Here's Mud in Your Eye

Some friendly suggestions for the Denver Art Museum.

Japanese ceramics, however, present a special problem for Western audiences, since a lot of it looks contemporary, even when it's 400 years old. Nakazato, according to Otsuka, is "not avant-garde, but is not strictly traditional, either."

The show begins in the lobby, with a group of large storage vessels. On one side of the gallery entrance is a stand on which a jar from 1998 has been placed. The untitled jar, which is stoneware with slip decorations, was soda-fired, which helped produce the elegant iridescent glaze. It was made with coiled clay that has been compressed with a wooden paddle. Many of the pieces in the exhibit are made in this way, but Nakazato is also an expert at the kick wheel, and a number of other pots show off this skill.

Working with traditional forms and coming from a family tradition has led Nakazato to the production of articles used in the tea ceremony, including bowls and a dish with a handle, all of which were soda-fired. "Nakazato has a good reputation for his tea-ceremony objects," says Otsuka. "There is a special clientele in Japan for the tea ceremony, and Nakazato's pieces of this type are very costly -- way out of line in comparison to his other pottery made for ordinary functional use."

"Pilgrim Bottle" and "Rice-bale" vase, by Takashi Nakazato.
"Pilgrim Bottle" and "Rice-bale" vase, by Takashi Nakazato.
Rookwood vase by Sturgis Lawrence.
Rookwood vase by Sturgis Lawrence.

Otsuka points out that in addition to very Japanese things like tea-ceremony objects, Nakazato's Colorado pots also include forms that are outside his traditions, such as dinner plates and mugs with handles. Otsuka also notes that the clays and glazes Nakazato uses in Snowmass are distinctive from those he employs at home in Karatsu.

One very uniquely Colorado piece, in a Western form, is the flat-sided "Pilgrim" bottle from 1997. It's displayed next to a traditional Eastern-style "Rice-bale" vase from 1998, in which two thrown forms have been joined laterally to create the void of the vessel.

The Nakazato show is where East meets West -- literally -- and it is not to be missed. The fact that it has a local angle, unlike most of the offerings at the DAM, ceramics or otherwise, makes it all the more compelling. As a result, it's a big feather in Otsuka's cap.

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