Nature took the wheel in creating the Japanese pottery, ceramics and other three-dimensional pieces in an exhibit debuting this weekend at the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock.
Tradition also spins through the unique exhibit of contemporary artists, some showing works whose lineage dates back at least 800 years, according to Lisa McDermott, director at the Carnegie.
“Nature, Tradition, and Innovation: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics from the Gordon Brodfuehrer Collection” runs Sept. 16 through Dec. 31 at the Carnegie’s Ferrari Gallery; 43 artists are featured with more than 50 pieces on exhibit.
There also will be 11 nature photographs by Taijiro Ito that were chosen for their relationship to the pottery pieces they’re paired with, McDermott said. Viewing them together “starts to evoke different things, which is one of the cool things about the exhibition – they’re sort of prompting you to see more.”
The natural world was inspiration for the artists, many of who created their works in kilns established 1,000 years ago – the Rokkoyo or “Six Old Kilns” of Bizen, Echizen, Shigaraki, Seto, Tamba and Tokoname. Ceramics from these kilns have distinctive styles, such as the smooth, unglazed Bizen wares and the rugged, feldspar-encrusted Shigaraki wares, according to information from the Carnegie.
The earliest pieces in the exhibit are from the late 1970s or early ’80s, McDermott said, but some of the artists come from families with generations of potters who take their names from the potters before them. They also fire their pieces in the particular kilns used throughout their individual lineages.
“The artists go there, learn the techniques and processes used at those kilns,” McDermott said. “Then, as contemporary artists do, they find ways to twist that tradition to make it their own, (while still being) inspired by and reverent of the traditions before them.”
The kilns can dramatically effect the artwork, she said, forming colors, textures and glazes.
“The colors and the shiny glaze that you see is created by organic materials in the kiln that burn and it burns at such a high temperature that it turns them into mineral glaze, basically,” McDermott said, pointing to one piece in the show from Bizen. “The ash settles on the hot clay inside the kiln and creates color and pattern.”
Artists do have some control, changing the reactions by reducing or increasing the oxygen in kilns or adding materials that burn in specific ways. Many of the pieces in the exhibit appear to have been painted or glazed, but actually get their appearance organically from the kilns themselves.
“There’s a certain amount of control they (the artists) exert because they know their stuff so well, but this ... in Japanese pottery, is very much part of the aesthetic of what nature does,” McDermott said. “You don’t control fire, nature does this and that’s what’s beautiful about it, that nature creates the artwork as much as the artist does.”
It goes back to the ancient Shinto beliefs that everything in nature had spiritual properties, she added, “and the spirits of nature are going to have their way with you.”
While unique, “most of the works are considered functional pieces, the vases, jars, bowls, plates,” McDermott said. “There’s going to be a whole table with sake cups and there’s a section with a couple of tea bowls and water containers that are used in the tea ceremony.”
The fall exhibit traditionally is the Carnegie’s premiere event of the year, with high-interest collections featured. In the past, the season has brought works by such artists as Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Joan Miró, Alphonse Mucha and Ansel Adams to the Turlock arts center. Last year, drawings and paintings from famed children’s books of the past 100 years were featured.
McDermott said this year, the gallery committee looked to bring in an autumn show that featured cultural diversity, and the Japanese ceramics fit that criterion. The Carnegie will hold related programs throughout the exhibit including a Sunday lecture series featuring ceramics expert John Toki (Sept. 24); speakers from the Livingston Japanese American Citizens League who will offer personal experiences from World War II interment of the Japanese by the U.S. government (Nov. 12); and art historian Catherine Anderson with music historian Sarah Chan on the impact of Japan’s influence on late 19th century Europe (Dec. 3).
In addition, the exhibit in the Carnegie’s lobby will be “Pacific Currents,” works by regional artists inspired by the arts of Asia, running Oct. 18-Jan. 21.
“Nature, Tradition, and Innovation”
WHEN: Sept. 16-Dec. 31; gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m Fridays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: Carnegie Arts Center, 250 N. Broadway, Turlock
ADMISSION: $5, free for age 12 and under