Ken Matsuzaki on Film and Paper

I was not going to write about another of the books from the Goldmark Gallery in England for a few weeks, but the three catalogs and two DVD’s on Ken Matsuzaki are irresistible. Elemental, the DVD produced in 2009 is one of the best ceramic DVD’s I have seen. It includes the title video, nearly three quarters of an hour long, two shorter videos, Best in Show and Wooden Boxes, plus two slide shows one of pots from 2007, the other 2009.

Elemental opens with the sound of Matsuzaki and friends on traditional drums while we see fiery images of his anagama kiln (which was later destroyed in the March 2011 earthquake). Phil Rogers, one of the few potters Matsuzaki will allow to participate in a firing, comments on the process from beginning to end. We see Matsuzaki, his head wrapped in wet white towels, a welder’s mask across his face, and silvery fireproof arm guards as he shovels charcoal into the firemouth. When the shovel becomes red hot  he plunges it into a bucket of water to cool. Flames shoot out of the blowholes. The pots glow inside. The firing takes seven days, and consumes thousands of bundles of pine and chestnut wood, plus thirty to fifty bags of charcoal.

After a week’s wait, the kiln is opened and we see Matsuzaki as he unloads one astonishing pot after another. He is pleased. As is Rogers, who exclaims more than once over the fact that every pot has come through the rigors of the fire. There are no cracks or fissures. Rogers holds up various pieces, turns them over, and tells us how the kiln has affected each of them. Elemental closes with the well-attended opening at the Goldmark Gallery.

Goldmark has produced three beautiful monographs, Ken Matsuzaki with an essay by David Whiting in 2007, Ken Matsuzaki with an essay by Sebastian Blackie in 2009 which the Elemental DVD accompanies, and the most recent from 2011 with an essay by Phil Rogers. Miraculously, the pots for the last exhibit and book were already out of Japan when the earthquake struck and destroyed everything. Each of the monographs is well illustrated with high quality photos. A second DVD, which accompanies the third monograph, has a video of Matsuzaki throwing teabowls plus a slide show.

Matsuzaki glazes his pots with shinos, Oribe greens, and the natural ash glazes that cover his pots during the long firing process. His pots are meant both to behold — he places beauty above all other considerations — and if you choose, to use.

The good news is that Matsuzaki has rebuilt his kiln. This past spring, the Pucker Gallery in Boston showed his new work in an exhibit, Rising from the Ashes. I see too from his blog, Euan the Potter, that Euan Craig whose kiln was also destroyed in the earthquake is back in business. So ever so slowly, potters in Japan are recovering.

The Innovations of Mike Goldmark

Phil Rogers Bottle

Mike Goldmark says he has been a “shopkeeper” for thirty years, showing pottery for the last five of them, in Uppingham in England, but he is no ordinary shopkeeper. In his gallery Modern Pots he focuses on showing British and Japanese ceramics primarily the work of Svend Bayer, Clive Bowen, Nic Collins, Mike Dodd, Lisa Hammond, Jim Malone, Ken Matsuzaki & Phil Rogers. Such a lineup would make his gallery stand out from others, but it’s how he shows the work that is so noteworthy.

His spacious physical gallery includes a printing operation run by Ian and Jan Wilkinson, bright exhibit space, and occasional poetry readings and musical performances. If you stop by at lunchtime you are welcome to join the table and conversation.

What sets Modern Pots apart though, is what Goldmark does online and how he combines his virtual presentations with his real presentations. For each of his potters, in addition to showing new works in the gallery space, including special exhibitions, he publishes a beautifully illustrated monograph. These can be read online in eBook form or purchased as a book you can hold in your hand. The eBooks are not downloadable but remain on the Modern Pots site and are produced using the powerful Issuu or something similar so that you have various viewing options. The monographs, with thoughtful essays and both informal in situ photographs and formal photographs, bring us into each artist’s life. We see their workshops and learn about their ideas on making. Even though the eBooks are a pleasure to behold, I find myself wanting to order the entire set of physical books. Oh for a fatter checkbook!

In addition, Goldmark has produced documentary films for each of his potters. Viewing them is like having a personal visit to the artist’s studio. The films average around twenty minutes and can be viewed online or ordered as a DVD. In addition, for Phil Rogers and Ken Matsuzaki, he has also made longer documentaries with trailers on the site. If you order a physical book, you get a DVD along with it.

This past Saturday, June 16, 2012, Modern Pots hosted an opening for Phil Rogers with an exhibition, a booksigning of the new monograph not yet shown online, a throwing demonstration in the gallery and an amazing online exhibit of one hundred new Rogers’ pots plus his etchings. For each pot, Goldmark made a short film of Rogers talking about making the work. In these clips, Rogers holds the pot in his hands in the way that only potters do, running his palms down the sides, touching the rim with his fingers, caressing the piece, and tells us something about the decoration, the fire, or how he made the shape. A short film for each pot – what an effective innovation. Why has no one thought of it before? It’s what potters do in their fair booths, their open studios, and in galleries – talk to people about the pots. Now we have it online. Perfect.

In addition to all this, Goldmark sends out a traditional e-newsletter. Modern Pots chooses some of the best potters working today and shows them in a most inviting way. Goldmark understands how best to use the Internet and how best to use bricks and mortar to work together to bring pots out into the world. I applaud him. I have not yet traveled the thousands of miles to Uppingham but one of these days I will. Meanwhile, I am thankful to be able to have such a rich experience on his website. We can all learn from him.