October, 2006

This page is written monthly
by Harumi Okochi.
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"So-gyo" (Two fish)
Takashi's work at 24

Takashi Nakazato
The Potter

Nice to see you again!
This month, I am going to tell you about our great potter Takashi Nakazato again.
He is going to be 70 years old next year, and this age is so called 'Koki' in Japan. It is the tradition that we celebrate Koki by lunar calendar.
So, at Yoyokaku, we have an exhibition of his recent works to commemorate his Koki. Also, at his kiln, a baroque music concert was done on September 19th, and Noh play was performed on 25th.
We are so lucky to have him near us. He does not say anything big, but just looking at his way of living, we can feel what he is teaching us.
I would like to introduce you Mr. Doug Casebeer. He wrote an essay about Takashi for a book we published on this occasion.

I hope you will enjoy meeting Doug, and through him ,Takashi.

Thoughts on Takashi Nakazato’s work at Anderson Ranch
Doug Casebeer
Program Director, Ceramics and Sculpture at Anderson Ranch Arts Center

I suppose like most fortunate moments in life, we are rarely prepared or ready when they happen.  That was certainly the case when I first met Takashi Nakazato.  At that time I did not know Takashi nor did I have time to research his pottery.  In mid July 1994, that moment occurred when I was invited to an Aspen dinner party.

As the evening progressed and guests were seated for dinner, it appeared that the table was one chair short.  I had my dinner on the floor, in front of the fireplace.  It was not long before Takashi joined me on the floor.  Takashi’s gracious personality was evident in our first encounter. It was my sense that maybe he too felt out of place that evening.  It was not long before John Powers joined us as well.

The first evening together we could barely talk to each other.  Plied with wine and a shared love of pottery, the evening resulted in my extending an invitation to Takashi for a visit to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center.  Takashi liked what he saw and asked if he could return, I said “Sure”.  With support from John and Kimiko Powers and others, the Anderson Ranch renovated and winterized a visiting artist studio and apartment for Takashi’s twice a year visits to Colorado.

For more than 12 years Takashi has been sharing his wisdom of pottery and love of life with summer workshop students and studio artists at the Ranch. His astonishing work habits set the studio pace for everyone to follow.  Takashi’s insatiable curiosity would define the very character of his studio experience.  As an innovator in a century’s old tradition, Takashi would routinely break the rules.  His search is still on for the elusive thing he has not seen yet.  Takashi commented to me many years ago, “My education is not over”.  This is still a true indication of his commitment to mentoring young artistic minds.

Artistic freedom has always been a hallmark of Takashi’s pottery career.  The Ranch has been his research and development studio, where unbound by tradition he can explore new opportunities. His initial seduction was the possibilities of the soda kiln.  Takashi gains strength and confidence from his innate skills and traditional training, however at the Ranch he is always open to seeing his work in a different way.

I knew from the beginning, there would be lots to learn from Takashi.  I also realized that asking many questions was not going to give me any immediate answers, so I watched and I watched even more.  I began to see a finely tuned set of moves that resulted in cups and bowls and vases flowing casually from his hands. The ease at which he works seems like magic. Takashi never seems upset or tired with the clay, or anything else going on around him.  He moves through his pottery like his life, with grace and appreciation for those around him.  In his life and his art, Takashi will try about anything.  He never takes himself or his pottery too seriously.  Takashi understands the virtue of failure in taking risks for discovery.  I once watched in amazement while he shoveled snow into a red hot kiln to achieve a cooling reduction atmosphere.  And through it all he keeps on making pots by the hundreds, by the thousands!

Takashi’s pottery and life revel in the pleasures of the everyday world.  His pots honor and dignify the need for daily ritual objects.  To use them and be with them, is to understand Takashi’s pottery.  His calculated spontaneity and intentional immediacy triggers the user to stay engaged.  As the horizons of the Colorado and Karatsu landscape move up and down, so do the fluid edges and rims of his pottery.  Whether consciously or not, Takashi’s memory honors the places where he lives and works.  Takashi’s relaxed and loosely controlled working style directs only about 80 percent of his energy to the clay.  The other 20 percent leaves room for the material and process to have a voice.

Like the natural beauty that surrounds us, Takashi’s pottery compels you to look and then look again.  The true spirit of his pottery starts with the clay and extends into the form. His clay choices have always supported a gestural spirit and allowed his technical skills to flourish. Takashi’s pottery exemplifies grace and balance with an assuring sense of casual elegance.  His pots reflect familiar images of fruit and flowers.  His work is accessible and usable, yet not fragile or elitist. Strong minded tenacity drives Takashi’s quiet process of discovery.  Takashi’s pottery is well made, but not precise.  A bowl is a bowl, never are two alike.

After one of our early wood firings with Takashi, everyone was admiring their pieces, while he was systematically breaking all of his.  His explanation was short and to the point, “Too much runny ash”.  The discussion that followed, was an instant art lesson between what are clear intentions and undesirable results.  Takashi's pots become sedated and obscured when covered with runny wood ash glaze. He said to me that the runny ash distracts from the beautiful shapes and forms of his pottery.  The other part of that valuable lesson, was that runny wood ash can not rescue or improve mediocre pots.  In fact runny ash can destroy a really great pot.  Observing Takashi edit his work forced me to shift my reality and look at my work differently.

Takashi supports what he believes and for that I am thankful.  His generosity continues to fund visiting artists projects at the Ranch.  Takashi has stature and respect in many worlds beyond ceramics, from music, to tea, to food and wine.  His commitment to friends and family is unwavering.   I can always count on Takashi for clear opinions.  Takashi has taught me as much about life as making pots, if you are going to enjoy life, then enjoy it well.

Takashi is a modern master and Japanese ceramic nobility.  Takashi once told me he was not an artist, well he is.  In years to come his significance will be what he stood for in his life.  Takashi’s legacy will live on for centuries in his artwork.

Simply, Takashi inspires all of us to be our best.

Thank you sensei.

August 2006

Thank you, Doug-san.
You surprised Takashi-sensei with a sudden appearance. How glad Takashi-sensei looked. I was almost crying seeing you two great potters together. Doug asked Sensei, "Were you surprised?" And Sensei nodded like a 5-year-old boy in a full smile in his gray-haired beard.

Thank you everyone to have seen my page. I hope I can see you next month again.
Wishing you the best,
Good-bye now.

Thank you very much for visiting this page.
I hope you will return next month.
Yours, Harumi Okochi

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