Taizo Kuroda’s ‘pure white’ reflects the colour of his spirit in the unceasing pursuit of truth.
Tadao Ando. Architect.
During the modern period, several Japanese artists stand out for their success in surmounting that difficult compromise of using modern media and techniques to define the profound taste we associate with the tea aesthetes of past centuries. Immediately Tadao Ando comes to mind for his use of subtly-textured concrete and wood to make buildings like minimalist sculptures, and his modern codifications of tea-ceremony-room lines and proportions. In the field of fashion, Issei Miyake has become legendary for his new textiles woven of unorthodox blends such as wool and linen, and for his fresh designs that often reveal the influence of traditional Japanese kimono or samurai armour. For Miyake, the human body is not so much an object to be draped, but more a support for a moving sculpture − resembling the otherworldly Noh actor gliding across a cypress-wood stage. The photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto has achieved international fame for his monochrome images of sea horizons − bands of muted grey that have the same hypnotic effect as some of those stone and gravel gardens in Zen temples − invoking a silence conducive to deep contemplation that is almost an echo of silence. And in this same group we must include Taizo Kuroda who has turned to the field of ceramics, (traditionally in Japan, the most highly-regarded of arts), to make white porcelain wares that are unlike anything seen before.
It is no surprise that these artists know each other quite well, and although each work in widely different fields, they share the same sure discipline and taste in editing out all that is unnecessary. Their creations excel in their pure and uncluttered nature − but they are purely Japanese in spirit and can never be confused with the products of minimalism in the West. Looking at Kuroda’s works we see objects that depart radically from the cold, technically perfect, moulded porcelains associated with Arita, Kakiemon and Nabeshima. Each of his works are made on a potter’s wheel, thinly formed, often translucent, and showing the fine markings, indented lines, and slight irregularities that reveal the touch of the artist’s hands. The colour is a warm, milky white − something akin to that of Greek island houses seen in the Cycladic light of late afternoon − a magical colour that makes his ceramic wares seem to softly glow in shadow or darkness, generating their own luminous halo.
His works differ from traditional porcelains in being either finished with a non-sparkling glaze similar to the unctuous surface of candle-wax − or by having no glaze at all. Most of his recent works have been painstakingly burnished, using ever-finer grades of sandpaper to produce a soft, caressible surface showing subtle reflections of light like an eggshell. His forms too, depart from the orthodox; whereas most modern porcelains are perfectly shaped, symmetrical, all exactly the same, cast from the same mould so to speak (and − dare I say it − just a little boring), many of Kuroda’s ceramics show an asymmetry that is infinitely more interesting. Influences of Chinese and Korean prototypes can certainly be detected in his flower-containers and dishes, but Kuroda improves on these with a strikingly-slender neck, a lip no thicker than a name card, or a dramatically elegant tapering foot.
The success of these forms is confirmed by the acid test of seeing them in silhouette − merely by back-lighting his pots so that their lines can be seen without distraction of surface. The effect is uncannily evocative of the paintings of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), an artist much admired by Kuroda, and it is no coincidence that collectors often group his wares into similar, but three-dimensional still-life arrangements. Kuroda is also famous for creating completely new ceramic forms such as his flat disks, and “stands” that look like tapering hat-boxes. But he has never made ceramics purely with sculpture in mind, and although his pieces are certainly sculptural in feeling, they all have a practical use. One has to think of the Japanese sense of food presentation here, where the appeal to the senses of sight and touch is as important as that to the sense of taste. What then could be more appropriate for presenting the first Echizen crab of winter, a cluster of summer egg-plants, or the freshest bonito sashimi?
Kuroda made his breakthrough in 1990 after having lived in France, New York, Canada, Tokyo and the West Coast of Izu. It would seem that his diverse experiences in some way provided the catalyst for him to focus on white porcelain − a field of ceramics where one would think that all experimental paths had already been well explored. He once studied in Mashiko under Tatsuzo Shimaoka, (the famed Japanese Living National Treasure), but not a trace of that master’s style can be seen in Kuroda’s work. What he did decide at that point was to become a full-time ceramic artist, and after exploring a few blind alleys of experimentation, he rejected colours, decoration and embossed design to concentrate his creative efforts within his chosen limitations of white porcelain. Now, in serene seclusion − but near the peak of his career − he lives in a house built of cedar and cypress, with plain white walls, pure, simple and edited like his ceramics, surrounded by trees and bamboo, looking over Sagami Bay, and works in his next-door studio, just as ordered and uncluttered. There are more than fifty thousand full-time studio ceramic artists in Japan − an encouraging testimony to the strength of the Japanese craft tradition. Taizo Kuroda is one who will be remembered.
© Michael Dunn