Time seems to pass slowly in this small village. Set among the greenery of the surrounding mountains, passing along a road lined with walls made of pottery shards, we come to a large mound of raw clay that marks Isezaki’s studio.
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Yōzan, and his father, Jun (a living national treasure), Koichiro is the third generation Isezaki to become a potter, but during his student days, he studied wood sculpture. That was when he developed a feeling for becoming one with his material as he worked. After graduation he studied ceramics in the U.S.A. where he discovered a liberated approach towards pottery. Isezaki says that he stands ‘at the forefront of tradition,’ he spends time preparing clay using a variety of raw material. Through conversation with the material, Isezaki brings out their energy to use as the basis for his work.
Bizen ware, Japanese stoneware with a history of 800 years, is produced in Imbe, a small town situated at the foot of mountains in west Japan, Okayama Prefecture. Sticky and fine, the clay is dug out of rice paddies. Characteristically unglazed, the finish is determined by how the potter controls the fire. Particular favorite of the famous artist, restaurateur and potter, Kitaōji Rosanjin, said that it was Bizen Ware that displayed his food at its best, a collaboration with the ceramic form to create a sense of harmony.
Isezaki’s studio has two anagama kilns and the position of each piece in the kiln decides their final appearance. A single firing lasts between 8 to 10 days with the kiln being stocked continuously - requiring as much as 1,500 bundles of split pine. When the kiln reaches the desired temperature, it is said to ‘cry’.
Earth, water, wood and fire come together in harmony within the wildly dancing flames. The vessels, red hot and flashing, catch ash deposits from the firing process and create beautiful harmony. Out of the kiln, each vessel reflects a natural gloss and bear traces of the flow of flames, rhythm of ash, and scent of the clay.
‘ Breath of Clay ‘ will feature works from Koichiro Isezaki’s ‘Yō’ [Conception] series. The work contemplates the relationship between the interior and exterior, an idea conceived during his process of making teabowls. Looking at Isezaki’s works we cannot help but feel that the clay is alive, their ‘forms’ containing ‘hearts’. How will his works start to breathe in New York? This is something we can look forward to seeing.