Takashi Ichihara: Practice Makes Perfect

Takashi Ichihara: Practice Makes Perfect

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ichihara-oct16Japan is renowned for its history of ceramic art, and Takashi Ichihara is a prime example of that country’s rigorous training in creating forms, throwing and glazing. His work has a simplicity and grace that is a result of hard work, years of practice and experimentation and a clear vision of functionality. He is a master of clay.

How long have you been working as a ceramics artist?
I began my study of ceramics 40 years ago in Japan. I went to a technical high school for 1 year, and then worked as an apprentice for 6 years. It takes at least that long to understand the throwing, trimming, glazing and firing. This is not a creative time for an apprentice! We have to repeat the same work over and over to become proficient.

takashi-and-theresaOnce you finished apprenticing, how did you develop your own aesthetic?
In the beginning I tried to copy pieces that I was impressed with, but I wasn’t skillful enough to make them. I had to work for many years to develop the techniques to be able to create what I imagined and hoped to accomplish. It took several years for me to learn to make the clay respond in the way I expected, and only then was I able to develop my own vision. In Japan it is expected that a potter will make thousands of the same piece to truly master the technique, and once they have mastered it, they are finally able to create what they can imagine. I follow the Japanese aesthetic. For example we have to be sensitive to nature and the seasons, and to really envision the function of the piece.

Tea SetCan you describe some of your techniques?
I use a variety of techniques. Most pieces start on the wheel, then I alter the shape and sometimes add slabs to finish the design. I do a lot of carving to soften the edge or add texture to the finished shape. I use glazing techniques common in Eastern Asia, and adapt the glazes to meet my expectations. Firing is very difficult and requires a lot of experience, but even then, I use natural materials so unexpected things can happen.

What do you see as your greatest creative challenge?
I’ve been working in clay for thirty years. I just wonder how many times I’ve fired the kiln! Mastering ceramics for me has never been completed. Ceramics is so complicated, and really sensitive. I’ve done the same kind of work over and over, but I still make mistakes, I get mystified. Especially firing the kiln makes me nervous because I cannot see what’s going on. There is not much time to make a decision about what to do. After the firing is done, I go to check the kiln all the time. It does not make any difference. I’m just hoping it comes out good, and there is something new.

dsc_0394-2Every time I fire the kiln, I examine the results very well, and I’m getting more and more receptive to each new discovery. Every tiny change gives me a new idea to possibly make it better. However, it is impossible to create the same firing condition. I hope I can keep improving until the end of my career, and that by then I will have done the best that is possible.

Takashi Ichihara was selected for the Award of Excellence by the American Crafts Council. His work has been featured in Ceramics Monthly Magazine and Home and Design Magazine. He has participated in seventeen Paradise City shows, and will exhibit his work at the Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton on October 8-10.