Shozo Michikawa – SASAMA @ Erskine, Hall & Coe, London / 1 – 24 September 2020

Shozo Michikawa – Natural Ash Sculptural Form, 2020, stoneware, 43 x 16 cm. Image Courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

If they look a little like domestic props in a cubist interior, then the fleeting similarity between a vase form in a painting by Georges Braque or Juan Gris and the ceramic sculptural forms of Shozo Michikawa is no more than that, an immediate visual impression. As with all ‘It looks a bit like…’ statements, to labour any comparison in this case would be a fruitless indulgence.

The thought does however point to an interesting divergence between painting and ceramics; that is the central importance of technique in the discipline of ceramics. When I talk about Shozo Michikawa’s work I feel more comfortable using the term ceramics rather than pottery. I guess this is a subconscious bias away from functional studio pottery and towards something which might be vainly reaching for the exalted, the rarefied – art basically. Under the slightest scrutiny this bias falls apart because of the fact that in order to produce anything of quality in pottery, whether it is slip-decorated table ware or non-functional gallery ceramics, the amount of practice, failure, recovery, and knowledge required is staggering. When it comes to pottery, you can’t fake it.

Shozo Michikawa, Shino Sculptural Form, 2019, stoneware, 19 x 15 cm. Image Courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

Shozo Michikawa was born in 1953 in Hokkaido, Japan. At a certain stage during his initial career in business he took up evening classes in art. It was here that he discovered his passion and talent for pottery. A few years later, Michikawa quit business to devote himself to ceramics. Over the years he learned the skills involved in pottery and some more conventional examples of traditional tea bowls (chawan) are included in the current exhibition at Erskine, Hall & Coe.

Stoneware tea bowls by Shozo Michikawa. 9 cm high to 9.5 cm high. Image Courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

Michikawa is an artist who has always shunned a studio pottery affiliation, a system which forms the core of the Japanese pottery scene. He prefers to have the freedom to produce exactly what he wants without having to consider the demands of the client. Free of the limitations of studio pottery, Michikawa has developed a range of unique sculptural series in which he experiments freely and playfully, riffing on traditional Japanese pottery shapes and using classic glazes such as shino and kohiki. The pieces in this show were made during the bi-annual Sasama International Ceramics Festival during a three-day firing in an anagama kiln. Michikawa founded the Sasama International Ceramics Festival in 2011 and the exhibition includes photography of the Sasama region by Yoshinori Seguchi.

Shozo Michikawa, Kohiki Sculptural Form, 2020, stoneware, 38.5 x 13.5 cm. Image courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

Another point of divergence between painting and ceramics is that it is fascinating to watch a talented potter at work – something which is not always the case in painting with its ponderous interludes. This is true for example in the case of Ken Matsuzaki throwing tea bowls off the hump. But where the pleasure of watching tea bowls form, each one masterfully imperfect, may be mesmerising, watching Michikawa turn a dull, dumb block of clay into a dynamic exploding/imploding sculptural form is seat-of-your-pants stuff. (See the link below for a 2018 recording of Michikawa throwing at Leksands folkhögskola Art College in Sweden.)

Shozo Michikawa, Kohiki with Handle, 2020, stoneware, 61 x 27 x 14.5 cm. Image Courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

If the forms at times seem to be frozen in a state of collapse or explosion, then it is because in the process of creating them they come close to doing both. One essential skill to develop as a potter is to do as much as possible of the final shaping of the piece on the wheel to minimise the amount of trimming and altering required later. Michikawa takes this dictum to another level as he slices and gouges the form to create the basis for what will shortly emerge as the final piece, or as he transplants bits of clay from one part of the form to another where they will perhaps be more useful. The artist’s thinking is laid bare and it is a thrilling pleasure to observe him reassess the shape as it develops and to recover from near failure with brutish and excruciating-to-watch interventions. The throwing of the lacerated form is executed by hand, using traditional Japanese forming tools, and by using lengths of timber wedged unceremoniously into the centre of the piece. With the form of the clay prepped in this way, the final shape comes together with a few delicately controlled spins of the wheel. From start to finish there is an economy of process and mastery of technique which are the very same as those which have been employed in Japanese ceramics for centuries.

Watch a fascinating demonstration given by Shozo Michikawa at Leksands folkhögskola (Art College), recorded on July 15, 2018.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxJrIoEn__o&t=1441s

200 words #29 / Erika Verzutti

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Erika Verzutti – Man Ray com Peixe / Man Ray with Fish, 2019, Bronze, cast aluminium and oil, 70 x 57 x 10 cm, Unique work in a series of 3, © Erika Verzutti. Photo: Eduardo Ortega. Courtesy Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro.

The short-lived publication Documents (1929 – 1930) – edited by Georges Bataille – exemplified a shift in much visual art in the early 20th century towards drawing from and combining influences from wildly differing sources both within and far beyond the arts. It is a tendency towards a heterogeneous aesthetic which has become so ubiquitous that nowadays it informs first principles in most art schools from foundation level on. And whilst it lends an air of research facility to the average artist’s studio, it can also, through the collision of dissonant sources, muddy the task of judging the quality of the artwork produced.

In such an open field as the visual arts have become, one difficulty is to consolidate disparate elements skilfully. Erika Verzutti produces painted bronze and papier-mâché wall-mounted reliefs which stretch the territory between painting and sculpture. The surfaces might be pummelled and gouged playfully, then cast in bronze, then painted irreverently in common acrylic. The artist’s process spins 360 degrees from kitchen table craft through industrial fabrication and back without pitting the base and the exalted medium against one another. In Verzutti’s work there is humour but not the ham-fisted variety, allusion without explication, and beauty both superficial and profound.

Carne Sintética @ Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel

Two previous articles on Erika Verzutti on theglazelondon:

Erika Verzutti @ Andrew Krepps

Erika Verzutti @ Alison Jacques

200 words #25 / Yann Gerstberger

DSC_8776.jpgYann Gerstberger / Sex Messenger, 2018, 280 cm x 250 cm, 110,2 inches x 98,4 inches, Coton, linoleum, colle néoprène, pigments naturels (grana cochenille) photo Hugard & Vanoverschelde. Courtesy Sorry we’re Closed Gallery

The word painterly often gets thrown around without thought for the scope of its significance. When applied to the weave of a tapestry or an area of glaze on a ceramic pot, its very use implies the primacy of painting above crafts. One irony however, is that the thing which is considered painterly in painting is that moment when its very nature as a material – pigment suspended in a medium – is most evident. In that moment, I feel we are in fact appreciating painting as craft. So, it should seem strange for an observer to lend the term to other art forms when in truth, a painting is sometimes most painterly when it reminds us of other media.

In Yann Gerstberger’s large scale tapestries, the heft of the weave and the complexity of fantastical, crude, exotic motifs as they seem about to bleed into each other, may well bring to mind a heavily-worked painted surface. The exaggerated flatness of tapestry weave – in Gerstberger’s case market sourced fabrics and hand-dyed mop-head strands glued to a vinyl surface – is enhanced by the tightly-packed and carefully balanced imagery, the arrangement of which leaves not a single area of visual slackness.

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Studio view – Image courtesy Sorry we’re Closed Gallery

Yann Gerstberger at Sorry We’re Closed Gallery

In The Studio #2 – Sean Penlington

In The Studio is a series of occasional interviews with emerging artists talking about their studio processes and the things that motivate, frustrate and inspire them. For the second In The Studio I spoke to artist Sean Penlington about his work.

Continue reading “In The Studio #2 – Sean Penlington”