“I want to take advantage of the simple and natural soil that is unique to Tamba ware.”
Katsuki Ichino is the seventh generation of the Ichino family who has been making Tamba ware, one of the “Six Old Kilns of Japan” in the Hyogo prefecture. This pottery originated about 850 years ago at the end of the Heian era.
In 1926, a Japanese folk art movement called “mingei” was started by Sōetsu Yanagi, a Japanese philosopher, and some of his friends. The idea was to introduce Japanese everyday artwork and craftwork such as pottery, textile, and lacquerware created by anonymous craftsmen to the world as these works had been largely ignored by art history. Yanagi collected 300 works of Tamba ware and wrote a book dedicated to the beauty of this pottery. Due to the efforts of Sōetsu Yanagi, the history of Tamba ware as tableware was revived 90 years ago. Katsuki Ichino’s efforts to present his new style of pottery applying techniques of Tamba ware as contemporary art will help continue Yanagi’s “mingei” movement.
The History – A Family of Tamba Ware Artisans
What does a long history of Tamba ware mean to you?
The history of Tamba ware goes back about 850 years ago, the origin dates back to the end of the Heian era. Kilns were built in between mountains in a valley, creating practical use tableware. It has been passed down to my family, always making pottery demanded by the time period, while continuing to take on new challenges. I feel this precious history. I work hard to create pottery that can only be made in this time period, that only I can create – I strive to make my own unique pottery.
What were you doing before you started your pottery training in your twenties?
I was learning western style painting from a teacher. I also studied sculpture for one year. The college I went to was not an art school – I studied economics at the Kansei Gakuin University.
Born in a traditional Tamba ware artisan family, you have followed your ancestor’s footsteps into a Tamba ware artist – Why did you choose this path?
When I was a kid pottery was always around me and I had little interest in it. However, in my twenties, I studied under an artist in Tokyo who created work with pottery. I was inspired by it and decided to try making contemporary pottery in my hometown’s Tamba kiln. Since then, I have continued making this art.
Creating Art with Clay
What is so special about Tamba ware?
It is characterized by rustic soil with a simple texture. The Tamba ware changed its form freely with little limitations with the flow of the time. Historical Tamba ware reflects the needs of the time period it was created. The special characteristic of Tamba ware is that it is pottery that reflects the flow of the time period.
Why did Tamba ware prosper with pottery production? How is the Tamba ware clay different from other clay?
I think it was because there was an abundance of suitable clay for pottery around this area. It is mountainous soil full of iron.
What is the clay you always work with feel like?
The clay I use for my pottery can be used to finish a cup or a bowl, so the surface feels very smooth, and pleasant to the touch.
Expression Through Tamba Ware
What do you wish to express in Tamba ware, or what can be expressed because it is Tamba ware?
I want to make pottery that has a presence and that focuses on the shape. I want to take advantage of the simple and natural soil that is unique to Tamba ware. Originally Tamba had a heavy, solid feeling, and it was characterized as strong and sturdy pottery. I paint white clay on Tamba clay (clay that is rich in iron will turn into a reddish brown color if it is cooked as is).
I have continued for many years to focus on a particular firing method called “tankasho” where charcoal is used to bake the pottery. It gives it a simple and light feeling. I am not able to describe it in one word but I am aiming to create Tamba ware that is comparable to the light sound of Jazz music.
When you present your Tamba ware to international art lovers, which aspect do you focus on, compared to presenting it to domestic fans?
I would like to stick to the Japanese style of the simplistic Tamba baking style with the natural, rustic clay. I want to cherish and highlight the presence of the Tamba ware itself rather than its practical use.
If it is tableware or a flower vase, I will showcase the presence of the pottery by showing the tableware with food on it or the flower vase with flowers in it.
However, when it comes to pottery art that emphasizes shape (of course this includes flower vases and tea ceremony utensils as well), I think that the intention and idea of the artist’s production are important. I think the artwork needs to have the power to be timeless – being able to withstand the changing of trends.
This is my first time reaching the international market. From now on, I would like to focus on making this type of pottery.
How do you want those who purchase your Tamba ware to feel?
I want them to feel the warmth of the earth and feel as though they want to keep it close to them forever.
From Simple Tableware to Contemporary Art
Up until now, Tamba ware has been considered a valuable traditional craft in Japan. How will the history of pottery change with the presence of contemporary art? Also, what will be a new challenge you will face?
Pottery not used for practical use but for decorating homes overseas creates a new demand for pottery. Also, how I work with my pottery will change; my technique and design will become refined as well. More Tamba artwork will join the Tamba galleries, and I think the change will attract different visitors.
Do you have any influences from other artists or your own motto that you follow?
I am influenced by my teacher, Hiromi Itabashi, who I trained under in Tokyo.
Besides studying pottery, I go to art exhibitions to get inspiration. I aim to create pottery that is true to my heart. I often get an idea by analyzing my finished pottery. I look for areas of improvement and imagine how I will work on my next pottery.
Do you have any future plans?
I would like to spread Tamba ware overseas. It would be great if there was an opportunity to show my work at exhibitions overseas.
Where to Buy Katsuki Ichino’s Artwork
TRiCERA is proud to include many of Katsuki Ichino’s one-of-a-kind works among our growing offerings. If you are interested in learning more about other emerging artists from Japan, please visit our contemporary art page.