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Raised, undulating ridges on a field of cobalt blue highlighted with white slip and bronze flecks around the rim, this piece conjures images of the deep and stormy sea or possibly of the vast swirling cosmos. Conceived by 20th century master Kawai Kanjiro (1890 - 1966), the combination of “gosu” and “doro hakeme” used in the creation of this work is one of his most sought after motifs.
Like so many great artists throughout history, Kanjiro refused to confine himself to one genre. A poet, philosopher, sculptor, as well as a gifted potter—he strove to preserve the simple austerity of Japanese folk-art that he felt was being encroached on by industrial methods of production taking hold at the time.
Today, his works are highly sought after not only for their sheer aesthetic brilliance, but also due to the fact that he was a key figure in what many view as the most important studio pottery movement of the 20th century—Mingei, a folk-art movement that sought to praise the virtues of simplicity, functionality, and reverence for the hand-made wares of common craftsmen. Kanjiro also bears the distinction of being the only person to have ever declined the honorific title of National Living Treasure—though it was offered to him. His works represent a deep philosophy of earnestness coupled with simple grace and harmony with nature.
The work featured here has several unmistakable elements which Kanjiro was known for. First, is the use of the rich cobalt color known as “gosu.” Kanjiro started out his career by mastering the use of chemical pigmentations but later abandoned these methods and pushed forward using only natural compounds and techniques to bring out more vibrant and living colors—gosu being foremost among these. Next is his use of “doro hakeme” (mud slip brushing) which is the technique used to produce the distinctive raised, undulating ridges and contours of the bowl (the stormy sea effect).
This extraordinary piece from the late 1950’s is 5.8 inches in diameter (14.8 cm) and stands 3.3 inches tall (8.3 cm). In line with Kanjiro’s philosophy of earnestness, there is no artist’s seal on the bowl itself due to the fact that Kanjiro shunned this practice—he felt it was an overindulgence of the artist’s ego. There is however a tomobako (original box) with Kanjiro’s stylized signature ”寛” along with his seal in red ink. This is important because Kanjiro was not always known to notarize works in this way. A large number of his pieces remaining today bear not his signature or seal (on the box) but rather the certification of his descendants or of other artist from the Mingei tradition who attest to the authenticity of a particular work. Both box and work have been recently verified as authentic by the Kawai Kanjiro Museum (Kinenkan).
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