Playing with Pattern | MAEDA MASAHIRO
Retrospective of an iro-e master
Artist present at exhibition opening
"For his first retrospective outside of Japan, Maeda Masahiro himself curated this show, pulling works from Japanese collections and releasing beloved works he had kept aside for years. Totaling some thirty-five vessels spanning from 1980 to 2023, this exhibition fully demonstrates the creativity and inventiveness of a modern iro-e master 'playing with pattern.' The essay in the exhibition catalogue from Japanese ceramics' scholar and art history professor, Todate Kazuko, further illuminates the development of his artistry and his singular contributions to the field of iro-e porcelain. I am honored to bring the full scope of Maeda's work to New York, where new audiences can be surprised and delighted by these works, just as the artist has always intended."
- From the exhibition catalogue introduction, Joan Mirviss (October 2023)
Avidly collected in Japan for decades, Maeda Masahiro's painterly ceramics will be presented in an artist-curated retrospective show this fall at Joan B Mirviss LTD. This long overdue exhibition brings together major works from each stage of his career. When viewed altogether, a picture of a singular artist emerges. Though his style has undergone transformations over the years, Maeda's artistry is rooted in a unique layering of decorations, often utilizing a remarkable range of colors and motifs that are accentuated in gold and silver. Working steadily for over fifty years, Maeda is renowned for his skills in iro-e, an overglaze enamel technique that traces its roots to the vibrant Japanese polychrome porcelain ware of the seventeenth century. By combining his technical expertise with exuberant patterning, Maeda Masahiro is a modern master committed to enlivening tradition while occasionally imbuing it with wry humor.
Though initially interested in painting, Maeda Masahiro (b. 1948) received his education in ceramics at Tokyo University of the Arts under the guidance of two Living National Treasures, Fujimoto Yoshimichi (Nōdō) (1919-1992) and Tamura Kōichi (1918-1987). He chose to specialize in iro-e kinginsai, polychrome enamel with gold and silver overglazes, on his functional porcelain vessels. The technique was originally developed during China's Song dynasty (10-12th centuries) and then imported to Japan in the 17th century. From the outset, however, Maeda wasn't interested in recreating Chinese-style ko-Imari or ko-Kutani (old Imari or kutani porcelain) precedents, and he instead sought to develop a wholly original approach. The prototypes that inform his artistry are characterized by their gleaming white porcelain surfaces decorated with classical motifs; Maeda's early works are instead populated with owls, cacti, and palm trees. Rather than utilize the white clay body as a "canvas" for his decorations, as was typical historically, Maeda paints his entire vessel a bold color as his background. Further departing from tradition, he uses Western glazes that he thickly applies across multiple firings to achieve a painterly matte, raised surface. The foot of his vessel, however, is the bright aka-e red of traditional wares, while his artist signature brushed in gold is more like that of a painter.
Drawing upon his earliest inspiration, Maeda seeks to unify not only tradition with modernity, but also the expressiveness of gestural painting with the dimensionality of clay:
"I have always been trying to bridge painting and ceramics in my artistic practice. My newer works exist along the boundary between painting and crafts, which has been an interest of mine for a long time."
- Maeda Masahiro, September 2023
His recent body of work most fully captures this ongoing exploration of decoration in three dimensions. After forming a vessel from porcelain and then bisque firing, it is painted black and fired again. He meticulously applies thousands of thin strips of tape to create the negative of his desired geometric pattern, which is revealed after a colorful glaze is applied and the tape is carefully removed with tweezers. He repeats the above process to further layer and texture his surface with elaborate, interwoven geometric patterns. Lastly, if desired, gold and/or silver overglazes are applied and the vessel is fired again at a lower temperature. Depending on variations throughout this process, each resulting work is subtly and captivatingly different.
Maeda Masahiro (b. 1948) was born in Kyoto and studied at Tokyo University of the Arts. A current member of the Japan Craft Design Association and a permanent member of the Japan Crafts Association, he has won multiple awards and served as a competition juror many times. In 2009, shortly after its opening, the Musée Tomo in Tokyo held a solo exhibition of his work. The following year, he won the prestigious Japan Ceramic Society Award. His work is in museum collections all over the world, including: the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA; Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY; Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum, Ibaraki, Japan; Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; Musée Tomo, Tokyo; Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; and Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD.
ABOUT JOAN B MIRVISS LTD
With more than forty-five years of experience, Joan B. Mirviss is a pillar in the field of Japanese art. As a dealer, scholar, curator, and advisor, she has been the driving force championing the top Japanese clay artists, who she represents exclusively, and whose works she has placed in major museums around the globe. Widely published as a highly respected expert, Mirviss has built many institutional and private collections of Japanese art. Joan B Mirviss LTD exhibits modern and contemporary Japanese ceramics, ukiyo-e, and Japanese paintings from its exclusive Madison Avenue location in New York City.
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