Pottery and cuisine don't have an obvious connection in American culture, but it's common in Japan for people in the food business to become interested in ceramics as well. That's how Kazu Oba became a ceramics artist, and his pottery work is showcased in the Den Show, an exhibition celebrating the traditions of pottery, cooking and sake.
See also: - Kazu Oba Den Show - Mud Flies - Foothills hosts a big ceramics show, while clay artist Tsehai Johnson takes a turn at +. - Best Historic Ceramics Show - One Hundred Years of Van Briggle Pottery
A native of Kyushu, Japan, Oba became interested in pottery while working in the restaurant business for about fifteen years. "I don't come from a pottery family," he says, "like many potters do in Japan -- like my teacher is a thirteenth-generation potter. But I don't come from tradition like that."
So he decided to learn the art hands-on, through apprenticeships. In 2003 and 2004 he worked with Takisho Nakazato, one of the most celebrated potters in the world -- and one who emphasizes the connection between pottery and food. "My ceramics teacher would say, 'It's not about the pottery, it's about the food that goes in it,'" Oba says.
"Pottery is such a big part of the Japanese culinary scene," he continues. "It's not a chef doing his own thing on a blank canvas, meaning a white plate. It's really a collaboration between the pottery maker and the people who cook." Having a specific type of food in mind helps potters decide the shape, size and function of a particular piece.
And the pieces are not really completed until they are given a use: "In my mind, the most successful pottery is not something that will stand out, something that might be seen as beautiful," he explains. "In my mind, good pottery is pottery that you look at and go, 'Hmm, so?' Meaning that it needs something, it's not completed. When the food is served in it, it's in the finished stage of the whole process."
Oba is also a sculptor, and has exhibited his sculptures around town, including a show at Walker Fine Art Gallery last month. As with his pottery, Oba feels a sculpture is only finished once the new owner gives it a use -- whether it's setting it on a shelf or filling it with flowers. "What's mostly interesting to me is what you bring into the piece," he says. "Maybe your cat will crawl on it and claim it as his, but then that's exciting. It's more that what I would ever do with my own hands. I like this unknown possibility part of this whole thing."
The Den Show will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, December 21 and Saturday, 22 in the former Ototo restaurant space. The free show also includes kick-wheel demonstrations and beverages served in Oba's designs.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.