Sunil Vilas exclusive interview’s Japanese Shiho Kanzaki ceramic pottery artist
I am proud to welcome our next guest to our VIP Creative Lounge moving across to South Asia and over to Japan, master craftsman Shiho Kanzaki and ceramic pottery artist also known as “Anagama potter”
History of Japanese Ceramic pottery
Zen priests are linked with two very characteristic elements of Japanese culture: the exquisite simplicity of Japanese ceramics; and the formalities of the Tea Ceremony for which much of the pottery is designed.
The story of Japanese ceramic pottery dates back the early period of 1223 when a Zen monk takes a Japanese potter, Kato Shirozaemon, to China to study the manufacture of ceramics. This is a period, in the Song dynasty, when the Chinese potters achieved a perfection and simplicity.
Similarly during this period the birth of Japanese pottery naturally evolved its own styles to rival this perfection.
Respect old things. Experience those old things. But take the old outer shell away and create something new from it. This is the true nature of “tradition.”
-Takuo Kato, Japan, current “Living National Treasure”
It is meaningless just to inherit the traditions of Japanese pottery, unless you add your own ideas…but if you overdo yourself, you might ruin the traditions. The point is to make the best use of the old methods and ideas.
-Toyozo Arakawa, Japan, former “Living National Treasure”
Every pot you make must be your own original creation. It should not be a mere arrangement of old techniques. You see, we are living in this world of today, so therefore we must use the fire of today and sing the songs of today. It sounds easy, but it’s a very hard thing to do.
-Toshisada Wakao, Japan, potter.
The above quotes describes the nature of traditional Japanese potters, is how we relate to our next guest master craftsman ceramic potter Shiho Kanzaki.
Welcome!! Thank you for joining us in our VIP Creative Lounge for an exclusive interview.
1. Sunil – What inspired you first to become a ceramic artists?
Shiho – Sunil san!.., When I saw an exhibition of the art of ancient India at a museum in Kyoto during my student days, I was very deeply touched to my heart. I was terribly shocked by the ancient Indian stone statue sculptures. This is because in general, religious art is far removed from the common world.
What I saw at this exhibition was the harmony between religion and secular things, the sensual world in which aspects of essential human nature were expressed by individual statues. Eastern spirituality was communicated through these statues. This excitement led me into the world of clay sculpture for a while, during my senior year in college. Though I was absorbed in reading legal books, whenever I got tired of reading, I took the clay in my hands.
When you clasp the clay tightly, the clay will copy the complex shape of your fingers. The reason why the clay relaxes my mind is that the movement of my mind is communicated through my hands, and gives life to the clump of clay. There is no other way to express my own feelings as honestly and faithfully, is there?
2. Sunil – Would you like to share your story of how you began your dream of becoming a Japanese ceramic potter?
Shiho – Sunil san!.., Thank you for this interesting question, to answer you I need take you back to my humble beginnings around early 1974
“You can’t get high heat using such wet unseasoned firewood.”
“You don’t have common knowledge of wood firing, do you?”
The Shigaraki potters came to see my anagama firing one after another when they found out that I was having a firing. They were telling me these words before they went home. In those days (1974) there were only three potters, including myself, who had built an anagama kiln in Shigaraki.
There were many more potters who were interested in the anagama kiln. It was obvious to everyone that I was using unseasoned firewood.
“You can’t fire with unseasoned firewood.”
“It is common knowledge that you can’t fire the kiln with unseasoned firewood.”
Their words echo as if they struck my heart. Since the kiln’s temperature was not rising smoothly, my apprentice and I were frantically trying to find a solution. We felt more and more gloomy. That night, we couldn’t sleep at all. We had worked without rest and I had tried everything in my head.
My apprentices said nothing and they looked utterly exhausted.
It was the seventh sunrise since we started firing. And our minds were wandering in total darkness. I and my apprentices I had made frantic efforts during the night. Thirty hours of searching for a glimpse of a possibility, trying everything I know, and exhausting all my strength and still the temperature wouldn’t rise.
Can I hold on any longer? Our fatigues has reached the limit, mentally and physically.
“Hey! Take the pyrometer off immediately.” I said harshly, almost in despair.
After saying that, I’ve held my head between my hands. My apprentices also was exhausted. In spite of that, as I was in a bad mood, they were more cautious than usual not to upset my feelings at all.
At last I found a way of firing, by placing the unseasoned wood in a pattern of a the cross. Upon the center of that kiln, I stoked 3 or 5 very thinly split pieces of firewood in the shape of uprights “||||”, and on the top of those firewood I stoked some pieces in the shape of horizontal “=”. Repeating this procedure many times, I stacked the crossing firewood in the kiln.
The temperature was getting upper and upper. The kiln reached a high heat.
At the opening day, I removed the clay slip from the fire mouth, and opened the door gently. Inside the kiln was pitch dark, so I couldn’t see anything. Within reach from the fire door, there was the Iga. I put my hands into the kiln.
It was still very warm inside. My hands touched the work. Through double layered cotton work gloves I felt the heat of the work. With crackling sound it was removed from the base.
I took it out from the kiln very carefully In order not to damage the work. The work made a high-pitched sound.
That is the characteristic sound when unloading the kiln, which you hear when the work cools down. That thin pitch elevated the tension.
“I made it! Hey, I made it! This is the Iga I’ve dreamed of!”
I was tightly held the ceramic pottery in my hands the work I had been dreaming of for so long. I thrust it in front of everyone’s eyes, saying “this is IT! THIS IS IT…”
They tried to touch the work, stretching their hands, but I didn’t let anyone touch it. I stroked and stroked it as I sat down embracing the work. This is IT, I have been pursuing this works.
3. Sunil – I am sure our members will learn from your example that success and triumph comes to those who are willing to go all the way, I admire your strengthen to continue with your quest at all cost until you accomplish your task.., thank for sharing this experience with us.,
Can you also share with us your experience of your next turning point of your first solo exhibition that you could remember?
Shiho – Sunil san!.., Yes certainly following my success in early 1974 of using unseasoned firewood to fire my anagama kiln.., Later in that year in late April I held my first solo exhibition title – Works from the anagama at Nakamiya Gallery in Osaka.
In the previous year I had shown in a group exhibition at Hankyu Department store, but those works were glazed ones. The natural glaze works which had given me the chance to become a potter, – the day to show the first of these came. It was the debut of the Shigaraki potter, Shiho Kanzaki.
Many people came to the gallery and looked around at the works not only once, but two, three times. There were people who were sighing, people who nodded their head with satisfaction without finding the words to express their deep feelings toward the works, some who touched the work very gently, and people who sat in front of the couch I was sitting on, saying, ” let me rest for a while” after looking around so many times in the gallery.
Many people were admiring the works one by one very carefully, walking around the gallery again and again. When these works were born, I made a firm decision in my heart: “Even if people in the world deserted me, I would fire these pieces, the work I’ve dreamed of.” But it was my misconception.
I realized that I underestimated people’s appreciation. The eye to see beautiful things is the same for everyone. Watching the people fascinated by my work, my long struggles were instantly blown away.
4. Sunil – A fascinating journey to follow your path of success through determination and persistence wanting to achieve your vision at all cost!! thank you for your account
Japanese ceramics pottery is unique as a traditional creative craftsmanship..,
Can you explain what inspired you to select anagama kiln process ( wood firing heat process)
Shiho – Sunil san!..,When I was young my respected elderly father took me to antique stores so often, that just by walking through the stores. The pots of, “Iga and Shigaraki” that were fired in the Muromachi, Azuchi and Momoyama era (1336-1600) had soaked deeply into my mind. Therefore I believe the right choice was made to follow my path..,
5. Sunil – How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen your work?
Shiho – Sunil san!.., have you ever seen natural ash deposits work? Look at this works closely; the deep blue which reminds one of the deep blue sea; the green like moss; the charred surface which reminds one of the creation of the earth; the harmony of distortion and myriad colors.
These are the perfection of the natural glaze. And the shape of my works are explaining my life, very natural.
6. Sunil – Very interesting how you compare your work to mother nature..,
My next question for you Is your work in any famous private or corporate collection?
Shiho – Sunil san!.., thank you for asking me the question? Starting with my long time major admirer Walter and Molly Bareiss Collection – Their lived in Connecticut, USA. Unfortunately, he passed away.
Some of my works of ceramic pottery collection are in the Yale University Art Gallery
Gisela Freudenberg Collection – He lives in Germany. (This collection was shown 2005 in the Museum fur Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt)
Yuji Saini Collection. – He lives in Nara, Japan. He collected 120 Shiho’s works including my recent new texture works. Published his collections, titled Yuji Saini Collections, Shiho Kanzaki’s works.
And 4 other major collectors around the world, but they don’t like to openly publish their names.
7. Sunil – Thank you for sharing with us an impressive list of the finest collectors around the globe.., You spend most of your time developing your ceramic pottery collection..,
Do you take time off to do other activities Do you have other interests or talents that you would like to share with us?
Shiho – Sunil san!.., Yes I enjoy another craft of making bamboo flute, and also the art of Japanese shakuhachi. Professional shakuhachi player use my shakuhachi.
8.Sunil – Describe yourself in 3 words; one has to be a colour?
Shiho – Sunil san!..,certainly red, stone, horse.
Sunil – I find that this question covers what you believe your personality is associated with red is the color of prosperity, joy and energy, stone signify to be firm, bold & stubborn and the Horse symbolizes – power, grace, beauty, nobility, strength, and freedom.
9. Sunil – If you had the choice of doing something different in your Life.., What would be your ideal choice ?
Shiho – Sunil san!.., Quiet simply Nothing, only potter. I would do this all over again.
10. Sunil – Many of our members of Globalization ICAS and readers of this article will look for inspiration from our established International artists for their early beginning in their career in field of Art .., therefore finally,
Do you have any advice for ceramic artists just starting out?
Shiho – Sunil san!.., Yes!! simply.., You should have big dream, and pursued it until you satisfied.
Sunil – Thank you Shiho Kanzaki for sharing your wonderful experiences and allowing us the opportunity to follow your journey through your personal life.., we are honoured and blessed as a group to be able to attract members like yourself to be part of our group.
We look forward to your active involvement in playing a role in our future development of Globalization ICAS, may your future continue to bring you success and fulfillment.
Sunil Vilas • England – I would be grateful for questions from members of Globalization ICAS that you would like to ask our guest in the VIP Creative Lounge Japanese ceramic artist’s Shiho Kanzaki
Didier Dubuy • France – Could you please Shiho tell us more about your daily frequenting of nature, very present in the description of your works & your beautiful Facebook page as well..? Do you have any habit, any ritual in that matter?
Peter Filzmaier • Florida USA – Hello Shiho San, Your life’s phylosophy and creative endeavours are one and are an inspiration to all who add to the human process of creative living. The wisdom in your comment about the art of the past being the foundation for the evolution of art is a guiding light to my personal path.
I am sure that your daily experiences continue to inspire you in your work and move you to evolve your work. Can you share some of the ideas that are currently influencing you in your work?
Shiho Kanzaki • Japan – Thank you for your comments, Heather san! Didier san! Sunil san! and Peter san! I would reply to Didier san and Peter san. I’m enjoying nature riding on a bicycle in a fine weather. The healthy body and soul are required for my own creation.
Before everything, I would like to say for you my thought.
I believe that our spirits and thoughts are what make our ceramics. And making of pottery and a way of living are closely related. These two relationship is important. Wrong spirit or without soul makes not so good work.
However, the reverse is also true. Our works are expressing all of ourself. I believe that the beauty of this work is not simply because of the shape, or due to excellent technique, or the beauty of the surface. For if the beauty of a work exists only in its good shape, design and colour, I suspect that its effect upon us may fade over the years.
But if the spirit, the heart and the soul of the potter are in the pieces, these works can touch our heart and soul for many years. It’s my basic thought. So I always openly write about my story and my hobby on facebook. And I have to live according to nature.
I became a priest for such a reason. I’m polishing myself everyday to become a good potter. I pray Buddha always especially every morning.
Didier Dubuy • France – Thanks dear Shiho for your words & for this good moment we share with you.
Heather Sarin • New Zealand – Thank you Shiho for your words of wisdom! I also meditate and sit and watch Mother Nature for hours in the state of reverie. I try and be humble and enjoy living a simple life-style. I have a lovely husband who is kind, considerate, very supportive and honest.
I also have friends whose lives are not governed by greed, hypocracy and Ego. I am lucky to have such friends. Good people like you, Peter, Mona and Sunil inspire me. I love art and painting is yet another form of meditation. In that state I am at one with what I create.
It is a wonderful feeling and the rewards are manyfold.
Herminia Haro • Peru – Very inspired story. Patient is inherent to a good ceramist.
Working the moisted clay, create a form and wait to it get dry day by day respecting its time, then hire the piece and wait to the surprise the klin will give us.
Sometimes it’s not what we thougth but it’s always an inner creation that reflect our spirit.Thank you Shiho Kanzaki.
Shiho Kanzaki • Japan – Thank you, Didie san! Heather san! and Herminia san! Heather san, you are living close to nature, arenT you?
The life-style is most important thing. I like those life-style. Herminia san, I suppose that I can see the smile of kiln-God always.
Thank you for your very generous comments.
Shiho Kanzaki Japanese master craftsman ceramic potter
Born in a pottery town of Shigaraki, Japan
I grew up and was educated during the “time of confusion” following the Second World War. I graduated from college and entered society just as Japan was emerging from the aftermath of WWII, and was moving forward with rapid progress. Japan was getting wealthy both economically and materially. It was around this time that I decided to become a potter (a ceramic artist).
While others were enjoying their material blessings, my mendicant-like life began under the dim light of an oil lamp in a tin hut which I built by myself. It was a struggle to feed myself…. It was only in 1976 that electricity finally came to my workshop.
During this life of mendicancy (when I sometimes needed to depend on the alms of others), some people had left me, and others had helped me. Judging only from appearances, the latter is appreciated, while the former is not.
But the truth is this: without the former, the latter does not exist; and without the latter there is not the former. (The former presupposes the latter; and the latter presupposes the former.) Bipolar opposition exists only in the phenomenal world but they are, in essence, one.
I have done a lot of writing about my encounters with many people, both in my previous book, Honoo no Koe; Tsuchi no Koe (“The Voice of Fire, The Voice of Clay” from Nihon Kyoubun Sha) and in this book*.
Because of these encounters, I can create pottery…or to say it another way: “I have become what I am now. “I am greatly indebted to these people for their kindness to me. Above all, I have wonderful parents, and a wonderful wife and daughter.
I was born in a pottery town called Shigaraki, and have the Karma ** of Buddha. The Karma reaches back to the past and stretches to all places — it covers everything.
How mysterious Once I realized this, my sense of pride and the sense that I had accomplished success by my own hands, literally disappeared.
A summary of comments from individuals around the world who have met and had the pleasure to work with Shoho Kanzaki said the following:-
Dick Lehman Goshen, Indiana, USA
(“It opened eyes to new possibilities”) I had the opportunity to help fire the Shigaraki anagama with Kanzaki sensei.., It opened my eyes to new possibilities.
When I returned to the United State I began “species specific” firing; using only Chinese Elm asa a fuel; I developed new clay bodies for wood-firing; I began to fire for 15 days, to 1500 degrees Celsius. The result for me was they discovery of a new, wide range of natural colors; mauve, sea-green, pink, purple, violet, rose, yellow, orange.
I am grateful for the generous teaching of Kanzaki Shiho sensei.., and I always remember his encouragement to make works with all my heart, mind and spirit.
Karl Beamer – Professor of Ceramics / sculpture, Bloomsburg University
(“A World treasure”) I’ve seen many works from around the world and feel that Shiho Kanzaki’s forms are the best in terms of color, texture and the composition of these elements on each piece.
His works magnify the intuitive yet ordered power of all natural forces. His mastery in understanding all things has produced works of impeccable stature in the contemporary idiom. I feel his works are truly a cultural heritage and in my heart a world treasure.
Claude Gagnon –
(“I knew that I would be dealing with an exceptional man”). When I first saw Shiho Kanzaki’s work, I knew that I would be dealing with an exceptional man, unique and powerful. I could see his intelligence, his complexity and what some people would call his contradictions in each of his pieces, I could go while still keeping a good sense of balance and sensitivity.
Meeting the man and the artist was even more of a revelation; I met a sincere, generous man, willing to share his knowledge with everyone, open to the world and ready to discover new things everyday.
I wish we could all meet one Shiho Kanzaki in our lifetime and be inspired by his wonderful drive and never-ending curiosity that can be so amazingly stimulating.., I’m proud to now count him among my best friends in this world..,
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