The following informal essay is a homage to the most influential artist of my life.
Why is Hamada good?
Ye shall know them by their fruits. [Matthew 7:16]
How can anyone know what is good? It is often a matter of one's perspective. This being stated, it is generally understood by most who are knowledgeable of pottery that Shoji Hamada is the greatest potter of all time. We can see why by examining his fruits.
Hamada was born in Tokyo in 1894, his father was an artist. At a young age he determined to be a potter and studied at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and took employment at the Ceramic Testing Institute in Kyoto to learn chemistry. While there he became friends with the artist Kawai Kanjiro, They attended an art show of Bernard Leach who was studying Japanese pottery.
Leach and Hamada became lifelong friends and when Leach returned to England to set up his studio Hamada gave him three years of his service. When Hamada returned to Japan he married and settled in Mashiko where he gradually built up a pottery compound. Some warned him that Mashiko had coarse clay and limited stones for good glaze. Hamada believed that would be most suitable for him.
He practiced on his wheel until it became as natural to him as just sitting. He made brushes from dog's hair and repeated his designs until it became as natural as just walking. In faith, Hamada built a large traditional wood burning climbing kiln. Years past in poverty.
Some of the first to recognize Hamada's pottery as good were the Zen tea masters.They were searching for pots to use in their ceremonies with a certain aesthetic in mind, seeking beauty in the humble and ordinary things. They wanted honesty.
Hamada spoke of good pots as being born, not made. Meaning if one is labouring and thinking, it is not coming forth from within, as it should like a fountain. Hamada was a Zen master, teaching in his modest style, often with stories, the "Way". Along with Leach he traveled the world giving demonstrations and talks, giving the world the message of, what is good?
If we examine the work of his hands, his fruits, we see the man. Hamada was a friend, a pacifist, a family man, a teacher and a leader. Shoji Hamada died in Mashiko, 1978, leaving the world a better place.
Thank you for reading, please send me your comments. William.