Friday, February 27, 2015

Connecting The Kizaemon Ido With the Potter

Note: A few years ago I wrote both about the famous Korean chawan kown by its Japanese name the Kizaemon Ido and about the The Joseon (Choson) Potter’s Studio and Kiln. 
This is an attempt to clarify my personal thoughts about their connection after reading those written by Soetsu Yanagi. Some of this post is a restatement of the earlier post on the Joseon potter’s studio and kiln.

Most often when we look at chawan our entire attention is on the bowl.  Perhaps that is how it should be.  Particularly in today's tea world when the prestige of the potter may cloud our ability to perceive the work.  That has never been the problem with the old Korean chawan known by its Japanese name the Kizaemon Ido.  Whether or not we appreciate the Kizaemon Ido, we are not encumbered with knowing the name of the potter who produced it.   That particular potter remains unknown and we will never know who specifically made it.  However some have attempted to identify with that potter because to do so somehow could bring us closer to the bowl itself. 
How can one begin to channel the spirit of those Korean potters who produced the bowls that became cultural treasure chawan in Japan?  What was their state of mind and the conditions of their life and environment that contributed to such a bowl?

The Kizaemon Ido

The great Japanese aesthetician Soetsu Yanagi, author of the book The Unknown Craftsman, while speaking of the creation of the Korean bowl known as the Kizaemon Ido wrote:
The clay had been dig from the hill at the back of the house; the glaze was made with the ash from the hearth; the potter’s wheel had been irregular.  The shape revealed no particular thought: it was one of many.  The work had been fast; the turning was rough, done with dirty hands; throwing slipshod; the glaze had run over the foot. The throwing room has been dark.  The thrower could not read.  The kiln was a wretched affair; the firing careless.  Sand had stuck to the pot, but nobody minded, no one invested the thing with any dreams. [1]
Speaking of the potter who created the Kizaemon Ido, Yanagi wrote:
In Korea such work was left to the lowest.  What they made was broken in kitchens, almost an expendable item.  The people who did this were clumsy Yokels, the rice they ate was not white, their dishes were not washed.  If you travel you can find these conditions anywhere in the Korean countryside. This and no more, was the truth about this, the most celebrated Tea-bowl in the land. [1]
Yanagi later writes of the potter:
It is impossible to believe that those Korean workmen possessed intellectual consciousness. It was precisely because they were not intellectuals that they were able to produce this natural beauty.  The bowls were not products of conscious effort by the individual.  The beauty in them springs from grace.  Ido bowls were born not made. Their beauty is a gift an act of grace. [1]
Continuing a little later he writes:
It is nature that makes laws work.  To observe them is appreciation. Neither is a matter of the maker’s intellectual ingenuity.  The artistic qualities inherent in a Tea Bowl belong to nature in their origins and to intuition in their perception. [1]
But was Yanagi correct in his assessment?  I have so much respect for this man Yanagi and his philosophy it is difficult to argue with him.  I do know if we really want to begin to understand what went into the creation of the Korean rice bowl, that became Japan’s most precious and respected tea bowl we have to look at the potter and the conditions that helped to create it.  Thus this particular post.   
In some ways, this particular post has been on a long journey.  Many years ago Yanagi’s close friend Bernard Leach in private conversation discussed the writings of Yanagi when I visited the Leach studio as a young student of pottery.  At that time I asked if anything by Yanagi were translated into English.  Leach replied that he was working on a translation and that it should be finished in two or three years.  I waited 15 years until the Unknown Craftsman was finally published.  I was not disappointed.  
I will attempt to discuss this issue from my personal point of view, a view formed after living in Korea for a year, mostly working in a Korean potter’s studio, and researching this and related topics on more than thirty visits to Korea since.  As an aside, you may want to know that I also worked for a short time with the famous Japanese potter Hamada Shoji another of Yanagi’s good friends.
On the issue of what person and conditions formed the Kizaemon Ido, there may not be a “right” or a “wrong”. opinion.  Yanagi viewed the conditions that created this bowl from a Japanese point of view (not withholding his great interest in Western aesthetics and art - even Christian mysticism).  Of course his point of view was not shared by all in his country, he was a creative and insightful writer but neither he nor any of us can really escape our environment.  In fact that concept is the basis of his thoughts as well as mine on the potter who formed the Kizaemon Ido chawan.  He wrote his thoughts at a time not long after his country had fought two major wars, one with China and the other with Russia, the one with China on Korean soil. That war was fought so Japan could eventually annex Korea.  The Japanese assassinated the Queen of Korea who sided with China and later, after essentially occupying Korea for 15 years, during which the war with Russia was fought, forced Korea into annexation.  I don’t believe that Yanagi agreed with his government on either war or the annexation of Korea and certainly not the assassination of the queen.  Which of us individuals can control the decisions of our government?  He worked to save and preserve  the arts of Korea. 
However, as a result of the annexation, Yanagi could visit Korea often with his friends Bernard Leach and Hamada Shoji.  What did they see in Korea?  In the early 1900's, they saw a depressed Korea.  They saw a people and society in depression.  Was Korea in depression in the late 1500's when the Kizaemon Ido bowl was made?
It is difficult to know exactly when the Kizaemon Ido was created, who created it or even where it was created in Korea.  Was it made before the Imjin War (1592-1598)?  That was a war that truly devastated the entire country of Korea.  Was it made during the time of that war?  Was it made after the war?  Some suggest that the famous Japanese teamaster Sen Riku saw and used this bowl.  It certainly lives up to Sen Riku’s philosophy of aesthetics.  Some say it was a ‘captive’ bowl presumably spoils of the Imjin War.  It cannot be both.  Sen Rikyu opposed the war and most likely for this and various other reasons Hideoshi commanded Sen Rikyu to commit seppuku. That took place a year before the Imjin War.
When speaking of the potter who created the bowl Yanagi often refers to the absence of “intellectual consciousness”.  Presumably a potter with “intellectual consciousness” would ‘understand’ each step of the process and deliberately create such a bowl.  Yanagi writes:
The bowls were not products of conscious effort by the individual.  The beauty in them springs from grace. [1]
Soetsu Yanagi goes on to say:
Ido bowls were born not made. Their beauty is a gift an act of grace. [1]
I love the concept that the best chawan are ‘born not made’.  In my own work I often find chawan that are ‘better than I can do’ and therefore in a sense ‘born’ not from my conscious intent but from ‘grace’.  But they would not have existed without me.  
Again, of the potter and the conditions, Yanagi wrote:
The work had been fast; the turning was rough, done with dirty hands; throwing slipshod; the glaze had run over the foot. The throwing room has been dark.  The thrower could not read. [1]
It is interesting that Yanagi included the sentence, "The thrower could not read."  The ability to read is not an indication of intelligence but more of life's circumstance. I believe there are several types of ‘intelligence’.  I call them ‘ways of being’: the emotional, physical, perceptual, intellectual and spiritual ways of being or 'intelligences'.  I believe these Korean potters were more than ‘intellectual’ they were in tune with nature.  They were part of nature.  If not 'intellectuals' or 'academically educated', these potters certainly were physically,  emotional, perceptually and spiritually astute.  They knew their clay, wheel (wobbly as it may have been), ash laden feldspathic glaze and kiln intimately.  These were part of their natural way of being with ‘clay’, of being a potter.  Poor people yes, common “clumsy Yokels” no.  The Ido bowls were no accident.  They may not have come from deliberate intellectual intention and they may have been in a sense ‘born not made’ as the outer forces of clay, wheel, glaze kiln and fire did their part, but without the physical perceptual, emotional and yes spiritual intent of these skilled potters these bowls would not have existed.  Most Ido bowls are of a similar size and form.  So much so that some scholars today are suggesting the form came from a specific order or series of orders placed by Japanese tea masters.  They were not pure accident. Full of grace yes, accidental no. The basic form was deliberate whatever the motivation that conceived that form. 
What then was in place in Korea consciously or unconsciously to create this form?  As suggested earlier these potters were essentially a part of nature - in tune with nature.  One of my teachers Hamada Shoji always stressed that we must go beyond the technical into nature. [2]  These Old Korean potters were already there.  They 'knew the technical' perhaps without knowing they 'knew it'.  In a very real sense, they were part of nature.
Nature and the natural are ingrained into the culture and people of Korea. The old Korean aesthetic principals are centered around nature around the Korean aesthetic concept of Pungnyu in Korean.  Jon Carter Covell and her son Alan in their book, The World of Korean Ceramics, wrote of Pungnyu:
Korean fifteenth-sixteenth century folk ceramics connote an aesthetic principle termed Pungnyu in Korean, meaning literally "Wind Flow."  This suggests movement in a psychological sense — movement unrestrained by social; tradition, for who can control the wind either its direction or velocity? Wind may be a gentle zephyr or a typhoon.
“Flow” links man with nature; he flows from birth to death, and perhaps the two are a continuum. In “Wind Flow” there exists the sense of an informal motion which equals Time, a continually changing “eternity,” which manifests itself in different shapes.  The teabowl now in the hand had been at an earlier moment of time merely raw earth; then for a short period, a blazing firebrand, and now it rests calmly in the palm. Presently the ceramic bowl can be enjoyed by both the eyes and fingers as a metamorphosed miracle, a frozen instant in the flow of time itself. [3]
It is very interesting that the grandfather of the great tea master Sen Riku’s was a Korean aesthete working in Japan.  Scholars suggest that much of Sen Rikyu’s philosophy of nature came from his grandfather.[3]  The philosophy of Pungnyu is imbued in the work of those Korean potters - deliberate, calculated, intellectualized most likely not but Pungnyu was there in abundance none-the-less.  It was simply their way of being with clay - with nature.
There are basically two conditions that influence the creation of any work of art: they are: 1. The “inner” conditions including the skills, eye, hand and creative spirit of the potter and 2. The “outer” conditions that lie beyond the potter.  These include: not only the clay, wheel, tools, kiln and firing conditions but also the process of preparing the clay, the studio as well as the environment and atmosphere under which the potter works.
The potter brings to his work a working attitude.  In addition to an innate imbued “understanding” of Pungnyu, the old Korean potter had “han” a universal Korean spirit making him close to nature.  He was most likely “jang-in” a master and/or he was “janggi” a free spirit.  He just made the work.  (In those days most likely the one forming the work was “he” a man. [4]  He wasn’t encumbered by any attempt to be creative – just make the work -- as many of the same pieces as one can make in a morning.  Today there are Korean tea ware potters who can form on a wheel 400 tea bowls in the morning and trim them in the afternoon.  So certainly a similar number was possible 600 years ago.  But even if they only made 200 pieces, a lot of work was produced and not much time was spent on any of them.  I recently watched the Korean Cultural Asset Kim Jong Ok form the last 30 or 40 of  400 teacups he made in an afternoon. [5]
Having worked with the very disciplined Japanese potter Inoue Manji, I have some sense of what is needed to produce a lot of the same pieces one after another in a short period of time.  But I am sure the Korean potter in the 1500's did not  approach his work in the same manner as the highly disciplined Arita porcelain Intangible Treasure Inoue.  The old Korean potter was relaxed, unassuming and approached his work with little or no thought.  But not without purpose.  The form was not an accident even though it most likely sprung easily from just three ‘draws’ on the wheel.  Perhaps the ease and directness of those three draws helped create the form of the bowl. Those of us who have ever been “production potters” know that when you get “into the grove” of production work, your mind empties and your "body knowledge" simply takes over.  If we don’t care if they are 'precise' 'perfect' matches to one another the work produced is relaxed and natural.  This process sounds very easy – just do it – but the reality of it is much different.   We contemporary potters or "ceramic artists" have so many things that influence us that it is difficult if not impossible to adopt a “no mind”, or in Korean a “mot shim” approach.  But that is probably where the old Korean potter's mind was when these ido bowls were created.  A “mot shim” or no mind approach does not imply a lack of purpose but rather 'body purpose' not  'mind purpose'.  Hamada once told us, “It is nearly impossible to create loose work in a tight society.” [2]  We in the West have that problem. Hamada said that Japan suffers from the same problem – potters in a tight society attempting to create loose work.  I once watched a Japanese cultural treasure famous for his chawan (not Hamada or Inoue) form a tea bowl.   I was stunned that he went over that bowl many times before it was formed to his satisfaction.  That was not the way of these Korean potters of the 1500's.
For the Korean Joseon dynasty potter, making the “loose” bowl was natural, a result of the life and conditions under which he worked.
This, I believe were the factors and conditions that led to the  state of mind of the old 16th century Korean potter that formed the Kizaemon Ido.  The bowl was full of grace but grace from the outer conditions not the inner ones, just as the bowls we produce today may be also full of grace but not accidental grace.   
I am tempted here to reflect on the role of the Japanese tea master in the "creation" of this bowl but that topic must be reserved for another day.
I have addressed above what I believe to be their state of mind.  What were the conditions of their life and environment that contributed to such a bowl?  It has been difficult to know precisely when and where these bowls were made - before, during or after the Imjin War.  Each different time would have impacted the potter, so without that information I have difficulty going beyond what I have already written. Then, what was the environment in which he worked?
To address this we have only to look carefully at this studio perhaps Korea’s only remaining Joseon Dynasty studio and kiln.  It speaks beyond words to the life and work produced there.  In this case the space for the studio has been dug out of a hillside.  

This provided additional insulation for the studio.  The walls of the studio where the Kizaemon was made were most likely very similar.  Potters, perhaps with the help of some friends, often made their homes and studios of raw clay, possibly some stones and trees they cut from the hills.  It probably had a rice straw thatched roof.  Their kilns were also made of raw clay.  Creating a home and studio was hard work but most likely the materials were free and properly cared for it would last a life time and more as this studio has done.
The preparation of the clay to make the ware was a lengthy process involving digging the clay, drying it and  crushing it.
That was followed by soaking it into a slurry and screening that slurry, then ladling that clay slip onto the drying field through another screen.

Once the clay had stiffened it was cut into large chunks and brought into the studio.  

In the studio it was foot kneaded and hand kneaded before ready for forming. (A more comprehensive description can be found here.) Between 5 and 8 kilograms would be centered from which 10-12 sabbal (bowls) would be formed, each with a sufficiently large thick foot.
There was a window next to the wheel providing light during the forming process. The wheel was a simple kick wheel with very little "carry" or centrifugal force.  It might wobble slightly, a condition the potter thought nothing of.  The Korean potter established a rhythm and relationship with their wheel.  In a sense wheel and body became one.  A wobbly pot stops wobbling when the wheel stops - so it doesn't matter.

Behind the potter or nearby there was a raised ondol floor under which charcoal or wood was burned.  This was where the freshly formed work was placed for quicker drying so that they could be ready for trimming in the afternoon.  The large thick foot would remain leather hard for trimming even with the use of the ondol-heated floor while the body of the bowl became a little stiffer.
Then there was the kiln.

This old studio and its kiln could have been made at least 600 years ago and may be quite similar to the studio used by the potter who made the Kizaemon Ido tea bowl. 
The chambered kiln, commonly used in many parts of Korea for this type of work is called an orum gama or mangdaengi gama " 망댕이 가마" – the latter from the name of the hand formed raw clay columns or  “bricks” used to form the dome of the kiln.  This particular kiln is the oldest still functioning kiln remaining in Korea.(10)  The kiln is quite large having six chambers. Each chamber also had its own “fire box”.  The kiln was/is fired beginning with the primary firebox and working up the hill firing each of the chambers one after the other. There wee no shelves. In the case of bowls, small wads of clay were placed between the foot and the inside of the bowl.  This way the bowls could be stacked as many as five bowls high.  In separating the bowls after the firing some of the bowls would be ruined.  It was not uncommon for the potter to lose 50% or more of the work produced.
All of this hard work and great loss of the work surely affected the potter.  It was hard but honest work.  Although potters were not rich and were of a “lower class” I believe they lived with a sense of accomplishment and dignity.  We still have in Korea potter families who come from many generations of potters.  Without at least a sense of dignity, pride and accomplishment these families of potters would not have continued.
To fully understand this Joseon potter, we do have to pause and consider the Joseon potter’s life style.  We all have a sense of what life was like in our own countries 400 years ago.  It certainly was no better in rural Korea.  One can personally identify with what that life style would have been like.  I believe the following quote from Hamada Shoji begins to explain the impact of the outer and inner conditions on the work of the Joseon Potter:
    I think there are hardly any pots in the world through which a people’s life breathes more directly as Korean ones, especially Yi dynasty wares.  Between pots and life, Japanese ones have “taste”, Toft wares have “enjoyment”, even the Sung pots have “beauty”, and so on.  But the Yi Dynasty pots have nothing in between; peoples’ lives are directly behind the pots.[9]
Why is the Kizaemon Ido so natural?  The early Korean potter lived a life close to nature and his work reflected nature’s connection.

Your comments are welcome.

Click here to go to the next post. 


[1] Soetsu Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman Kodansha International

[2] Personal notes taken during my studies under Hamada Shoji.

[3] Jon Carter Covell and Alan Covell The World of Korean Ceramics Si-sa-yong-o-sa, Inc.

[4] During the Chosun or Yi dynasty, women and children also worked in the pottery preparing clay and decorating.  Today there are many well-established women ceramic artists in Korea and in modern Korea it was Ewah Woman’s University that first offered a class in ceramics.

[5] Witnessed during Tea Tour Korea 2014 a tour we hosted Spring 2014.

[6] If the clay did not support such treatment, as trimming, the bottom would be beaten to compress it and if a foot were needed it would be wheel formed.  This was a rare practice but potters adapted naturally to the type of clay they had.  I may look at their tools in a later post.

[7] Interestingly, during Hyeonjong's reign, after more than thirteen years in Korea, the Dutchman Hendrick Hamel left Korea and returned to the Netherlands, where he wrote a book about the Joseon Dynasty and his experience in Korea. This book introduced the small kingdom to many Europeans.  A memorial to Hendrick Hamel can be found in Gangjin Korea.

[8] Today these slip processes are part of what is now known as the bungcheon decorating processes.  The Kizaemon Ido is of the tum-bung-mun type or dipped slip type.  A brushed slip type is called ‘gqey yl’.

[9] Bernard Leach, Hamada Potter, Kodansha International.
The term “Yi Dynasty” was often used by the Japanese in reference to the Choson or Joseon dynasty.  The Yi family ruled Korea throughout the length of the dynasty.  Yi is sometimes also Anglicized as Lee, Rhee or Ri.  Hamada was not referring to the “greatness” of the work in this statement but to the connection between a people and their work.  However, it is evident from his many comments about Korean ceramics that it was greatly admired.  It is well known that Korean work influenced Hamada Shoji's work.  In the first World Ceramic Exposition held in Icheon, South Korea in 2001 a special display showing the influence of Korean ceramics on the work of Hamada Shoji was featured.  That exposition is held in three cities including also Yeoju and Kwangju.  In April 2015, they will hold their 8th Exposition. Go to Korean Ceramic Tours to learn how you can join a tour when this or the next Exposition is held. 

[10] This studio is the family studio of the Kim family and is the only historically preserved Joseon Dynasty family studios in Korea.

To join us for tea and tea ware at their festival.  Go to Can't come, please tell your friends. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Evening Mist: Mottled Grey Buncheong Fa T 822

These words, from my old Sensei Hamada Shoji, keep haunting me when I think about this bowl.  It is a bowl that has some room for improvement like all of my bowls but those improvement areas all belong to me.  The clay, wheel, glaze, kiln, firing atmosphere all contributed to this bowl’s better qualities more than I. 
When I began this blog, my intent was to not review my own work.  I didn’t want this blog to be self-promoting, if you liked my thoughts, or self-damning if you thought otherwise.  That is one of the reasons I try to remain somewhat anonymous by using my artist’s name as a pseudonym.

Soetsu Yanagi once wrote:

“The most detailed human knowledge 
is puerile before the wisdom of nature.”   

I would like to be able to take credit for everything good that takes place with my chawan but the best qualities of all of the better bowls I call ‘mine’ come from nature.  That is certainly the case with this bowl.

 For some time I have been drawn to this bowl.  Maybe you other potters out there get many bowls that do what this one is doing, but me not so much.  So in my personal limited ceramic world this bowl is pretty rare.  Not that I don't get this type of spots in other ways.  

For me this particular mottling type is so unusual that I have been struggling between writing about it or not.  The things that make this chawan a little different are also subtle so you may not even care.  It is not like this is the most beautiful chawan or even the one I consider my best.  But it has gained my attention so here I am.  That said, writing about one's own work seems on the one hand pretentious and on the other hand frightening.  It is a lot like giving a speech about yourself.  Who wants to listen to it?  And if they do, what will they think about you?  So why am I doing it?  First, the credit for this bowl goes not to me but to nature.  Second, this blog title reads An Adventure Toward Insight and Clarity and this bowl has been calling to me lately to try to gain a little insight and to clarify my feelings about it.  If we don't take chances where is the adventure?

On my personal website I wrote the following about this bowl. 
   Thrown on a moderated wheel, it is stable and strong.  According to ancient Korean aesthetics, it is one of the perfect colors for tea.  The bowl follows a combination of Korean and Japanese teabowl aesthetic principals.  It both fits the hand and pleases the eye.
 The color comes from the use of one of Korea’s buncheong decorating processes.   A classic semi transparent and “dry” feldspathic glaze was used.  The kiln reduction was also modified producing unusual mottling on the clay body.
I also wrote, “. . . it reminds me of a summer fog on a misty day.”  It is one of my favorite bowls, it does remind me of a summer fog on a misty summer evening in spite of the perhaps overly gushy romantic notion that idea conveys and it is one of the perfect colors for tea.  Besides, there seems to be a chawan tradition of ‘romancing’ the bowl by naming it.  So in that tradition, just now for this post, I decided to call it ‘Evening Mist’, although the name, if any, belongs to the owner so this name might remain about as long as mist itself.  (The naming of the bowl by me may also seem pretentious but I needed a title for the post not a number.)
For those unfamiliar with my chawan, I approach them from several directions.  Some are influenced by fire, others by earth and others by air or water.  This bowl is from the water series.

The beginning of a quality chawan or really any chawan does not begin on the wheel on which it was formed but rather with the clay body.  In some ways this is an 'accidental' clay body.  I use this clay more to make some vases and larger bowls than chawan.  But I often ‘warm-up’ in the beginning of the day by throwing a few cups or a chawan or two with any clay just to get into the rhythm of the clay.  This is one of those bowls.

We sometimes take our clay bodies for granted.  I have.  But the clay speaks to the bowl’s final result as much as the potter.  It is a very important ‘outer power.’   As you can see, this particular clay body has a considerable amount of ‘grog‘ or pre-fired clay particles.  The stuff Hamada Shoji told us was ‘dead clay‘ and ‘it absorbs water’.  He was right but I still use it for some things as  mentioned.  It is one of six or eight clay bodies I use.
This bowl was inspired by a very memorable chawan ‘moment’.  Mary and I went to visit our friend Chung Yang Mo, Director Emeritus of the National Museums of Korea,  who is considered to be the premier authority on Korean ceramics, especially chawan.  He is often quoted by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and others when there is a ceramic exhibit featuring Korean ceramics.  On this particular day, we arrived at his office, chatted for a moment and then he brought out an old late 14th century. Joseon Dynasty tum-bung-mun or dipped slip buncheong chawan.  I was stunned, and wish I had an image of it to show you.  The bowl had been brought to Professor Chung by the potential buyer with two questions, “Was it real?” and “Was it worth 250,000,000 KRW?”  That’s the equivalent of  $225,000 USD or 165,028.60 EUR.  It was real and it was a stunning bowl.  Subtle yes but stunning non the less.  I couldn’t get over that bowl and still hold the memory of it in my mind.  Prof Chung told me that a well known Japanese chawan artist was moved to tears when he saw that bowl.  Among that bowl’s characteristics was a multi-layered slip that I approached on this bowl.  I never want to copy bowls but am inspired by them.  More than that, the Joseon Dynasty bowl had a maturity only available to a potter after years of knowledgeable work.  I’m not referring to the age of the bowl in terms of it’s ‘maturity’ but to the form, decorating and firing processes that created it.  One could see / feel in that bowl a partnership and unassuming trust between the inner and outer powers that created that bowl.  Nothing was pretentious - it just happened.  But it was no accident.  It happened because of that natural unassuming trust and partnership. It was not 'intellectual knowledge' but rather the result of a natural amalgamation between and among that Joseon potter's physical, emotional, perceptual, intellectual and spiritual 'natural knowledge' or simply 'ways of being' that developed naturally through years of work.  He didn't think about it.  He just did it.    
In many ways that is both the purpose of this blog and the blogs failure.  Instead of writing, I should simply be doing.  But I have a problem. How does one who was raised in a society that seems to value only intellectual “knowledge” become 'one' with all those other 'ways of being' in an unassuming natural way and - just do it?  For me, this blog acts as a kind of catharsis that relieves not just my emotional tensions but my physical, perceptual, intellectual and spiritual tensions as well.

Hamada once said,

"Technical things are important
but you must go beyond them 
into nature."

Again, how does one who was raised in a world that sadly places an overemphasis on intellectual “knowledge” become 'one' with all our other ways of being in an unassuming way and  - just do it? 
When it comes to a chawan, from a Korean perspective at least, it must be natural and not contrived.  A chawan is a 'servant'.  As a servant, it should not be overly pretentious yet should have presence in the hands and to the eye of the user.  It should have personality but not be too proud or boisterous.  It should evoke a quiet sensitive state of mind. It is this delicate balance that is at the heart of my personal challenge with chawan. It is easy to create flamboyant, whimsical or outlandish work we call chawan.  Far more difficult is the task of creating chawan that truly serve.  

Beyond the inspiration from another work, something nearly all chawan artists do, one must also go into ourselves and embrace the limitations we are faced with.  How do you help ‘bad clay’ or even 'dead clay' take on life?  How do you move toward developing a ‘presence’ in the piece?  How can you get anything of real substance from a gas kiln when your soul yearns for wood and the nuances that alone can bring?  That is the challenge of any artist’s work to bring from the materials and conditions as much as they are able to give.  If that happens then the chawan or any work has a chance to ‘live’.  

Objectively, this chawan is large: 16cm wide 8.5 cm tall and 7cm deep inside.  

I am quite happy with the depth and interior form of this bowl.  It draws me into that deep well (too bad this isn‘t in 3D).  I also personally like a large chawan but not much larger than this one.  Chawan normally range from 12cm to 17cm wide with something like 14.5-15.5cm being the norm if there is a norm.  This bowl would be classified as an Ido style.  It was thrown on an electric wheel with moderated speed a little more carefully than necessary.*

It is trimmed with a homemade thin strap steel gub suay kal (left bent knife) that was actually made in Korea.  The kal was a little dull and chattered slightly during trimming.  Not on purpose but not avoided either.  Since I like it, perhaps it was on purpose.
Again, I like the form of the bowl and the depth of the interior but after living with the bowl for a while, for me the foot is a little too small and doesn’t have the depth of character I would like.  I must add that I thought it was fine when I made it.  It still sits quite well.
It is a ‘tight bowl‘, thanks to the electric wheel and my early ‘tight’ training with the Japanese porcelain master Inoue Manji* and my exposure to some contemporary Korean masters who work a little more controlled.  I still struggle to relax.  Only the surface and chattering of the gubsuay kal relax it a bit.  These remarks are not to diminish the absolutely brilliant and beautiful work by Inoue Manji or the Korean masters whom I greatly admire.  But I now work in a different direction influenced more by old Korea than Japan. Still I thank Sensei Inoue for the discipline he gave me and for a greater appreciation for ‘tighter‘ work by others.
That is probably why I can’t deny that I like the tighter bowl form of this chawan quite a bit, even as I now personally work to be more relaxed - but not 'faked', a topic for another post. 

In finishing the piece, it was dipped into a thin clay slip.  The Korean term for dipped slip is ‘tum-bung-mun buncheong’.  Most tum-bung-mun white slips are both white and really opaque.  This slip was neither.  Applied quite thin, and sometimes in layers that ran naturally uncontrolled nor forced, the slip becomes one with the clay body. The feldspathic glaze is also very thin.  I didn’t want a glassy shine on this bowl.

In preparing the slip, that came from another of my clay bodies that happens to shrink the same, I ignored putting it through a sieve while mentally “channeling” the Joseon potter, of that earlier teabowl I mentioned, so there are a few tiny clay particles from the undissolved slip remaining that add a little to the character of the bowl.                  
It is the kiln that is responsible for this unusual surface that was a ‘gift‘ from nature.  Sure the firing, being gas, was somewhat ‘controlled‘ and you try to accomplish certain results but until you open the kiln and the glaze cools you can’t be positive of anything, at least not in this kiln.

The surface of this chawan reflects a captured moment between oxidation and reduction much like the ip-hak chawan in my last post. This one is however quite unusual.  Unusual because this effect on other bowls most often occurs because of tiny stone particles in the clay body around which re-oxidation after reduction occurs.  In this case it happened through the thin slip and also on un-slipped clay under the thin feldspathic glaze.  The re-oxidation mottling developed because of the grog in the clay body more than because of tiny stones. the grog particles re-oxidized differently than the clay surrounding them.
Once more, I give the credit for this bowl to the outer powers more than to myself.  Can I say this bowl has presence and is not overly pretentious?  Does it have personality and is not too proud or boisterous?  Does it evoke a quiet sensitive state of mind?  I think so.  We are left with a simple, honest ‘water’ chawan with an unusual surface - like summer fog on a misty day - that for some time has been waiting to serve.  

It was recently purchased. 

Post Script:  In the last two posts I have shown two types of buncheong.  The ip-hak chawan in my previous post uses the sanggam buncheong carved inlay process while this bowl (I’m temporarily calling ‘Evening Mist‘) employs the tum-bung-mun buncheong process.  The sanggam inlay process has its roots in the Goryeo Dynasty celadon decorating processes of the 12th century.  Early buncheong decorating processes of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 -1910) were very similar to later Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) celadon decorating processes.  The buncheong glaze moved from the difficult to achieve celadon to a variety of basically transparent slightly lower temperature and easier to achieve buncheong‘ glazes.   Buncheong decorating went through a transition from pictorial decorative inlayed slip in the earlier years to very simple dipped or brushed slip processes. It is often said that buncheong processes were at their peak in 1492.  
Although both the ‘Ip-hak’ and the ‘Mist’ chawan exhibit the re-oxidation-reduction effects.  Many buncheong works do not and these effects should not be connected to ‘buncheong’ in general
A debate exists regarding the decline or sudden end of buncheong in Korea around 1592 after which porcelain became more popular in Korea.  Some scholars, particularly Japanese leaning ones suggest that buncheong would have ended around 1592 in Korea in any case.  There is a case for that conclusion. Others, particularly Korean leaning point out that the Japanese invasion was largely responsible for the decline and end of the use of these processes. There is a case for that conclusion. 1592 was the time of the Imjin War (Bunraku War) when Japan invaded Korea and thousands of Koreans were forcefully taken to Japan. It is less well known that nearly all of Korea’s art, including paintings, sculptures, furniture - everything that was above ground was destroyed by the invading forces or taken to Japan.  Many Buddhist temples and the art in them were destroyed.  Between 60,000 and 80,000 Koreans, mostly scholar, artists and intellectuals but also women and children were taken to Japan at that time.  Among them were hundreds or perhaps as many as 2000 ceramic artists.  Those Korean ceramic artists established ceramic centers and changed the face of Japanese ceramics adding particularly to Japan’s natural ways of working with clay.  That war has gained the nickname 'The Pottery War'.  
Interestingly, just a little later there was a major fire in China and many Chinese ceramic artists also came to Japan to work.  These ceramic artists brought with them overglaze enamel decorating processes.  So today we have this strong division in Japanese ceramics between the very natural from Korea and the very controlled decorative processes from China.    
Click on the link
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a fantastic and free PDF book on Korean arts. Did you miss it?
Both of Hamada's quotes come from my notes when working with him.  Yanagi's quote is from his book The Unknown Craftsman translated by Bernard Leach.
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Thursday, January 30, 2014

The New Year's Chawan:

Ip-hak-Dawan the Standing Crane Chawan

Updated 2017
If you read this on January 28, 2017, The Korean Lunar New Year you will be reading it on Seollal:  so, Happy New Year!  The year of the Monkey will have passed and it is now the year of the Rooster. I wanted to post something special in celebration.  So I selected a crane. 
You probably know that the zodiac animals, used as symbols for the Lunar, Han or Chinese New Year, does not include a crane.(1)  But the crane is one of the "mystical creatures" and symbolizes good fortune, happiness and long life or eternal youth.  So it is no wonder that the crane is an auspicious New Year’s symbol as it brings wishes for long life to those who believe.  Even if you don’t believe, why take chances when drinking from a bowl like this on New Year’s day is a great tradition - especially when drinking a delicious Korean tea. 

This is an Ip-hak Dawan, or standing (ip) crane (hak 학) chawan.  In many ways it is a New Year’s dawan.  In Korea the terms dawan and chawan are often interchangeable but the term dawan, for me, implies a ritual.  This style bowl is often sought out for a New Year’s ritual.  
I spoke with several Korean ceramic artist friends about this bowl and got very little consensus except that it is a New Year's Bowl and a symbol for long life.  It is also often used throughout the year for special guests wishing them long life and good fortune.  
Korea does have a special traditional ceremony and one of the days it is celebrated is New Years Day.  That ceremony is called Charae or Charye and is part of the fabric of Korean tradition.  
Charae dates back to the first year of the reign of King Munmu.  In the year 661CE King Munmu of Silla (2) ordered tea to be used during ceremonial offerings.  That is one of the first mentions of tea in official records in Korea and predates tea ceremonies in either China or Japan.  To be fair that was and is an ancestral rites ceremony.  It continues today.  China was the first to have tea ceremonies as we know them today - celebrating tea.
Perhaps the use of this bowl is formal for one’s family or it may be informal  even casual when used for a special guest when they visit or simply by one person alone with ones thoughts, but in each case the purpose is the same - to bring long life and with it happiness and good fortune.  The drinking from a bowl for this purpose is then for me a ritual.  Koreans seek out images of the crane particularly as a symbol of long life, happiness and blessings from God and chawan, dawan and even chatchan or tea cups with this design are among the items they choose. 
This particular ip-hak dawan is by my old friend Lee Jun Hee in whose studio I worked in Icheon, Korea now many years ago.  Lee Jun Hee was well known in his day for his beautiful paintings on white ware.  At the time I worked in his studio tea was beginning to be revised in Korea.  The Korean tea ceremony was being rediscovered.  Palace tea rituals were being saved and passed on and buyers of chawan were rediscovering Korean chawan.   

The bowl is tall and deep.  This chawan style, originally made in Korea, like the famous Ido chawan style, was adopted and used also in Japan as early as the time of Sen Rikyu.  I wonder if Sen Rikyu’s Korean grandfather had anything to do with the adoption of this chawan style?  Sen is the Korean name Rikyu adopted from his grandfather Sen-Ami an aesthete working for Ashikaga Yoshimasa a local warlord.
While the history and purpose the bowl is important, and for me quite interesting, it is time to examine the bowl. 

 Undecorated Side (3) 

Taller and more narrow than most chawan we think of as being Korean, this bowl was made for tea.  Being a dawan, it was made very carefully.  Its simple swelling to an open mouth form sits on a special three legged foot that obviously means there was something special about this bowl.  In forming the piece the ‘throwing’ lines are softened meaning a little extra care was taken.  The foot was not trimmed in the normal quick 2 or 3 quick swipes manner. But special care was taken in the trimming of this foot.

Trimmed 3 Legged Foot 

Then the crane was carved using a cho kak kal.  Cho kak kals are special tools each with various sharp tips now made of steel but originally from bamboo that are pulled toward the user to carve out lines of various widths that are then often inlaid with white and black slip. 

 Gub Suay Kals and One of Several Cho Kak Kal Styles

Trimming and Scrapping with Gub Suay Kals

The extra slip is shaved away with a gub suay kal inlaying the slip.  A similar tool is used for trimming the foot.  Actually the ‘black slip is usually red (from the red iron oxide) or dark grey (from black iron oxide) when applied and turns black during the firing.  Of course the slip must ‘fit‘ the bowl and not shrink too much in the drying or firing process or the inlay will come out.  This particular process, the sanggam process, was invented by Koreans during the Goryeo Dynasty when both celadon and tea were at their height in Korea.  Now, in this form, it is one of several buncheong decorating processes many of which had their roots in Goryeo Dynasty's celadon decorating processes.  The correct term for this process on this piece is ‘buncheong sanggam’ because it is one of the buncheon processes, and it employs both white (peak sanggam) and black (heuk sanggam).

Won-Sanhwa Reduction-Oxidation Effect

It is glazed with a simple 'thin' feldspar and ash glaze over a toothy impure sandy clay body.  It was fired in a wood kiln using an alternating atmosphere between reduction (won) and oxidation (sanhwa) that captured re-oxidation spots that occurred around the impurities in the clay.  Note: I have noticed some tea blogs calling this effect 'buncheong'.  While the decorating process is a buncheon process, the natural reduction/oxidation effect is not limited to buncheon processes. Calling the effect "buncheon" is incorrect.  A buncheong process (and there are many) must use slip in some way.  This reduction/oxidation effect often occurs without slip as well as with the use of slip.

A slightly thicker ‘ring’ of glaze is found on the foot where the glaze 'gathered' around the finger tips when the potter picked it up by the foot to glazed the bowl.  Beyond that all is in ‘control‘ as suiting a dawan like this. In any case such "human touches" are prized on chawan.
For many reasons, this is one of my favorite bowls and I will have or will be using it January 28, 2017 while wishing long life and happiness to all.
May the spirit of the crane on this bowl bring you and yours long life, good fortune and happiness.  
Again, Happy New Year! 

1. Zodiiac animals in order beginning this year are: Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Boar, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon and Snake.
2. King Munmu of Silla (reigned 661–681) is also known as the King who united all of Korea founding the Unified Silla Kingdom.
3. This chawan/dawan is 9.5 cm tall.  The body is also about 9.5 wide gradually swelling to 11.5 cm wide at the lip while the foot is 6.5 cm wide.
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Simple Chawan by Park Jong Il

I’ve been away from this blog for far too long.  Because of that, I have been looking at a number of chawan worthy of being the one with which I returned and I have assembled several that I consider worthy candidates.  You will meet them later.  Then I received a grouping of images of chawan by Park Jong Il.  We introduced him to the Western tea world a few years ago and his teapots that are gaining international attention.  Park Jong Il is best known for his teapots. While his teapots are usually consistent and recognizable as uniquely his, his chawan are different.  In a real sense his chawan are like a group of people that might attend a gathering to celebrate tea.   Some are masculine, some are feminine, some are more rugged looking than others – I think you get the picture.
As I was preparing those chawan images for that post, I kept returning to this teabowl.  I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t get it out of my mind so I decided to write about it simply to figure that out.  Unfortunately I don’t have the bowl here and the images I do have were taken with a cell phone so I can’t hold it in my hands.  But, I do know it was made with Jerisan clay, the same clay that he used to build the walls of his home and studio - the same Jerisan that is the ‘holy mountain’ for Korean tea.  So this bowl at its heart is made with the clay that most ceramic artists think is the best clay for chawan.   
Still, this is a very plain, effortless and not very complex bowl.  I mean this bowl appears so simple and uncomplicated that probably many people would simply walk on by.  Possibly not even give it a glance.  There are no drips, no stones emerging from the sides, no overlapping glaze or slip, no fingerprints, no wobbles – nothing – nothing that would call your attention to it.  Sure, there is that gentle kiss of flame on the lip - but that is it – after that nothing.  Really nothing?  Well, there is that perfect pale light orange ‘flesh’ color that is so sensuous and desired by tea connoisseurs.  And this bowl is very calm, unagitated and serene.  It is at peace with itself.  There is a softness to it that makes me want to hold it.  I know it would fit my hands beautifully.

The walls were formed quickly with faint throwing lines – not fingertips, but the side of the finger.  The clay body has no ‘grog’ or pre-fired ‘dead clay’.  There appears to be a certain amount of fine sand but not river bottom sand that would act as ‘miniature ball bearings’ in the clay body.   

It is a deep bowl with the interior dropping down inside the foot.  The strong foot was trimmed quickly, possibly with a bamboo gub suay kal or left bent knife, leaving a ‘ruffled’ or chattered pattern where it didn’t cut cleanly through the sandy clay used to form it. 

One or possibly two quick passes with the kal and it was done.  There is no sense in fussing over the foot for this bowl.  The foot is sturdy with a ‘bamboo knot’ foot – a classic finish.  Finally it was fired with wood with a semi-transparent feldspatic glaze – a time honored glaze.
So what makes this chawan extraordinary, exciting and compelling?  In a word, “nothing”.  Well, nothing ‘extraordinary’ or ‘exciting’, but compelling - I think so. 
In a recent post on our new tea 無爲 Mu-wi Sejak I wrote a little about the term ‘mu’.  Essentially the term means something like ‘empty’, ‘nothing’, ‘nothingness’ or ‘without‘ etc.  At first glance, one might attribute all of these things to this seemingly unremarkable bowl.  But there was something about this bowl that made me come back to it again and again.  Just to absorb it.  I must also remember that the term 'mu' in this sense is a Taoist term so it it a Taoist 'nothing'.
I can imagine feeling this bowl as it fits my hands warm now, not hot, with the addition of some good fresh matcha.  The kind of matcha the Japanese keep for themselves and don’t export.  I bring the bowl to my lips and absorb that sweet, not bitter, freshness of tea.  This bowl is serving me well.  That is how it should be.  This bowl was made to serve.  It is not a collector’s chawan – not yet anyway, but give it a century or two of good use and it may become a cherished cultural treasure.  You won't have to wait that long to enjoy it and only a little while for it to begin to mature in use.   
For this chawan is just that - a chawan.  It is not a bowl for candy or soup, possibly rice, but as soon as you look at it you know it is a chawan.   It is made for tea – to serve tea.  It is not made to serve itself, to be displayed on a shelf on some collector’s wall.  This bowl is made to be used, and the more you use it the better it will get.  It is just a simple chawan.  It is not the “Kizaemon Ido”.  But, let us remember that when Yanagi wrote about the Kizaemon Ido, he wrote . . . how ordinary! So simple, no more ordinary thing could be imagined. There is not a trace or ornament, not a trace of calculation. It is just a Korean food bowl, a bowl. Moreover, that a poor man would use everyday – commonest crockery.  
Later Yanagi continues:
But that is how it should be. The plain and unagitated, the uncalculated, the harmless, the straightforward, the natural, the innocent, the humble, the modest: where does beauty lie if not in these qualities? The meek, the austere, the un-ornate – they are the natural characteristics that gain man’s affection and respect. 
This chawan by Park Jong Il is not the Kizaemon Ido but it has many of those characteristics - plain, humble, straightforward and natural.  I don’t know about you but it has gained my affection and respect.

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