Clive Bowen and Masaaki Shibata Exhibition September 2013
Upon the recommendation of Euan Craig, Ayano and I were lucky enough to attend the opening day of Clive Bowen and Masaaki Shibata’s exhibition in Tokyo. I didn’t know what to expect from the gallery or even their work, but Euan had mentioned that Clive Bowen is one of England’s most respected and celebrated slip ware potters.
Disclaimer: What follows is my analysis and interpretation of the work I saw, through only a very brief and limited viewing, as well as my comments/ideas on what I think these two potters might be representing or symbolizing in their work. This is extremely presumptuous of me and probably unduly cheeky, so take everything I’m writing with a healthy dose of salt. The benefit of being young is that you always think you know what’s “really” happening, and you have the luxury of growing older and being shown how wrong you are. So, I’m simply postulating what conclusions and lessons I might find and using this as a sounding board. I only had a brief chat with Clive Bowen at the opening, I suspect he enjoyed it chiefly (if at all) because I was one of the few people who could speak English at that time. While we only talked for a few minutes, we touched on some deeper concepts relevant to potters. I could see, even from that brief talk, that he was someone who respects and honours the age old traditions in pottery and that for him, as I hope will be the case for me, pottery is a life long pursuit of learning and that innovation and creativity are not the answers to be sought after if they abandon the simpler truths of our craft. I wish I had had more time to ask him about the slip ware traditions in England and his own experiences as a potter. In any case, it was a pleasure meeting him and now I’ll offer whatever interpretations and ideas I can.
Anyone who knows me knows that my own approach to pottery has always been in porcelain and often other clay bodies don`t excite me much. Being surrounded by celadon, copper reds and wood ash glazes since birth leaves that kind of an impression. Either you embrace it, or reject it. In my case, its the basis for my aesthetic world in ceramics. It’s because of that very reason that I was excited to see work that comes from a distinctly different background and also which reflects years of dedication and skill in that field. The colours, forms and decorative style of both Clive Bowen and Masaaki Shibata’s work were incredibly foreign to me and forced me to look at the pieces beyond my initial reaction to the clay itself.
As you can see, the work of both artists shows a nuanced blending of two incredibly distinct styles of pottery. Clive Bowen comes from the traditional approach of slip ware pottery made so famous and perfected in Great Britain. Masaaki Shibata’s work obviously shows influences from Japan’s incredible tradition in pottery. However, in this exhibition, and through their collaboration, their is a marriage of styles and subtle influences which are quite beautiful. Clive Bowen’s work takes on slightly more delicate forms at times and has very simplified motifs for decoration. This perhaps Japanese influence doesn’t erase his roots of English pottery, but compliments it. Similarly, Shibata’s work seems to experiment with slip ware design patterns on more traditionally Japanese forms. His brushwork and decorations seem to be moving towards the English style without abandoning where his forms and work come from.
Thinking about these influences in their respective styles, what effects working together has on their physical pottery, what ideas bled from one artist to the other, made me appreciate their work a lot more. Where I might have seen just a simple decoration or design before now became a question of origin or purpose. Was this piece a subtle departure for either potter from where they normally would interpret a form? Did the shape of a handle or cup or vessel change to accommodate a new glaze colour or decoration pattern? Usually I view pottery from the realm of “Do I like this? Is it well made? Is it functional? Do I respect what the potter is presenting? Do I appreciate the skill involved?” Now I was adding a new evaluation, “What process or development led to this design/form? What is the artist changing/experimenting and how does that change his work?”
It was a valuable exercise for me to see this exhibit, not because the style of either potter was my favourite. Rather it was valuable because it again showed me the value and quality involved in pottery and how our understanding and appreciation of “good” or “bad” needs to involve more than the aesthetics. I came out of this exhibition with a lot of respect for both artists, not because they are celebrated and famous, but because their humility and approach to pottery, honest and deliberate, makes me hopefully for my own progression. I’m just at the beginning and I really have no right to even consider my work as “good”, but I’m searching for my own style and development and that has me incredibly excited.