Robert Yellin's Japanese Pottery Blog

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Power of Myth--Shimura Noriyuki Exhibition June 24-July 7

Shimura Noriyuki—The Power of Myth (From a past Honoho Geijutsu column)

It’s often said that good things come in small packages, take a little kogo for example. I just had to smile as I held one in my miraculous hands; staring back at me was a fire breathing Godzilla-like figure. How fun, I said to myself! The whimsical world of kogo goes back many centuries with mythical figures such as shishi lions and robed foxes, seven-lucky gods, birds, and other nature themes as motifs. I’m sure such kogo have brought delight to those who viewed them too over the endless years. In fact, kogo are collected the world over with one famous collection of 3,500 kogo (however no fire breathing dragon ones) created by French statesman George Clemenceau (1841-1929). The Clemenceau collection toured Japan in 1978. That was just thirty years ago and how the world at large has changed, not often for the better though, unfortunately. It’s time to, as Henry David Thoreau said, simplify, or as comedian Steve Martin once joked to, ‘get small!’

These largely unnerving days we surely need new dreams, new ideas and new visions (here big is ok) in all aspects of life to revive our spirits, the economy and the environment. Or maybe we just need to look at ancient myths to remember the value of life. Art too is often an inspiration in such turbulent times, a visual way to connect with our psyches, inner voices and dreams; Shimura Noriyuki--the ceramic artist who created the Godzilla-like kogo--is an inspired artist who in his own quiet way is keeping dreams and myths alive in his ceramic art.

The great author of the book ‘The Power of Myth’ Joseph Campbell used to say ‘follow your bliss.’ To do so means one follows the uncharted path of life taking each thought, each dream, each vision into every single precious day to create what we call ‘a life.’ Shimura has been doing that since 1990 in the Izu peninsula after having studied and worked for 11 years with Seto potter and glaze master Kato Sho (1927-2001, Aichi Intangible Cultural Property). Kato was also a unique potter making incised works with peacocks, for example. Shimura did much inlay-zogan work over the years for Kato and on his current works he continues to employ this technique. Have a look at another kogo, the Buddha, and you’ll see a keen sense of balance in the white zogan design set within the backdrop. And the dragon kogo is a riot of color, yet as with all of Shimura’s works the colors blend together in a rather shibui way. And this is an important aspect of Shimura’s work; how he does blend his colors in a kirei-sabi way, not gaudy at all. That makes Shimura’s works able to sit in a tokonoma and not be out of place. They also will bring a lively commentary and smiles to any tea ceremony. Of course he also makes vessels for the table with equally pleasing themes.

As with kogo, okimono or ornamental figures long ago were a whimsical world of beasts, legendary figures, and demons that brought luck, prosperity, dreams and inspiration to many homes. Where are such okimono now? If a society loses its power of indigenous myth and just buys into globalization its spirit will die off. To keep the power of myth alive maintains the health of a society. Shimura is doing all he can to bring okimono back into the homes of the nation.

His Sumo wrestler has a stern yet gentle face, and the image of Fuji-san on his kesho-mawashi imparts not only energy to the okimono, yet also a spirit, the spirit of Japan. The Fuji-san okimono has a well-balanced grove of multi-colored pines growing up the entire form; a pure Japanese image, and symbolism poetical themed with the word ‘tsuki’ or moon rising from the side inlaid within the moon itself. The back has a rather textile themed striped pattern that also recalls Ogata Kenzan. To have such an okimono, in one’s foyer will surely allow one to leave the house each day with a smile and greet the day empowered with their own bliss, rooted in the timeless power of myth. Thanks to Shimura Noriyuki for reminding me of that.