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Shozo Michikawa’s ‘THE INBETWEEN’ traces nature’s contrasts with ceramic
Exhibition views from THE INBETWEEN
Image: Joe Kramm

Shozo Michikawa’s ‘THE INBETWEEN’ traces nature’s contrasts with ceramic

The Japanese artist showcases ceramic sculptures that also double as functional vessels in the US-based gallery Hostler Burrows.

by Almas Sadique
Published on : Apr 01, 2024

The most impassioned innovations by man can also seldom compete with nature’s ways of restructuring and redesigning the world and its entities. Time and again, nature has proven well that man’s arrogance as the smarter inventor rarely ever holds firm in the face of nature’s gesticulations. It is for this reason that spatial and temporal contrivances led by humans are encouraged to deeply consider the vernacular aspect rather than solely focusing on hedonistic visions. While these lessons are seldom paid heed to, especially in thriving metropolises across the globe, there is one country that continues to remain popular for its consideration of natural vibrations.

Japan. The land of the rising sun. A nation dominated by mountainous ranges. A country that witnesses frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It is a land that is constantly in flux. From the formation of new islands to the transformation of landscapes with volcanic emission and tectonic movements, a resident of the country is seldom deprived of playing witness to nature’s dance. It is, then, imperative for Japanese architects, designers, artists, engineers, inventors and innovators to take heed of these movements, to gain inspiration from them in their work. Of the various inventive nature-inspired works from Japan is ceramic artist Shozo Michikawa’s sculptural body of work. A new collection of sculptures by the Japanese artist is on view at Hostler Burrows’s annex space in Tribeca, HB381 gallery, under the moniker of THE INBETWEEN. On view from March 8 - April 27, 2024, the exhibition in New York, USA, comprises the display of a series of new works by the ceramicist, which is also accompanied by a lecture and demonstration session.

"THE INBETWEEN not only brought in a packed audience on opening night but also drew ceramic enthusiasts to witness Shozo Michikawa's masterful live demonstration and lecture the same weekend. We are always happy when we have the chance to showcase the artistry behind works on view at the gallery through programming like this,” shares Juliet Burrows, gallery owner of Hostler Burrows.

Michikawa was born in Hokkaido, the northernmost of one of Japan’s main islands. Growing up in this region, near a lake and Mount Usu, the artist witnessed the beauty of the unadulterated terrain during his younger years. When Michikawa was in his 20s, he also witnessed a fairly big volcanic eruption, which later inspired his work as an artist. The eruptions, spread across three days, led to the unfurling of white ash up to a height of ten kilometres. In addition to affecting the landscape of the region, this eruption led to cracks in the windows of aeroplanes flying over the area, damage to trees and the development of eruptive clouds with their own storm systems (characterised by lightning and the raining down of pumice stones—some up to 20 centimetres in diameter). The trenches, rifts and ash mineral debris left behind in the landscape took on a unique aesthetic which is often emulated by Michikawa in his work.

A mantra that the artist follows heed to, is: "Everything is okay and everything is possible in ceramics." Michikawa’s unique style of ceramic works takes shape as a consequence of his atypical process. The ceramic artist stacks square or triangular pieces on the wheel, centres it, cuts it into a definite shape and then inserts a stick in the centre, whilst letting the wheel move and allowing the internal force to shape the piece. “This generates rifts and radial movement—the quasi-geologic striations that recall the earth’s mantle and molten core,” mentions an explanation from the press release. While shaping the vessel from within, Michikawa refrains from touching its outer body. The shape is, hence, controlled, only from within, giving form to abstract curves and angles. This helps the artist make different ceramic pieces that embody the dynamism of the volcano’s pulverised columns of ash.

Although Michikawa studied economics and was on his way to assist with his family business, his creative yearnings pulled him towards pottery. Unlike various artists, Michikawa did not go to an art school. Instead, he gained technical training to churn out identical cutlery for functional usage. His desire to do more with the craft, however, led him to set up his own private studio. While he initially started working with clay to craft tableware collections, Michikawa eventually moved away from creating functional ceramics and began experimenting with novel techniques to develop sculptural works.

Michikawa, who now works from the ancient centre of Japanese pottery production in Seto, employs archaic techniques followed and formalised in the region for over a thousand years. The artist fires his ceramics in an anagama (ancient pottery kiln), an outdoor, wood-stoked kiln which requires constant tending over three or more days of firing. The meld of colours—of wood ash, pine sap, charcoal and mineral glazes—gives shape to variegated textures in the ceramic pieces shaped by the artist.

While Michikawa’s works are informed by the unique process of using a centrifugal force to shape the vessels, his latest collection is a material homage to his experiences in his hometown. “One of the themes of my ceramic works is 'contrast.' Especially, 'stillness and movement' are an important contrast for me, as my hometown, Hokkaido, is surrounded by the energetic volcano Mt Usu and the beautiful, calm Lake Toya. I was strongly influenced by this beautiful contrast in nature. I'm happy to share this feeling with people through my works in the exhibition IN BETWEEN,” the artist shares.

Michikawa’s expressive gestural sculptural works showcase direct inspiration from nature and the native Japanese landscape. They also evoke the fissures witnessed in the landscape due to the 1977 volcanic eruption that the artist witnessed in Hokkaidō. The artist’s twisted, torqued and rough-hewn sculptures, whilst emulating the impact of a natural happening, also bear aesthetics worthy of categorisation under contemporary art. “Bringing tectonic action to bear on wheel-thrown pottery, he initiates a dialogue with the traditions of Japanese ceramics which welcomes imperfection, distortion, and the creation of fault lines within the surfaces of hand-thrown vessels,” mentions an excerpt from the press release.

Shozo Michikawa’s ‘THE INBETWEEN’ is on view from March 8 - April 27, 2024, at Hostler Burrows's HB381 gallery in New York, USA.

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