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Expanding my horizon: looking at Oribe ware

This time I'm looking at traditional Oribe ware in view of how I can fuse/incorporate my surface designs with this traditional ceramic tradition from Japan and give it my own personal interpretation.

Historically Oribe ware was first made in Mino area in central Japan in the late 16th century, which about the same time saw the making of Shino. This Shino ware is known for the application of a pale cream glaze applied over a pale buff clay that was very low in iron. This feldspathic glaze itself was a thick and often unevenly applied so that when applied thinly it became more transparent. Shino ware was fired in oxidation.

Out of this Shino tradition developed Oribe ware which saw the addition of specific glazes and oxide decorations to the traditional white Shino glaze. At the same time the white Shino glazes also became smoother and transparent. There are different classes of Oribe ware but probably the best know ones are: e ("picture") Oribe with increasingly complex patterns painted in iron oxide; ao ("green") Oribe additionally have parts of the pottery dipped into a green Oribe glaze; narumi Oribe which uses contrasting white and pink slips in addition to the oxide decoration and green glaze; and kuro ("black") Oribe where parts are dipped in a black glaze.

Ao Oribe form 16th century
Kuro Oribe from 17th century
Narumi Oribe from 17th century

It was the development of new firing techniques and new forms of multi-chambered kilns which lead the Japanese craftsmen to increase the firing temperatures to about 1220°c which enabled them to create new translucent glazes. At the same time the traditional tea ceremony was at its most popular in Japan and the demand for more adventurously decorated tableware increased. Not only did the decorations applied to tableware and other ceramics become more adventurous but the shapes were also altered. Oribe pottery was often purposefully distorted and symmetry was avoided. To us the Oribe ceramics from late 16th to early 17th century look incredibly modern.


The World of Japanese Ceramics by H.H. Sanders, 1978, pp195-6.

Oribe Ware, looked at 15 July 2018]

Early 17th century Oribe ware

For me personally, it is the combination of hand drawn decorations with the minimal choice of glazed that appeals. The drawings are abstracted shapes and painted on very loosely and partially obscured by the green glazes. There is a real sense of freedom to the whole decoration of these Oribe ceramics that may work for me when I adapt it to my purposes.

So, before embarking on my own Oribe trail I also looked at more modern and contemporary interpretations and adaptations of Oribe ware. Here are some of my favourite Oribe ware artist:

Suzuki Goro (b. 1941) is a modern artist who works in Oribe tradition but introduces a real playfulness bordering on disregard for some of the strict traditional Japanese ceramic traditions to his pottery. This applies both to the shapes he makes as well as the decorations. Often the ceramic's heaviness and thickness belies the skill that he acquired as a young production potter having spent obsessively hours practicing throwing on the wheel. His decorations include often playful references to contemporary life such as the repeated inclusion of the depiction of an electric light bulb.

Suzuki Goro stacking box
Suzuki stacking box

Suzuki Goro, tea pot

Suzuki Goro set of bowls, 1999.

Ken Matsuzaki (b. 1950) has a firm grounding in traditional Japanese pottery, having developed his work during his extended five-year apprenticeship with Tatsuzo Shimaoka, who himself had learnt from Shoji Hamada. Matsuzaki's covers quite a few traditional Japanese pottery styles and he seems to me to be the most traditional potter of the three I'm listing here. But it was the image below is what caught my attention and made me want to try out Oribe ware for myself. I am not sure what his intentions were but to me this little dish is both traditional and modern and seems to transcend cultural boundaries. The pattern he uses could be anything from early pictograms left on a rock face, to patterns found in African textiles to contemporary Urban graffiti.

Ken Matsuzaki dish

Here I am also including some other images of Matsuzaki's more well known Oribe ware style, which, for me, is not quite as strong as the above example:

Ken Matsuzaka bottle
Ken Matsuzaka group of pots

Shogo Ikeda (b. 1976) is another ceramic artist from Japan adapting the Oribe traditions within his own work. He combines visual traditions such as Mount Fuji with imagery taken from modern life such as roads with road markings and cartoon-like depiction of animals. I find this very exciting. Here are some examples of this on his work:

Shogo Ikeda vase with Mt
Shogo Ikeda road with strange birds

Shogo Ikea tea bowl with bus
Shogo Ikea bowl with donkey, birds and man

Looking at these examples I'm hoping that I will be able bring some of their freedom and playfulness to my ceramics. Look out for another blog entry...

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