Born January 28, 1929, Matuei Kimiko first began making containers in 1973. She was self taught in the beginning of her career, and her early work is primarily pinch pots and sharply contrasts with the higher refinement of later work. This step up into more refined pieces came under the tutelage of a later teacher: the esteemed Hayashi Toujaku. Her work is said to have a distinctly feminine feel to it, and is pretty stylistically varied. Mostly she is known for her pattern relief and carved pots, although she made many glazed and unglazed pieces as well. Her pieces are extraordinarily rare, as pottery dealer and collector Matt Ouwinga remarked to me recently that they were “as rare as hen’s teeth.” Despite the rarity of her works, she is one of the most influential female bonsai potters of the 20th century. I’m going to keep this one brief and just post a gallery, as I haven’t been able to put together a more detailed post over the last couple of weeks due to illness(I couldn’t post at all last week). Anyway, Enjoy!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this gallery of bonsai pots by Matuei Kimiko. Thanks for reading!
I once heard a well known American bonsai potter state that patina on bonsai pottery is just dirt, cracks, and chips. It isn’t. For starters, cracks and chips are not patina, they’re defects. Second, patina is more than just dirt. Dirt can be easily cleaned, relatively speaking, from a container, while patina takes serious work to remove. So what is patina, then? From a literal standpoint, patina on bonsai pottery is a very thin film of oxidized very small particles of substrate, dust, oils, and solid fertilizer that builds in a very particular way over a very long time with use. In a less literal sense, patina is visible age. One thing that is often overlooked in the West is the Japanese idea that ‘the dignity of the pot should suit the dignity of the tree.’ In this sense, dignity encompasses visual age, value, and aesthetics. In a great composition, the tree should appear as if it could have been in that container it’s whole life. Patina is very important to us as Bonsai artists as our most common goal is to create compositions that invoke the image or evoke the feeling of majestic aged trees in nature, in miniature. A container with ‘visible age’, patina, is necessary to achieve this goal. In this sense, patina can be thought of as “the Yamadori of Bonsai containers.” Why do we appreciate Yamadori? It certainly isn’t the ease of styling or collecting. It’s the visual, and often visceral, appearance of great age that trees collected from the mountains have, which gets us halfway there to our goal of creating an image that calls to mind majestic aged trees in nature. Real age will always be more visually convincing and compelling than our attempts to imitate it. The pots we choose to present our trees are no different. A container that is actually old, and appears so, gets us that much closer to the goal of our compositions. Visually, patina is a darkening of the surface of the container that begins at the rim and the base and moves towards the center. Raised areas will develop patina faster than recessed areas, as will rougher surfaces. The rougher the surface the faster patina will build. In general, porcelain pots have the smoothest surfaces, followed by glazed pots, then unglazed pots. Practically, this means that a very groggy, rough unglazed container will get a decent, visible patina with a decade or so of use, a burnished unglazed pot may take two or more decades, a glazed container will take three decades, and a painted porcelain pot could take four decades or more. There is such a thing as too much patina. Eventually, a container reaches a point where it is no longer recognizable. For example, cream and green glazed pots become totally coffee colored or brown, and cannot be used as cream and green glazed pots. At that point, they are often very carefully cleaned by professionals, exposing the center of the container and returning the container to its original aesthetic function. Many of the containers in this post have been at least partially cleaned at some point.
Let’s look at some examples of patina. Thanks as always go to Matthew Ouwinga for use of some photos, as well as Tim Priest.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this first article and gallery on patina. In future posts we’ll look at how to improve patina on our own pots and various examples of faux patina.
His real name is 濱田 重章(Shigeru Hamada) and his kiln/potter’s name is “Hin Zyubeiei” though his pots are commonly referred to simply as Zyubei. He was born in 1946 in Osaka and began creating shohin bonsai in 1972. By 1973, he was teaching bonsai classes in shohin at Shunshoen. In 1981, he began making bonsai pots, and purchased an electric kiln in 1989. After retirement in 2009, he began making bonsai pots professionally. There are three other articles and galleries on the site dedicated to this artist, if you’d like to see and read more check out the table of contents.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this gallery of the work of Shigeru Zyubei. Check the table contents for more articles and galleries on this blog favorite artist.
Like so many other great bonsai potters Fukuda Tadahiro was originally just a serious bonsai enthusiast who began by making containers for his own trees and enjoyment. Eventually he assumed the potter name Koto Chukan. He has been practicing Shohin bonsai for more than 40 years now, and has exhibited displays in the Gafu Ten Shohin Exhibition more than 30 times. Currently, he lives and works in Kyoto. He only uses Shigaraki clay, owing to his training, where he learned under the guidance of Mr. Miho, a Shigaraki traditional craftsman potter. As a bonsai container artist, Chukan is known for using unique twists on classical patterns so that the pots best suit bonsai. His awards in pottery exhibitions, including the exclusive Contemporary Artists Kobachi Exhibition held each year at Gafu Ten, are numerous. His technical skill with clay is as impressive as his unique glazing ability. Koto Chukan containers are handmade, rare, and one of a kind, as you will see from the following gallery, and as such can command pretty impressive prices for a living artist. There used to be an excellent biography and awesome artist mark sheet(Chukan had a lot of marks!) for Koto Chukan on the Kojoen(a Kyoto Shohin Bonsai garden)website, but it was deleted when they redid their site. If you got to read it while it was still up you know a lot more about this artist than this article will give you. Special thanks to Alex “Mai Bonsai” Rudd of the EBPC for use of some of his photos.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the one of a kind Shohin bonsai pottery of Koto Chukan. Stay tuned for more artist profiles and galleries of artists we’ve covered in the past in future posts!
The title for this post is pretty self explanatory. Today I’ll answer the question of where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to since I stopped publishing articles and blogs here nearly 5 years ago. I felt my passion slipping away then, so I decided, for a while, to focus instead on lecturing in person, and to go to shows, not just as a vendor, but as an enthusiast. My goal was to rekindle my love of bonsai and bonsai pottery and rediscover the passion that had become jaded and sharp from the business of it all. And it was a decided success. Let’s take a look at the highlight reel of some of the places I’ve been, some friends I’ve met along the way, and some of what I’ve seen since I’ve been away from the site! Don’t worry, once you pass through the gauntlet of pictures of my ugly mug there ware more pots and trees to look forward to at the end!
With my partner Dave Paris, along with the Beer, Wine, and Cheese and Bonsai Auctions Facebook groups, over the last 5 years charity work for members of the community is easily the thing I’m most proud of. We’ve raised well over $60,000 with combinations of Gofundme pages and Facebook auctions of items donated by generous members of the community. We’ve championed many causes, ranging from a new car for Nestor Torres, to the fairly recent Owen Reich home fire, to helping with Roy Minarai’s daughter’s medical bills, among many others. Watching the bonsai community come together and give to others in the art in need has been wonderful to behold and always reminds me that the people are the thing I love most about bonsai.
Big Exhibition Lectures
Since the last article I published before this year, in March 2016, I’ve spoken at dozens of clubs and societies, along with several larger National, Regional, and State Level Exhibitions. In that nearly 5 year span, I’ve lectured at 2 US National Bonsai Exhibitions, 2 US National Shohin Bonsai Exhibitions, the UK National Exhibition, the Lone Star Bonsai Federation state exhibition, the Mid America Bonsai Alliance Regional Exhibition, the American Bonsai Society Exhibition in St. Louis, and was one of the headliners at the 2019 Golden State Bonsai Federation California state exhibition. It’s been an absolute blast to meet enthusiasts from all over the US and Europe at these Exhibitions and an honor to speak at them.
Club Lectures and Nursery Events
I’ve been a guest lecturer at several dozen clubs, nurseries, societies, and associations over the last 5 years in the US and the UK. It’s been a real pleasure, not only to teach in so many different places, but to meet people in the community from such diverse regions and see the differences in how they practice bonsai and the differences in their taste in pottery.
Pots, Bonsai, and Other Stuff
A few highlights and random photos of bonsai pottery I’ve seen, sold, bought, or been given in my travels in the last 5 years, along with a few photos of the many bonsai I’ve seen and other pics. Enjoy!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek at what I’ve been up to in the last several years since the articles stopped. Next Monday’s scheduled post we’ll be back to the old standby Artist profile, with future articles coming up on Patina, Cost and Value, and Yuuga, plus many artist profiles!
This is the 200th Post for the blog! I was just going to phone it in, and do a retrospective. Instead, I figured, why not a special post, why not a treat on a special day, with an additional treat of special and fascinating subject matter. In this week’s regular Monday article, we looked at traditional motifs that frequently appear on bonsai containers and come from hand scrolls, folding screens and statues, myths, and legends. In this post we will look at traditional motifs that are derived from the famous ukiyo-e(woodblock prints) of Ando Hiroshige and Katsushita Hokusai.
The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō
The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō are a series of woodblock prints by Utagawa Hiroshige(born Ando Hiroshige) made in 1833-1834. He created the prints after his first journey upon the Tōkaidō road, where he was part of an official party escorting a gift of horses for the Imperial court. The Tōkaidō road was a major trade and travel artery through Japan, connecting Edo to the capital at the time, Kyoto. The stations along the Tōkaidō road were way stations for travelers and merchants to restock supplies, eat, and rest. While Hiroshige created more than 30 versions of the prints, the Hōeidō version is the original and most famous, and also the source material most often used for depictions on bonsai containers.
The 36 Views of Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji is considered a symbol of Japanese National identity, and is sacred in Japanese religious tradition. Perhaps no other visual representations of “Fuji San”(Mr. or Sir Fuji, an often heard referral showing respect and deference) is more emblematic than Katsushita Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji. The multicolor woodblock prints depict Mount Fuji from various views and locations, with surrounding towns and environments, and in differing weather. These iconic woodblock prints(ukiyo-e) were created at the height of Hokusai’s career, from 1830 to 1833. The vast majority of bonsai container depictions from the 36 Views are of Fine Wind, Clear Morning, Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit, and TheGreat Wave Off Kanagawa, although many other scenes do appear regularly.
The Great Wave Off Kanagawa
While The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is actually a part of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji series, it deserves its own section due to its fame and the frequency with which it appears on bonsai containers. The print dates to the late Edo period, 1829-1833, and depicts 3 boats battling a giant rogue wave in the Sagami bay, with Fuji San in the background.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my 200th post, and reading about the traditional woodblock prints that inspire modern bonsai container art. In the next installment of the series, we’ll look at shapes and details to pots that have named origins, be they individual artists, kilns, or eras.
Like bonsai itself, bonsai pottery is filled with classical designs and traditional motifs. Visual motifs like paintings and carvings on bonsai containers often come from famous paintings, poems, and prints. Stylistic motifs like shapes and details(say of the feet, or rim) can come from individual artists and be named after them or from specific eras. In this series of articles, we’ll look at the origins of often seen classical and traditional motifs and styles as well a variety of examples. I’ll keep the critique on the pots to a minimum on this one as it’s already run a bit long!
A Little History: The Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga, commonly called the Chojugiga, is an ancient Japanese cultural property and National Treasure owned by the Kozan-Ji temple and dates from the 12th to possibly 13th centuries. It is a series of painted hand scrolls featuring anthropomorphic, frolicking animals, magical humans, and samurai. Thieving monkeys, bathing rabbits, and wrestling frogs appear throughout, and these are the elements of the scrolls that find their way onto bonsai pottery often enough to be called traditional motifs. Originally the animal elements of the scrolls were whimsical and satirical representations of the priests of the time. The scrolls have been highly influential in Japanese art and culture, and are often credited as being the first manga. Some of the stylistic painting effects such as movement lines used by the artist are still in use in Manga in Japan today.
Raijin and Fujin
A Little History: Raijin and Fujin are Japanese weather deities(Kami). Raijin is the god of thunder, storms, and lightning. Fujin is the god of the wind. Thought of as both protectors and destroyers, like many Japanese deities Raijin and Fujin are neither good nor bad. In a nation like Japan where natural disasters related to the weather are more commonplace than other societies with extensive mythologies, it’s difficult to see how two weather deities are thought of as protectors. Raijin’s positive aspects come from agriculture, as the bringer of storms and rain. Fujin’s good side is historically rooted in winds that twice decimated Mongol naval invasions in the 13th century.
The Fox’s Wedding
A Little History: “On a day when the sun shines bright and the rain falls, wise parents advise their children to play indoors. It isn’t that they are worried about them catching a cold. No, it is something more mysterious. For on such days the kitsune, the magical foxes of Japan, hold their wedding processions.”-From the Hyakumongatori website. The “kitsune no yomeiri”, or “Fox’s Wedding” in Japanese folklore is an explanation for unexplained forest lights or a ‘sunshower’(where it is raining but the sky is clear and the sun shining). Folklore surrounding the sunshower is fascinating reading. I’ve long been enamored of stories in folklore and fiction involving trickster gods and spirits, and they always seem to be associated with fairy lights and sunshowers. For further reading on the Fox’s Wedding, I highly recommend the article on this site Hyakumonogatari.com.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Part 1 in a series on classical motifs that appear frequently on bonsai containers. Almost all of the artists in this article have full articles devoted to them as well, check the Table of Contents if you’re interested in seeing more work from and learning more about any artist. In future installments of this series we’ll look at famous woodblock prints like The 53 Stations of the Tokaido, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa and other Hokusai, as well as the origins of some named bonsai container styles and details.
He was born Ogiwara Katsuyoshi on December 8, 1937. At first, he went by the artist/kiln name Ogiwara Shouzan, then changed it to Joshu Shouzan. He finally settled on Joshu Katsuyama, which is great for us because there are just too many Shouzan around and it gets confusing.
He was always an enthusiastic and talented artist, and when he decided to make his own shohin bonsai containers, he taught himself sometsuke(blue underglaze painting) and akae(red overglaze enamel painting). He began painting ceramics in his own studio in 1975.
His style of landscape and figure painting is heavily influenced by the Nanga style of painting from Southern China, as was Fujikake Yuzan(see previous article on blog). This leads many to think Katsuyama are Yuzan derivative, but really they’re contemporaries and both Chinese derivatives. The style can be slightly cartoonish, but is charming in its own unique way. His go-sai paintings are especially nice in this style, with some even rivaling the work of Yuzan, who is considered, along with Gekkou, to be the best of his generation. In addition to a variety of painting styles(sometsuke, akae, go-sai) Katsuyama is known for underside painting details on his pieces. Works without painting on the bottom are considered lesser pieces.
Considering that the prices of Katsuyama’s work versus stylistically similar artists like Yuzan are a third or less of the cost, this artist definitely belongs in the Bang For Your Buck Potters category. For a few hundred dollars, rather than a grand or two, you can acquire a container for your shelf or your Shohin bonsai that is worthy of admiration. They also retain value, and are always easy sells.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my article on Joshu Katsuyama, he of so many names! Katsuyama is the first painter in my Bang for You Buck artists series, painted containers often being much more expensive than similar grades of glazed and unglazed bonsai pottery. But there are artists out there like Katsuyama that are affordable if you look! Many more Bang for Your Buck articles coming in the future featuring potters every enthusiast can afford!
There were many notable entries other than the winners this year, a couple of which would definitely have been in contention for gold had it not been for accidental breakage before judging.
That’s it for my coverage of the 2020 Annual Contemporary Kobachi Artists Exhibition at Gafu-Ten. I hope you enjoyed seeing the containers from these artists as much as I look forward to seeing them every year!
In the coming weeks, the regular Monday posts will have a good mixture of articles on aesthetics and history, as well as the site’s usual artist profiles. Some articles to watch out for over the next couple of months include: Patina, Cost and Value, Joshu Katsuyama, And Zyubei; as well as a surprise article featuring Japanese Recognized Masterpieces and a certain well known pottery dealer. So stay tuned and subscribe!
I look forward every January to the Gafu Ten exhibition and the results and images of the major pottery competition held there in Kyoto, The Contemporary Kobachi Artists Exhibition. For articles on the previous exhibitions, click on Table of Contents. You can also find that page and others in the Menu drop screen on mobile or the Header on PC.
2019 saw more countries competing than ever before, a continuing trend. It’s an honor just to show at the exhibition, taking home a prize is top class In awards for bonsai pottery. While I disagreed with some of the results of the judging, and claim politics may have played a hand, there is no doubt that the winning containers all deserved recognition. Gold, silver, and bronze awards are given in 3 categories: Glazed, Unglazed, and Painted.
GOLD AWARD: Keiun(桂雲). His given name is Yasuo Fukuda. Fukushige(Bushuan) is his nephew, and he learned pottery in his studio. Keiun also entered the 14th Kobachi, and this display is miles above 2019 in every way. He’s inherited many of the glazes from Fukushige now that he is retired, and also does quite a bit of calligraphy work on containers. There is an excellent display of variety, classical styles and glazes here. His more traditional style couldn’t be more different from that of his nephew.
SILVER AWARD: Going by the name to Jiji (ツ) kiln is Juninho Nakayama. An interesting and minimal use of decorative relief images and painting definitely made this entry stand out. I enjoyed the clean lines to the forms and the beautiful Celadon glaze as well. Not ostentatious at all, just lovely: Shibui at its best.
BRONZE AWARD: Tsutomo Matsuda, artist name Seiun, also won the silver prize at the 10th Kobachi exhibition in 2014. In 2020 he took home the Bronze award for this entry of fantastically glazed octagons. Great forms and a good mix of colors in the contemporary glaze style.
GOLD AWARD: Tani Ranzan, former sushi chef, sculptor, bonsai artist and potter, and painter. A very well known and popular potter here in America, for his sculptural unglazed pots as well as his painted containers. A Renaissance man of bonsai finally takes home the gold he deserves.
SILVER AWARD: Tadashi Ono(大矢忠) again takes home an award, like it seems he does every year. This year a silver award with a series of classical relief sculptures in the signature style he is known for, which usually exceeds and incorporates the rim with the carving.
BRONZE AWARD: Yoshi (芳), real name Yoshihiru Hiromasa. This potter is relatively unknown to me. The firing method looks perhaps like a Saggar fire on some of these. I have a friend who did this in Shigaraki, Japan during her apprenticeship. They used rice husks in an electric kiln with pots buried in the husks partway to leave carbonization and natural ash finishes on the buried portions. Rustic and utilitarian.
GOLD AWARD: Reijaku(玲雀), given name Chen Myorin, is a Taiwanese painter who began painting containers in 1976. In both painting and clay technique, this artist shows true mastery. The Taiwanese have become the country to beat outside of Japan in the painted category over the last few years, taking home multiple prizes.
SILVER AWARD: Stacy Allen Muse. A Florida Native and American, brought an award home for America, and himself, in the silver prize class.
BRONZE AWARD: Tomoyo Nakazato, called Chi(知), has been making pots since 2017 and painting since 2018. A short amount of time to win a bronze award for his 3 painted mame rounds. A nice display of simple containers, tastefully presented, with a variety of Japanese classical geometric and arabesque patterns.
SPECIAL EXHIBITSNOT FOR COMPETITION
That’s my Part 1 of my coverage of the 2020 Japanese Annual Contemporary Artist Exhibition. In Part 2, we will a much longer look at the other displays. Those that didn’t take home prizes but were definitely worth mention, including entries from Zyubei, Roy Minarai, Kawada, Ruban Yu, and Shun, among many others. I hope you enjoyed seeing the pots from these artists as much as I look forward to seeing them every year!