Mitsuo Shoji : A Vocation in Fire

Mitsuo Shoji : A Vocation in Fire from Lesley Kehoe Galleries on Vimeo.

Mitsuo Shoji speaks of a child-like fascination with fire, and like many ceramic artists, is intrigued by the serendipitous action of the kiln, its alchemical transformative power.

A childhood fascination with drawing suggested an artistic bent, but Mitsuo enrolled in the ceramics department of the prestigious Kyoto University of Art and Music because it had the least number of students. Under the guidance of luminaries Yagi Kazuo (1918-1979), founder of the Sodeisha Movement and regarded as the pioneer of modern Japanese ceramics, and Kiyomizu Kyubei (Rokubei VII 1922-2006), Mitsuo adopted clay as his sculptural medium.

Mitsuo’s early career consisted of concept-driven installations influenced by Sodeisha’s mission to validate ceramics as autonomous fine art. This experimental phase saw him “pouring clay onto the floor and watching it crack”. A meeting with leading American ceramic artist Paul Soldner (1921-2011) whom Mitsuo describes as “more Japanese than I was at the time”, caused a reassessment of approach. Soldner remained committed to function and lamented the diluting of Japanese tradition. In the environs of Kyoto, renowned for its traditions in both ceramic and cuisine, Mitsuo broadened his repertoire to include functional vessels.

Mitsuo’s contemporary practice consists primarily of elegantly powerful hand built sculptural forms and mixed media paintings. His signature ceramic technique, one he says is still emerging, is a continuing evolution of ‘zogan’ , the inlaying of coloured materials in the main ceramic body. His Japanese heritage can be seen in the symbolic circles of Zen and in his interpretations of Shinto kami, the spirits that inhabit all living things. His inlay designs are influenced by the cadences of Buddhist chanting.

In Mitsuo’s paintings, we see the merging of Australian experience with Japanese heritage. His early love of drawing has manifested serendipitously through the language of ceramics. The random patterns of materials- slip and foil- on boards recording the details of ceramic firings suggested landscapes and were the catalyst for experimentation. Oil and acrylic paints failed, but the beloved crayons of his childhood, burnt on the surface of the boards together with applied gold and silver foil, created wondrous textural landscapes: “ painting like burned bushfire, burned bark- aboriginal people burn bark”.

Mitsuo cites Paul Cezanne “Everything in nature is formed upon the sphere, the cone and the cylinder” as inspiration for a significant and continuing body of work that uses these forms literally to question the meaning of life. Hints of the mystical symbols of alchemy and seductive moonscapes suggest the landscape of the psyche beyond the physical.

In 1973 Mitsuo began his professional career at Caulfield Institute of Technology, met his wife Chris and began ‘calling Australia home’. An illustrious 29 year teaching career at Sydney University has culminated in the recent award of an Honorary Associate Professorship. Thirty-six years later at the peak of a nationally and internationally acclaimed career.