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His work vibrates with the excitement of discovery as if each form or motif, glaze or fire-mark, produced countless times, is discovered for the first time. His work consistently rewards physical engagement and possesses a vigour that links directly to Hamada. Sebastian Blackie

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Essay by Sebastian Blackie


Ken Matsuzaki Walking in the tranquillity of Nara’s sacred forest, it is tempting to forget the insanity of downtown Tokyo and feel one has found the essence of Japan. But Japanese culture is as elusive as it is fascinating and best approached with an open heart. Japanese pottery, probably more than that of any other culture, captured the imagination of British studio potters as it developed in the twentieth century. The writing and lectures of potter Bernard Leach, informed by the critic Soetsu Yanagi, dominated ceramic discourse in the inter-war period developing as an identifiable genre known as Anglo Orientalism. One might have thought that the atrocities of WW2 would have lead to a rejection of Japanese culture. If anything the war, both a product and expression of mechanisation, validated the idea that handcraft is essentially humanizing and enthusiasm for Japanese folk pottery and the studio pottery of artists like Shoji Hamada that it inspired was undiminished amongst the British potting community. Despite this enthusiasm, exposure to Japanese ceramics in Britain has been relatively limited and highly edited. Britain’s former wealth and colonial past has only produced quite modest historical collections of Japanese pottery compared to other cultures. Japanese pots are usually eclipsed by Chinese examples in Western collections of oriental ceramics. The collections that do exist have been formed by Westerners and thus tend to project our value systems, our tastes and interpretation. Although interest in Japanese folk pottery and tea ceremony ware increased greatly in


the twentieth century few actual examples could be seen here and we still know relatively few contemporary Japanese potters. No doubt Japan’s post-war occupation and subsequent economic boom made America a more attractive partner for cultural exchange. The exhibition in 1981 of Shino and Oribe shards at the Ashmolean museum, Oxford was a rare opportunity to experience close up and first hand work from this highly significant period of Japanese ceramics. Nevertheless we may feel we know Japanese handmade pottery. The Anglo-oriental potters of Britain have revealed the Japanese aesthetic. But our exposure is in a sense vicarious, even voyeuristic, experienced as an idea, a Western construct of what Japanese culture is. Access to photographs of Japanese ceramics of increasing quality may in fact be reinforcing the illusion that we understand what it is without encountering the real thing. To eat Japanese food from Japanese pots for example is to immediately realise that chopsticks allow for much greater variety of surface than could be tolerated with a knife and fork. Dr Oliver Watson, Keeper of Ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum, considers Leaches greatest contribution was to help westerners look at pots through Japanese eyes. We should be aware that, as a result, we might be considering Japanese pots through the eyes of Leach. Ken Matsuzaki’s exhibition at Goldmark is then particularly welcome as an opportunity to see and handle and reflect, first hand, on work that has been made within the world’s most sophisticated ceramic cultural community. The physicality of Matsuzaki’s work is immediately apparent when first encountered, growing in intensity and remaining as a lasting


memory; an imprint of body on mind. Throwing, coiling and beating, cutting and carving form the work. The particular qualities of the clay, whether soft and pliant or leather-hard, are found and celebrated. There appears to be a connoisseurship of clay in Japan equivalent in sophistication to the appreciation of wine in France. Matsuzaki has written that sixty percent of the quality of his work depends on his choice of clay. It is a statement that immediately locates the artist’s relationship to material. It suggests that quality, and thus implicitly meaning, is inherent within the material. The celebration of material through process that Matsuzaki appears to engage with is widely viewed in the West as a characteristic of Japanese craft. It may be useful to question this interpretation or at least reflect on why and how we attribute this value. Japan is the site of the oldest known ceramics in the world (12,500 BC). Jomon pottery, unlike ceramics elsewhere, was made before agricultural production but according to the scholar Victor Harris of the British Museum, the period coincides with a relatively stable and untroubled history compared to the rest of Asia and Europe. The archaeologist Keiji Imamura has described how such elements as climate, topography, and the abundance of one resource over another profoundly affects the country’s cultural development. It is tempting to consider how values evident in contemporary Japanese ceramics might have originated in this period. It was during the Jomon period that the Shinto religion was formed and with which Japanese ceramic values might usefully be considered. The Christian/Judaic deity is invisible, residing in heaven, not of this Earth. When represented, it is by ‘pure’



incorruptible materials such as gold or light and glass. The earthliness of clay has traditionally placed ceramics as a low status activity at the western end of Eurasia. By contrast the kami, the Shinto deities, are in things: wind, rivers, stones and woods. They have an earthly potency. As Harris explains “The essence of Shinto lies in nature worship, or rather the expression of gratitude towards nature, and in an ecologically balanced coexistence with nature” (2001). This coexistence with nature, an awareness of the spiritual within material things, may explain the value placed by the Japanese on ceramics such as Iga ware: rough, thick pottery, typically split open at some stage of its making but carefully repaired with lacquer and gold leaf. This violent unintended rupture, a fault by Western traditions of skill and craftsmanship, reveals a purpose and value system that we may find hard to grasp. But if one remembers that Japan is a country rocked by earthquakes and typhoons, Iga ware might be seen to represent a profound understanding of the relationship between the natural and the cultural. In doing so it reveals a much broader understanding of function in pottery than is found in Western thought. The association of such work with abstract expressionism by artists such as Peter Voulkos and the presence of such artists as Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock in Japanese collections may indicate a mutual misreading of cultural signifiers and warn us of being over confident in our interpretation of Japanese craft. Nevertheless one might understand the idea of giving nature her voice in Matsuzaki’s use of Shino glaze and his engagement with firing it. Shino is a glaze made almost entirely from the feldspar family of minerals. When they melt they form a liquid of high viscosity that continues to move with great sluggishness at much


higher temperatures. Feldspars that are alkaline and low in silica typically produce a thick white glaze breaking to pink or red in the presence of iron oxide. Matsuzaki brilliantly combines layers of different feldspars which interact in firing, forming eutectics (a mix of two materials that melt at a lower temperature than either alone) at their interface, causing the materials to slide over one another to produce glaze effects of great drama and movement. White Shinos on iron-bearing clay bodies will slowly darken as they absorb the oxide. This glaze quality is rarely seen outside Japan. It is the result of seven day-long firings at relatively low stoneware temperatures; a legacy of the inefficient (in Western terms) Anagama kilns in which Shino glazes were first fired. This quality is the product of long firings but also the embodiment of a ritual where the potter is physically and emotionally stretched in the process of giving some permanence to his work. The multi-chamber wood-burning kiln that Matsuzaki uses can be likened to a mountain stream. Just as water passes from pool to pool tumbling over and around rocks producing eddies and currents of varying force, so the flame from the low firebox pushes up through each successive chamber. The pots divert the flame leaving deposits of alkaline-rich wood ash, which combines with clay to form glaze. The efficiency of the kiln then is not in the number of pots it can fire or the speed with which top temperature is reached but in the ability to gather the poetics of the fire. The pot represents more than itself just as the pebble evokes stream-ness (and much else). Wood is an exceptionally sustainable fuel for, as Imamura points out, seventy percent of contemporary Japan is still covered in forest that swiftly recovers if felled, due to high rainfall (1996). Towards the end of the firing Matsuzaki augments the fly


ash with charcoal shovelled onto and around the work. Pots thus buried during the cooling cycle are unable to re-oxidise giving the ruby Shino glaze a lustre that on occasions turns golden. Ken Matsuzaki also uses a glaze and style of pottery known as Oribe. It is a style that developed during the Momoyama period, widely regarded as Japan’s ceramic renaissance. In the West it is often taken as quintessentially Japanese but in Japan Oribe is seen as a fusion of imported ideas: the intense green stoneware glaze, the signature of Oribe, was inspired by the earthenware copper/lead glazes brought by European traders. The painted pottery of Mesopotamia can be seen as a direct influence on Oribe decoration. The style is named after the warrior, tea master, and connoisseur of the arts Furuta Oribe. For a short period Oribe ware was a focus of outstanding creativity but the scale of production was far greater than one man could have controlled. Furuta Oribe is seen to have inspired rather than dictated the style. Oribe has therefore become a signifier of creativity and imagination. Matsuzaki’s Oribe pots have the spirit of Oribe and suggest a particular interpretation of tradition that allows the artist to move forward from what fellow contemporary potter Ryoji Koie describes as the black hole of Wabi Sabi; an intriguing Japanese concept that is essentially conservative but has no direct equivalence in British culture. Contemporary Japanese craft has a massive practical and intellectual infrastructure that supports and surrounds practice. Ken Matsuzaki has benefited from learning his craft through the discipline of a living craft tradition. He was the apprentice of Tatsuzo Shimaoka whose master had been Shoji Hamada. But


every Japanese potter must face how to engage with this living tradition. The ideas of Yanagi that expounded the value of Mingei (folk craft) were intellectually stimulating but a creative cul-de-sac for many. Matsuzaki has acquired the skills and sensibility found in Mingei. His work has a strength, quality and authority that is formed from tradition but he no longer feels bound by its dictums. One can see the lineage of Matsuzaki pots but also how he has found his own voice. His work vibrates with the excitement of discovery as if each form or motif, glaze or fire-mark, produced countless times, is discovered for the first time. His work consistently rewards physical engagement and possesses a vigour that links directly to Hamada. The British based Japanese potter Takashi Yasuda has expressed the view that Japanese and British culture is quite similar. He argues that much of the time we completely fail to identify the culture of others and that when we do, their customs, taking a different form from ours, seem strange. The strangeness of Japan therefore is in the sense of the familiar being somehow lost in translation. It is tempting to try to make sense of this, to apply the intellectual strategies of our own culture, but in so doing we risk missing the point. By accepting the work of artists like Ken Matsuzaki into our lives we are accepting a challenge. It will deepen our sense of mystery and wonder at his extraordinary pots. It will give us sensual delight. It should help us recognise how elusive the culture of another can be. It may however, if approached with the same humility as its maker, bring greater insight of our own. Sebastian Blackie, June 2009




































52, 54, 53



































































Illustrated Pots 1. Yohen Vase. Natural Ash Glaze

All sizes in cm

32.6 x 33.2

2. Yohen Vase. Natural Ash Glaze

28.6 x 31.2

4. Yohen Inlaid Vase. Natural Ash Glaze

24.1 x 27.9

5. Yohen Vase. Shino

30.0 x 25.6

6. Yohen Vase. Shino

39.8 x 20.8

7. Yohen Vase. Shino

33.0 x 21.2

8. Yohen Vase. Shino

33.4 x 19.8

9. Yohen Vase. Shino

34.5 x 14.6

10. Yohen Vase. Shino

30.5 x 16.8

11. Yohen Vase with Glyptograph. Natural Ash Glaze

34.2 x 18.0

12. Yohen Vase with Glyptograph. Natural Ash Glaze

37.2 x 15.5

14. Yohen Rectangular Vase. Natural Ash Glaze & Shino

25.8 x 27.0

15. Yohen Rectangular Vase. Natural Ash Glaze & Shino

19.4 x 25.0

18. Rectangular Vase. Narumi Oribe

24.8 x 24.6

20. Yohen Vase. Natural Ash Glaze & Shino

30.6 x 26.4

21. Yohen Teoke Vase. Natural Ash Glaze & Shino

27.6 x 25.0

23. Yohen Vase. Shino

24.0 x 24.0

24. Yohen Vase. Iron Glaze

27.1 x 25.2

26. Yohen Rectangular Vase. Oribe Glaze

25.0 x 12.0

28. Yohen Vase. Gold Shino

27.6 x 18.0

30. Yohen Vase. Oribe Glaze

22.8 x 15.4

31. Yohen Vase. Inlaid shino

32.8 x 15.4

35. Yohen Vase. Natural Ash Glaze & Shino

23.4 x 20.6

36. Yohen Vase. Iron Glaze

24.0 x 18.0

43. Incense Burner. Kiseto

18.8 x 18.4

44. Yohen Water Container. Shino

17.5 x 15.5

45. Yohen Water Container. Natural Ash Glaze

18.7 x 21.2

46. Yohen Incense Burner. Gold Shino

20.1 x 18.0

47. Yohen Incense Burner. Natural Ash Glaze

18.0 x 16.6

48. Yohen Incense Burner. Shino

19.0 x 13.5

50. Vase. Gold Shino

21.0 x 17.5

51. Yohen Vase. Shino

19.0 x 15.4


52. Yohen Rectangular Vase. Shino

17.0 x 9.7

53. Yohen Rectangular Vase. Shino

17.0 x 9.7

54. Yohen Rectangular Vase. Natural Ash Glaze

17.0 x 8.5

55. Rectangular Vase. Oribe Glaze

17.0 x 9.7

56. Rectangular Vase. Oribe Glaze

19.0 x 9.3

57. Yohen Shino Vase. Natural Ash Glaze

17.4 x 15.8

58. Yohen Vase. Natural Ash Glaze

16.6 x 15.8

59. Yohen Teapot. Shino

25.4 x 25.8

60. Yohen Teapot. Shino

32.8 x 28.0

61. Bowl with Handle. Oribe Glaze

12.8 x 31.8

62. Yohen Bowl. Oribe Glaze

8.2 x 31.0

64. Bowl. Oribe Glaze

8.7 x 22.2

65. Yohen Teabowl. Natural Ash Glaze

8.3 x 16.0

66. Yohen Teabowl. Natural Ash Glaze 67. Yohen Teabowl. Natural Ash Glaze & Shino 68. Yohen Teabowl. Gold Shino 69. Teabowl. Shino

9.0 x 11.0 11.0 x 12.5 9.1 x 12.4 10.0 x 12.0




70. Teabowl. Shien Shino

9.6 x 12.0

73. Teabowl. Oribe Glaze

10.0 x 11.0

74. Teabowl. Oribe - Guro

7.0 x 15.0

76. Yohen Sake Bottle. Natural Ash Glaze

15.0 x 8.3

77. Yohen Sake Bottle. Natural Ash Glaze

15.0 x 7.0

78. Yohen Sake Bottle. Gold Shino

16.0 x 8.1

83. Sake Bottle. Oribe Glaze

12.4 x 8.2

87. Yohen Sake Cup. Gold Shino

4.4 x 7.4

89. Yohen Sake Cup. Gold Shino

6.9 x 6.3

91. Yohen Sake Cup. Shino

6.8 x 6.8

93. Yohen Sake Cup. Natural Ash Glaze

5.7 x 6.2

94. Yohen Sake Cup. Natural Ash Glaze

3.5 x 7.8

95. Yohen Sake Cup. Natural Ash Glaze

3.6 x 7.2

97. Sake Cup. Iron Shino

6.6 x 7.0

102. Sake Cup. Oribe Glaze

5.5 x 5.7

104. Sake Cup. Oribe Glaze

6.3 x 6.0

111. Cup. Gold Shino

9.5 x 9.2

115. Yohen Cup. Shino

10.0 x 8.1

117. Yohen Cup. Shino

10.5 x 8.5

119. Yohen Cup. Shino

11.2 x 9.5

120. Yohen Cup. Shino

9.4 x 8.4

123. Cup. Purple Shino

9.5 x 7.7

127. Cup. Oribe Glaze

9.8 x 8.2

All pots come with a signed, purpose-made wooden box




Biographical Notes 1950

Born in Tokyo, Japan, the third son of Nihonga painter Matsuzaki Shuki.


Graduated from Tamagawa University, School of Fine Arts, ceramic art major. Began a pottery apprenticeship with Tatsuzo Shimaoka, Mashiko (Tochigi Prefecture).


Built a kiln and established a workshop in Mashiko, where he presently lives.


Received the Kokugakai Arts Association Nojima Award.


Became an associate member of the Kokugakai Arts Association.


Received the Associate Members’ Prize of Excellence Award from the Kokugakai Arts Association.


Became a full member of the Kokugakai Arts Association.


Modern Japanese Ceramics Exhibition, Elysium Art, New York


Group Exhibition, Gallery Dai Ichi Arts, New York, NY. Six Master Potters of the Modern Age Exhibition, Babcock Gallery, New York, NY.


Solo Exhibition, Rufford Gallery, Nottinghamshire, England.


Tradition Today Exhibition, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA.


Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.


Elemental Force Exhibition, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA.


Solo Exhibition, Ruthin Craft Centre, Ruthin, Wales UK. International Ceramics Festival, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK. Solo Exhibition, Rufford Gallery, Nottinghamshire, England.


Transformation and Use Exhibition, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA.


Solo Exhibition, Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham, England


Burning Tradition Exhibition, Pucker Gallery, Boston, MA.




Selected Exhibitions in Japan Fukuya Department Store, Hiroshima. Hankyu Department Store, Osaka. Keio Department Store, Tokyo. Takashimaya Department Store, Yokohama. Group exhibitions with Tatsuzo Shimaoka. Matsuzaki Family Exhibitions with father and two brothers (painting, ceramics and lacquer ware).

Selected Museum Collections Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH. Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA. Sackler Museum of Art, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Tikotin Museum, Haifa, Israel. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.


front cover: pot number 44 Ken Matsuzaki pots may be purchased direct from Goldmark Gallery View online at Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham, Rutland, LE15 9SQ 01572 821424 Text Š Sebastian Blackie 2009 Photographs Š Jay Goldmark Design Porter / Goldmark ISBN

978-1-870507-58-5 2009


Phil Rogers New Pots 2005 2 Clive Bowen New Pots 2006 3 Lisa Hammond New Pots 2006 4 Mike Dodd Recent Pots 2007 5 Ken Matsuzaki (2007) Thirty Years of a Living Tradition 6 Svend Bayer (2007) New Pots 7 Jim Malone (2008) The Pursuit of Beauty 8 Phil Rogers (2008) A Potter of our Time 9 Lisa Hammond (2009) Unconscious Revelation 10 Ken Matsuzaki New pots 2009


Phil Rogers A Passion For Pots Ken Matsuzaki Elemental

For further details or to order any of the above visit or phone 01572 821424


Ken Matsuzaki - Monograph 2009  

Ken Matsuzaki catalogue of Japanese ceramics with essay by Sebastian Blackie.

Ken Matsuzaki - Monograph 2009  

Ken Matsuzaki catalogue of Japanese ceramics with essay by Sebastian Blackie.