in 1948, Sodeisha is seminal to the development of modern Japanese ceramics. Put simply, the Sodeisha artists eschewed the Japanese tradition of beauty in function and strived to create autonomous sculptural works in clay in keeping with post-war international modern art. Both Satoru and Kayoko’s early work is influenced by the dominion of concept over material.

Satoru’s continuing association with Australia started early in his career with the ground-breaking exhibition of Sodeisha works organized by the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery in 1978 in which concept predominated. Similarly, in a recent highly significant exhibition devoted to female ceramic artists, Kayoko is described thus: ‘For most of her career, this veteran ceramist placed emphasis on concepts rather than on the material of the clay itself, until she experienced a change in direction. Her early conceptual approach may have been due, in part, to the influence of her husband, Hoshino Satoru (b.1948), the abstract potter and member of the avant-garde ceramics group Sodeisha, who established his career by forming ideas through the medium of clay.’

Over long internationally renowned careers, Satoru and Kayoko have come to appreciate the intrinsic character of clay. They work with the material as collaborators now rather than as authors. In this collaboration, fire and glaze and their unpredictable interactions in the kiln, come into play: ‘When a piece finally emerges from the kiln, one is always surprised at the result. Sometimes it is much better than expected, or it may be quite different from anything one had imagined, taking on a life of its own. This is the moment when the unknown factor of nature intervenes in the here and now.’

Nature is a major element in the works of both artists. Satoru ascribes the change in his work to the natural catastrophe of a landslide that destroyed the studio: ‘My approach to clay changed completely after I experienced the natural disaster of a landslide in 1986. Until then, clay had been a material with which to embody the ideas and images already in my mind. Since then, however, the clay has become not simply the material from which a work is derived, but something that lies before me as a force of nature, an existence that overwhelms trivial intentions. The clay has a life and energy of its own; by excluding small thoughts, it forces me into a symbiotic relation with it.’ Kayoko speaks of being influenced by rock and mountain formations in her local environment and balancing form and volume. Reviewed in Canberra Times recently, a lingering sense of the vessel in her work is noted: ‘Some of these objects look familiar as they bear a passing resemblance to the multifaceted shapes of the vases and jugs depicted in still life arrangements from Pablo Picasso’s cubist period.’

In fact, both Satoru and Kayoko have transcended the boundaries of Japan’s various ceramic traditions and as mature masters of clay they express its nature through all forms – functional and non-functional. Satoru’s larger works evoke the vessel yet are simultaneously sculptural: he prefers the word ‘ceramic object’ or simply ‘ceramic’ to ‘ceramic sculpture’. Kayoko uses elements reminiscent of the vessel, yet transforms these into architectural and sculptural forms. In Satoru’s ‘Spring Snow’ series, the artist’s intimate relationship with the clay is viscerally manifest: ‘raw organic matter worked by a reverent hand, of primal forces in concert. Liquid color flows over the dense, kneaded clay; the hand’s push plays against gravity’s pull; intention dances with chance.’ Satoru’s masterful use of coloured glazes, ‘milky white seeps over a skin of cool and dark earthen greens, suggestive of jade underwater or emerald lichen in shadow.’ adds a dimension of bewitching mystery to the powerful forms, ‘a preternatural sense of abundance — the empty cup running over.’

The works of Satoru and Kayoko Hoshino express the full circle of an artist’s experience from rebellion against tradition, to acknowledgement of tradition, to transcendence and synthesis. The works of this internationally renowned couple speak directly to Lesley Kehoe Galleries’ curatorial philosophy of ‘concept, mastery, originality and technique’.

Mastery In Clay
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Lesley Kehoe