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Brown stoneware vase with Korean Buncheong-inspired white-slip inlay within stamped geometric patterning in the Mishima style. With inscribed wooden storage box.
Potter's mark: Yagi (stamped on base)
The Kyoto ceramic artist Yagi Kazuo is best remembered as the defiant young artist who challenged Japanese expectations for the medium of clay by producing sculpture that discarded all conventional references to functional vessel forms or mastery of the wheel, as embodied in his 1954 work “Mr. Samsa’s Walk,” a hollow ring balancing upright on multiple wriggling legs like the cockroach of Kafka’s novella. This was the Yagi who led fellow Kyoto potters Yamada Hikaru and Suzuki Osamu in 1948 in forming the exhibition group Sōdeisha (Crawling through Mud Association). Toward the end of his life, he abandoned the use of glaze altogether on his sculptural works in favor of polished surfaces blackened by smoking.
Concurrently, however, Yagi followed throughout his career a deep emotional response to East Asian peasant stoneware cloaked in thick white slip—Cizhou ware of northern China and buncheong ware of Korea. Both wares were widely admired by Japanese collectors in the early decades of the twentieth century. During his days as an art student before the war, he was drawn to the cases of Chinese and Korean pots in the Kyoto National Museum. As he wrote in a later autobiographical essay, he was struggling to identify what he termed an “alphabet” of techniques and emotive qualities for his own work. He would spend time staring at the Korean ceramics: "I picked out details, such as the casual irregularity of the clay body, the unexpected stiffness in the traces of fingers, the naïve confidence of the trimming, and tucked them away in the drawer of my heart. But it took quite a bit of experience in looking before I was able to put into words what I saw. I first assembled them as an alphabet."
This jar, sculpted some three decades later, uses the Korean technique that begame an enduring component of Yagi’s “alphabet”: stamping repeat motifs on the surface of the vessel, brushing the surface with slip, and scraping off the excess slip to reveal patterns. In Japan, this Korean technique was termed mishima, and densely patterned variations were called hana mishima, “flower mishima.” Yagi’s playful title for the work (as published in a 1981 posthumous exhibition of his work) was “Jar—hana mishima for flowers.” He intentionally avoided the delicate term “vase” in favor of the more robust image of a jar full of flowers. (The title that Yagi wrote on the wooden box for this piece is more straightforward: “Jar for flowers with white slip inlay” (Haku zōgan hana no tsubo).
- Published References
- Stephen Markbreiter. Potter of the Mind—Yagi Kazuo., March-April 1971. p. 21.
- Collection Area(s)
- Japanese Art
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