Well, if red stickers are anything to go by, Kiwi potters have not lost their enthusiasm for Mingei one jot since early copies of A Potters Book were circulating vigorously and the contained lore, as recommended by Leach, was viewed as just short of Holy Writ.
It’s essentially the pottery community that attends openings for ceramics shows and the red stickers are, I am told, mainly attributable to additions to their personal collections. They turned up to mark Aaron Scythe’s first major show after working for ten years in Japan. Scythe, of Maori/Pakeha descent, has returned, bringing his Japanese wife and their children, because of the Fukushima meltdown and its effect on where he was working. The family have been based in Te Aroha but are contemplating further shifts before more permanent roots are in place.
Masterworks also gave Scythe their Thinkspace wall and he used it to great purpose with brown paper scrolls effectively illustrating aspects of his subjective approach to decoration mixed with some personal jottings,explanations of old mythologies, Manga-looking oddments and those familiar traditional Japanese textile patterns that often form backgrounds to Oribe surfaces.
It’s Oribe that Scythe references mostly here particularly in the domestic/tea ceremony vessels he makes. There are kettles and water jars, tea caddys and and tea bowlsas well as yunomis, sake ewers and those irregularly shaped, straight-sided, high-handled dishes (mukozuke) for serving small eatables of various types. The shapes are not simply abstract though, but often based within nature or culture such as pine cones or fan forms. As well, there are dishes and bowls that fit more western domestic functions. And over all these are his personal idiosyncratic interpretations and adaptations of Oribe style decorations.
Oribe is a very Japanese style of tea-ware from late 16thC and not, as many other types are, derived from Chinese or Korean origins. It’s celebrated because of its decorative nature, whimsical charm and lively surfaces that typically are white slipped, painted with iron in a variety of patterns and carry splashes and poured areas of a green (copper bearing) glaze that obscure parts of the iron painting. Oribe, despite its decorated surfaces, looks good with food (so much for six white everything) and is sturdy, rather than heavy and comfortable to hold although it’s often quite large in scale, particularly the tea-bowls that seem more destined for masculine hands.
Scythe has utilized the basic formsbut thrown/slab-built in a looser manner so that the pieces hold a more insouciant presence than one might see in Japan where traditions in styles can be constraining. He gives himself freedom to be more expressive than a more formulaic approach would allow with perky coiled feet, softer handles, bulging walls in places that effectively still offer evidence of the processes involved and jaunty knobs. And why not? His surfaces, while complying with the basic tropes of Oribe, illustrate investigations of a personal nature to perhaps see what happens when a textile pattern is in juxtaposition with something contemporary, like a cellphone or a car, or what is here accepted as a Maori motif foregrounds Hiragana mark making and fish-scales, or symbols of different languages are used in proximity and contrasted one with another.
And almost always, except in what seem like compliant approaches to tradition – of which there are few, there is this small bird that observes and looks out and on…. seemingly singing for all it’s worth. I kept thinking it might be Scythe’s alter-ego probing and translating to fathom this hybridity of imagery and stay in touch with all the facets of this cultural mingling that is not yet a fusion. Or possibly it’s one of his children, who are adapting with vigour to life in a Kiwi country school and a new situation. Then again it may all be just whistling in the dark…
There is one odd note, and that lies with the explanation of the show’s title. It reads…”Basara is a word that expresses the climate ignoring their own rank of status and slighting to the authority also the aesthetic consciousness preferring to wear gauderies and spending too much money”……WHAT?
To whoever did it – when putting things through Google-translate or whatever – do read before publishing as no matter which way I tried I could make no sense of this… and I wanted to know.
But what an engaging show; one of great variety of form cemented by a restricted palette. It upholds a history and engages it with other idioms but maintains a whimsical effervescence that avoids being flippant.And what promise lies with this young artist as he works through his heritage, his influences, experience and training plus those new angles to life discovered through being a parent with children exploring a new environment. They are all doors to encounters with the self, and avenues to pursue.