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From the hand: Five Hawai'i ceramists

by Jennifer Saville, Curator of Western Art, Honolulu Academy of Arts

Hawai‘i has long been the center of a vital ceramic arts community, energized by the activities and creations of artists born in Hawai‘i and those who have made the islands their home. Many of the ceramists have trained locally as well as on the U.S. mainland and abroad, often in Japan. Their work looks to the past as well as the present and reflects a broad spectrum of techniques and traditions, both Western and Asian.

The Academy exhibition From the Hand: Five Hawai‘i Ceramists features the clay art of five contemporary Hawai‘i craft artists—senior and mid-career ceramists and emerging talent—whose work in stoneware relates to Japanese mingei folk ceramics

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All individually wheel thrown or hand built and embellished with glazing and/or other surface enrichment, the works on view are by Daven Hee, Hideo Okino, Reid Ozaki, Yukio Ozaki, and Kauka de Silva. Their tablewares, all associated with tea ceremony, flower arranging, and food and drink preparation and serving, reveal a connection to the Japanese appreciation for the functional and handmade, not merely the decorative and mass produced.

Hideo Okino (b. 1938) and Kauka de Silva (b. 1953) have both spent time in Japan with master potters, Okino for the past three summers, and de Silva for a three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship.

Especially interested in the oneness of art, life, and spirituality, Okino focuses much of his work on shapes that can be adapted to tea ceremony, the meal that can lead up to it, and the flower arrangements that can be part of its experience. His forms are simple in shape and often embellished only with a spray of sodium carbonate during firing or with the pattern of ironwood needles burned onto their surfaces.

De Silva, comfortable with the now-second-nature ritualization of process learned from his sensei, values his materials for their expression of a sense of place. He uses clay from Ewa Beach and glazes he formulates with lehua and lauhala ash. He also impresses designs into his unfired clay shapes using kapa stamps.

Yukio Ozaki (b. 1948) studied flower arranging in his native Japan before settling in Hawai‘i. An interest in abstract sculptural form gives a bold character to his tablewares and, more especially, his vases for flower arranging. Glazes, which he often experimentally formulates, sprayed and spattered on his clay forms, further animate his work.

Reid Ozaki (b. 1951) shares an interest in traditional Japanese arts and gardens and specializes in creating vessels for flower arranging. His kaki, containers for ikebana, are strong, simplified forms both geometric and organic in feel as well as curiously modernistic. Ozaki favorite shapes are low, broad, and rounded in format, and these, as with his upright, vertical formats, are all covered with a richly pebbled, black glaze. He designs them to be in harmony with the flower arrangements, to be an integral part of the whole.

Daven Hee (b. 1968) works most playfully with the mingei tradition. Devoted to the potter’s wheel, he passionately throws vessel and bowl forms, often stacking cylinders of slightly different shape and diameter one on top of the other, enjoying their contrasts of profile and spontaneity of effect. By adding a spout, a handle produced with extra spouts linked and twisted together, and a lid whimsically created with other, smaller wheel-thrown forms, he creates teapots with attitude.

Each artist is part of a tradition, each looks into themselves and creates works individually expressive and modern, and all five are masters of their craft. Their work is for the table, not the shelf; it is to be admired for its simplicity, informal spontaneity, and unpretentious, non-elitist functionality. Their art speaks with sureness, strength, and energy that is respectful of hand and heart, of process, and of use. They remind one that art is a part of the experience and profound beauty of life.


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