RAKU - A POEM
The opening speech of José Aerts roughly translated
Raku - Exhibition Deventer Sept. 15 th, 02
According to my books
the first time the word Raku appeared in the history of ceramics was round
1600. This was when the Japanese emperor Hideyoshi commissioned a potter in
Kioto named Jokei. It was a very special commission, because the emperor had
given order to engrave a Chinese character in a golden mirror. This character
(Raku) is best translated as ‘joy, meaningful contentment’, but also as
‘the very best of the world’. Earlier Jokei’s father was asked by an
important tea ceremony master to make tea bowls for him.
Tea bowls are essential
in the practice of the tea ceremony, which has an important role in Zen
The Raku bowls, that
were commissioned, were in fact a sort of trade mark and a mark of quality
that was exclusively given to this potter and his family. The name Raku became
an honorary title.
In 1911 good old Bernard
Leach, father of modern British ceramics
went to Tokio. He, in his young twenties
was immersed then in the tradition of Zen and he participated in the
Raku firing. He was inspired by Ogata Kenzan, Yanagi and later by the
legendary Hamada. After this Japanese adventure he went back to his beloved
St.Ives, where he settled his own pottery that became famous all over the
world because of the introduction of Japanese ways of making, the techniques
of throwing, glazing and firing. At present potters are still proud to have
been an apprentice of Leach or his sons.
While I was Raku-firing
myself together with 9 other potters in Macedonia the last 3 weeks I was
thinking about a number of things which I want to share with you now. First I
was wondering what I have in common with the exhibitors here and I came to the
conclusion that it is at least the love for our profession, professionality is
reflected in the created work. Work that does suppose we have looked into
ourselves. With this I mean that we have done some introspection to find a
personal theme before we expose our work to the world. Because when the concept
has become mature, the seed can shoot and become fruit when brought onto the
market, i.e. shop, gallery or museum.
The poet J.C. van Schagen says:
Being a stone in the sun
Doors come and go
The stone does not move
The great rains are
The stone does not move
Nobody knows the stone
No one has ever seen it
The stone is.
When today I look at the
works of Gisèle, Horst, Martin, Inger, Susanne and Roland, each work touches a
different string, each artist however has, with personal interpretations, used
the same technique.
The glazes we use in
raku are in fact glazes that don’t fit so perfectly. They are so to say
a too small coat for a too large body. Clothes that are to small tend to crack
and tear; so is this coat. But every crack or tear makes us glad like mad,
because this tore and cracked surface is an ideal base for our further
treatment, CQ our practice of torture.
Und in deinem unbenutzten Schimmer
Spielt der Uberfluß der Untenwelt
Where your flickering stayed empty
plays the plenty of the
The shadow of scorched
clay, alternated by fine or coarse
crackling, traces of smoke on a polished skin, lusters and oil glow whisper a
And like a
poem also the sense goes it’s own way. The obstinacy of the fire
caresses with passionate tongues alongside the walls of pots and sculptures. Is
raku firing not alike being a child again, allowed to play in the sandbox of
time? At the same time the skin of the new work is reflecting eternity. This
object weathered, scorched, eroded by fire, it’s almost archeologic, but just
found, dug by ourselves from our deepest catacombs.
So you stay hopeful that
every season you will get closer to your own truth. Do you recognise this: you
are on an exhibition and you think “why didn’t I catch this moment like
it’s done here. Why do I always try to say too much in a piece of work, while
“less is more”is the ambition of many. While the strongest work is almost
always empty and quiet, returned into quintessence. Coming to your own
quintessence, step by step moving along your own path of Raku. The path of fire
and flame, the path of soul and salvation. Every new day you create your very
best piece until today.
Pessoa, the poet that never compromised has described it
To be great, be whole.
Don’t make anything
you are bigger or into nothing.
Be all in everything
Lay as much as you are
in the least thing you
Then I open the lid of
Inger’s pot and I hear her heart beating: so lively, but happily so irregular,
so especially not perfect. In Martin’s bowl I collect tears and laughing
through time, but Susanne’s boxes I don’t open. The Holy of Holies in these
tabernacles may stay a mystery.
Then I caress the skin
of Roland’s terra sigillata pots and I touch his tenderness. So many stars
fell from heaven into his vessels and they all smile on me.
All these works, so much
spoken without any word and still so much said.