Morioka Shigeyoshi and the geek.

The geek is me. I love details. The more detailed the more I love it. I also love trying to connect the gist of the details to my life.

I was listening to this podcast today. It is a presentation titled Natural Law In Ancient and Modern Guise presented by Professor Richard A. Epstein. 32:35 minutes into the presentation Mr. Epstein paraphrases Blackstone,   There is nobody who is going to sow unless he is going to be able to reap.

I spent part of the day at a street festival in the city of Gojo, in Nara prefecture. The other half was spent in a small village named Amano, 天野 at the house of a well known potter named Morioka Shigeyoshi,  Shigi as his wife called him.

I met him about 15 years ago, one of the first potters  I visited. He was very friendly then. I didn’t speak very much Japanese at that time, struggling to make myself understood. I only found out later his first wife was from the U.S. He isn’t fluent in English but  was much more fluent than I was in Japanese at the time.

I arrived at about 10:00 am and in the course of the next 30 minutes he had 5 visitors and a call from the U.S. from Joy Brown before  I broke away  and took the pictures below.

I will just put the figures Shigi gave me for a couple of questions.

How many times have you fired the large kiln? Answer- over 100 firings in 12 years.  He then volunteered that he fires 3 wood burning kilns at once.The main kiln is about 10 meters long and about 1.5 meters wide, maybe a little more. The other 2 kilns are a large wood fired downdraft kiln for glazed work and a medium sized anagama. Both of the secondary kilns are easily as large as kilns I have seen people struggle to fire once or twice a year. The main kiln is massive.

I asked him about how he makes large pots, something I am trying to do now. He said he uses a coil method with the coils about 16 cm. in diameter. That would add up to about 6-8 kilos per coil.

So not only does he fire very nice Nanban he is Superman. The porcelain work is made by his wife.

I photographed Morioka’s work that hasn’t been sold yet housed in 3 large  buildings. Many thousands of pieces. More work than I have ever seen anywhere by one potter. I think it out does Shigi’s friend Shiro Tsujimura but it is hard to tell as Tsujimura has his unsold work in 2 or 3 locations including in swampy areas of his property.  I once went to Tsujimura’s and was shown around by his oldest son. We were standing in front of an old unused kiln, me in boots, his son in sneakers. In a scene from a dream we were both shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, both not quite sure why, not really paying attention. After about a minute we both simultaneously realized and in unison moved to more solid ground. Just seconds before we were standing on and walking across an area strewn with hundreds of 500,000 yen tea bowls that had been purposefully half buried in the swampy ground to give them an antique look. Each sub-conscious crunch under our feet adding up.

Morioka has continued to make work like a madman, he has continued to sow even though a large percentage he hasn’t been able to reap. Very interesting. Like me but I have a larger percentage of work that is unsold. In addition to the work pictured he told me, in Superman fashion, he just finished breaking 4 -5 times the amount of  work in the pictures, work that dates back to the beginning of his career. He added there is only so much work one can sell.

My question to myself  today was why would anyone sow if the harvest couldn’t be brought in? It must only be artists that would follow such a silly path. I have followed it with pleasure for many years but when it is placed under the microscope it is really illogical. In my case I really enjoy making stuff so there is an end there by it self but at the same time I am not satisfied to just make things and store them. I want to sell too.

The second part of my question is what role gallery owners play in this equation. I have never believed gallery owners have a monopoly on judging who is a good artist. I think their talent is in figuring who has a story and work they can promote and getting on with it.  So if one wants to bypass the gallery owner what does that entail? How can one reap the harvest, keep up the motivation to sow? One of the major functions of the gallery owner is to “sell” the artist. So the artist has to sell them self if they don’t use galleries.  This is a very unpleasant proposition for most people involved in art. It is much easier to ask the gallery owner to do that part of the deal. The contradiction is the owner’s main skill set isn’t finding the best artist but the most sell-able one. The artist has very strong motivation to sell, after all one want to reap the harvest of one’s efforts. As a last note think of the percentage of working artists that can physically be handled by galleries. I would guess it is 5% of the total of people who are putting the majority of their time into studio work. You have better odds of becoming a successful movie or rock star.


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6 Responses to “Morioka Shigeyoshi and the geek.”

  1. togeika Says:

    Maybe Shigi Sensei should rethink his teabowl strategy? My late teacher would put in only about 6 or 6 matcha jawan in every wood firing. Myself, of every 10 I make, I only designate 1 as a teabowl with a box. I am thinking about doing an “Empty Bowl” benefit with the rest.

    • togeii Says:

      Hello Lee,
      Thanks for reading.
      You will have to enlighten me on Mr. Morioka’s tea bowl strategy and then I can comment.

  2. Eric Says:

    Hi Dave,
    very interesting text, pics too. Funny samurai on video. (^0^)

  3. Carbon output for wood firers. « Togeii's Weblog Says:

    […] of the reasons I went to visit Morioka Shigeyoshi is to ask him some questions about wood firing for an upcoming panel I am on. I am one of the […]

  4. Nanban kiln, lunch and disintermediation and a strange bug. « Togeii's Weblog Says:

    […] gallery would. That means my work has to become cheaper. Ouch. But not really. On a recent visit to Morioka Shigeyoshi I got a furnace blast of insight into what it means to keep work instead of selling it. He has more […]

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