Listening to Clay: Conversations with Contemporary Japanese Ceramic Artists. Book Review.

A version of this article has been published for the London Potters Magazine – Issue August/September 2022. Out now. To discover more join the London Potters as a member. Be part of a great inspiring and supportive family for potters and ceramic artists.

Just fresh from publications, a new book taking a particular view on contemporary Japanese pottery and ceramic artists. “A book about listening – an increasingly rare skill these days” – says Glenn Adamson in his Preface.
Listening to Clay: Conversations with Contemporary Japanese Ceramic Artists is the first book to present conversations with some of the most important living Japanese ceramic artists. Tracing the evolution of modern and contemporary craft and art in Japan. The book highlights sixteen individuals artists, whose unparalleled skill and creative brilliance, have lent them an influence that far transcends national borders.

Morino Hiroaki Taimei, Work 16-9, 2014, stoneware with black, gold, and turquoise glazes – University of Michigan Museum of Art. Photo by Richard Goodbody, courtesy of Joan B Mirviss LTD.

The artists selected for this volume have been little known in terms of their personal stories. Now, sharing their voices for the first time in Listening to Clay, they not only describe their distinctive processes, inspirations, and relationships with clay, but together trace a groundbreaking cultural shift through a field in which centuries-old but exclusionary potting traditions opened to new practitioners and kinds of practices.

Ogawa Machiko, Blue-green Clear-glazed Vessel (Heki-yū ban), 2008, porcelaneous stoneware with glass glaze. Jeffrey and Carol Horvitz Collection. Photo credit: Richard Goodbody, courtesy of Joan B Mirviss LTD.

Listening to Clay includes conversations with artists born into pottery-making families, as well as with some of the first women admitted to the ceramics department of Tokyo University of the Arts, telling a larger story about ingenuity and trailblazing that has shaped contemporary art in Japan and around the world. Each artist is represented by a brief introduction, a portrait, selected examples of their work, and an intimate interview conducted by the authors over several in-person visits from 2004 to 2019. At the heart of each story is the artist’s personal relationship to clay, often described as a collaboration with the material rather than an imposing of intention.

Miyashita Zenji, Genesis (Sōsei), 2009, stoneware with gradated colored clay (saidei). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo credit: Richard Goodbody.

The oldest artist interviewed, Hayashi Yasuo, was born into a family that had fired ceramics in cooperative kilns for generations, but he rejected traditional modes and went on to be the first artist in Japan to make truly abstract ceramic sculpture. In the late 1960s, another artist, Mishima Kimiyo, developed a technique of silk screening on clay and began making ceramic newspapers to comment on the proliferation of the media. The stories are all beautifully written and transporting.

Koike Shōko, Shell vessel (Kai no futamono), 1997, Shigaraki stoneware with white glaze. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Photo credit: Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY.

Featuring a preface by curator, writer, and historian Glenn Adamson, and a foreword by Monika Bincsik, the Associate Curator for Japanese Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Listening to Clay has been a project more than fifteen years in the making for authors Alice and Halsey North, respected and knowledgeable collectors and patrons of contemporary Japanese ceramics, and Louise Allison Cort, Curator Emerita of Ceramics, National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The book also includes conversations with five important dealers of contemporary Japanese ceramics who have played and are playing a critical role in introducing the work of these artists to the world.
Published to coincide with an upcoming exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, Listening to Clay is an insightful book that, for the first time, spotlights some of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary ceramic artists through personal, idiosyncratic accounts of their day-to-day lives, giving special access to their creative process and artistic development.
A good read for pottery lovers, ceramicists and ceramic artists and anyone interested in how the ceramic relationship presented by innovative and yet distinctive approaches to clay, evolved from traditional Japan to modern days. A very insightful storytelling of remarkable ceramic artists for us to get inspired and informed and nourished.

Miwa Kyūsetsu XIII (formerly Kazuhiko), tea bowl, El Capitan, 2020, Hagi stoneware and Kyūsetsu-white glaze. Private collection. Photo credit: Makitao Moritsugu.
Kondō Takahiro, “Tsunami” Silver Mist Bowl (ginteki wan Tsunami), 2015, marbleized porcelain with silver mist overglaze. Collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University.
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University.

Listening to Clay: Conversations with Contemporary Japanese Ceramic Artists
By Alice North, Halsey North, and Louise Cort Foreword by Monika Bincsik Preface by Glenn Adamson
Published by Monacelli June 14, 2022 | 352 Pages | Hardcover | $65


About the Authors
Alice and Halsey North are pioneering collectors and advocates of contemporary Japanese ceramics. They produced and organized ceramic tours of Japan for the New York Japan Society.
Louise Allison Cort is Curator Emerita of Ceramics, National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution. Her research interests are historical and contemporary ceramics in Japan and Asia.

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