Looking to the future
There are well over one hundred workingkilns in Kagoshima Prefecture at the present time. Some of them havea history and tradition going back several hundred years, while othersare still in their infancy. Not only are they making different things,each kiln also possesses its own individual approach to the work.The person who has the job of trying to unify the great variety ofpotters at work in the prefecture is Takafumi Saigo, the potter andChairman of the Kagoshima Prefecture Ceramics Cooperative Union. Wetalked to him about his own work and the state of Satsuma ware atpresent.
Following the path of a potter
Satsuma ware has a tradition going back more than 400 years. Mr Saigo'sown part in its long history is just 30 years. Before taking up acareer as a potter, he worked for an apparel maker at the cuttingedge of the fashion industry. In his own words, "it was a matterof trying to read what direction the market was going in and makingsomething from nothing". He was happy in his work but he alwayshad an inkling of returning to his birthplace, and feeling his responsibilityas the eldest son it was always at the back of his mind.
In the end, it was his middle-school art teacher, who helped him makeup his mind by saying, "if you are going to return to Kagoshima,why don't you try your hand at pottery?" Mr Ariyama, the teacherof whom Mr Saigo thought so much, had in fact taken over the runningof his family kiln after retiring from teaching. It was also Mr Ariyamawho had taken Mr Saigo to see his first Nitten exhibition (a big annualart and craft exhibition), when he was at university. At the time,Mr Saigo was really surprised and excited by the many pieces of originalpottery he saw at the exhibition, although his excitement soon waned.His interest in pottery, nevertheless, lay dormant and it was Mr Ariyama'ssuggestion that reawakened his interest.
So, still with the idea that making pottery might be right for him,when Mr Saigo returned to live in Kagoshima he began working at MrAriyama's kiln. His former middle-school teacher now became his bossand master, from whom he was to learn the art and craft of pottery.
Mr Ariyama's kiln called Chotaroyaki Hongama is traditional in lineageand has a history going back one hundred years. It is also well knownas being the head of a family of related kilns making black Satsumaware. It was here that Mr Saigo learned the production techniquesof this particular variety of Satsuma ware. It is a traditional formof pottery using local clay and glazes, and is characterized by itsblack lacquer-like coloring and smooth, soft finish.After just five years learning the ropes, Mr Saigo set up his ownkiln, the Hioki Nanshu Gama, which is still the focus of his creativeactivities. It is here that he is producing two kinds of work: onea black Satsuma ware, drawing on what he learned when he workedunder Mr Ariyama and the other a form of studio pottery burstingwith originality.
Mr Saigo's approach to his work is simple. "I don't want tomake anything the same as someone else has made". One pieceof his which readily reflects his thinking is actually a piece ofpottery coated with natural lacquer. So, what is it? A piece oflacquerware or pottery. Well, it is best described as a piece ofpottery but it is certainly not usual to coat pottery with naturallacquer and then fire it. But that is exactly what Mr Saigo boldlydid. By doing so, the lacquer has seeped into the fine cracks inthe surface to become an integral part of the piece. It is definitelysomething a lacquerware maker would never think of doing. The mereidea of firing lacquer is, therefore, within the realms of art.
These pieces which Mr Saigo describes as a "collaboration ofpottery and lacquer" he calls hono to urushi, literally"flames and lacquer". They are an intriguing mismatchof materials and are filled with a strength of an unusual nature.
The red and black lacquer clings to the piece of Satsuma ware which is made using a traditional technique called Dakatsu-yu. This is a method of glazing which produces an effect resembling the scales of a snake-skin. When the coating of lacquer is fired, a raised three-dimensional effect is produced, overlapping the glaze.
A focus of tradition and art
Mr Saigo is not only an artist who is trying to push back the boundsof what is possible with pottery, he is also a maker of black Satsumaware, a traditional ware he learned to produce at its source. Afterhe set up on his own, and being a young, energetic kiln owner, heput much effort into the business of selling work. This led him toanalyze Satsuma ware as a business.
He found that within the industry as a whole there are basically twokinds of potters at work. Firstly there are those who are highly skilledtechnicians and then others who are "artists" with a keenartistic sensibility. Although there had never been any kind of exchangebetween the two groups before, it was Mr Saigo's idea that if perhapsthe attributes of both could be combined in some way it might be possibleto create a type of Satsuma ware, which was more in keeping with thedemands of the present age.
It would be good to see such a collaboration of skill and sensitivitynot only working within the industry but overseas as well. If possiblehe would like to see this as a springboard for Satsuma ware.
In the gallery at the Hioki Nanshu kiln, there are examples of studio craft pieces displayed along side traditional everyday pieces of black Satsuma ware. Besides his own work there are also some pieces which Mr. Saigo has bought in from other production centers as well as pieces made by his brother.
There are basically three kinds of producers making up the KagoshimaPrefecture Ceramics Cooperative Union, which supports Satsuma ware.Firstly there are those kilns with a long tradition of mainly producingtraditional pieces of pottery and porcelain. Then there are kilnsproducing large quantities of work. These are responsible for familiarizingthe public at large with Satsuma ware. And finally, there are kilnsrun by artists creating pieces indicative of a number of roads, downwhich Satsuma ware might go in the future. What Mr Saigo is attemptingto do is to find some common ground shared by these three groups andthen to develop an appropriate style of Satsuma ware, which will appealto the buying public at large and find its own niche in the market.Such an approach is reminiscent of a brand strategy from the worldof fashion with its collections. So, taking the helm, Mr Saigo is working as a producer,intent on developing a brand image for Satsuma ware. He is makingfull use of skills forged while he was working in the fashion industryand is actively engaged in the business of selling Satsuma ware onthe front line. It would seem, therefore, that Mr Saigo is going tobe kept busy for quite sometime to come, both as an artist and asa businessman.
Born in Kagoshima in 1947, he is the great-grandson of SaigoTakamori, one of the architects of the Meiji Restoration. Startedwork at the Chotaroyaki Gama in 1973. His work has been chosenfor the Nitten exhibition 12 times since 1977. He set up hisown kiln the following year.
He is a member of Nitten , Chairman of the Kagoshima PrefectureCeramics Cooperative Union, a judge for the Kagoshima PrefectureArt Society Committee, and one of the potters invited to showat the Kagoshima Ceramics Show.