Arimoto Kûgen 有本空玄

by Robert Yellin

There’s something pure and delightful about Shino pottery. Its softness, warmth and unpretentious nature is unique and alluring. This original Japanese style, intoxicating for many collectors, has found popularity throughout the centuries.

These days there are quite a few superb Shino potters in Japan, almost all exclusively based in the Tajimi-Toki region of Gifu prefecture (formerly known as Mino). This was the birthplace of the style, after all, which developed from the late 1500s. And yet far from the Mino region, in Hiroshima, a place one would least expect to find some of the finest Shino today, lives Arimoto Kûgen.

“As a kid growing up I had no interest in pottery whatsoever, though I was fascinated with temples and shrines and the likes of Ikkyu and Kûkai–I often went to Kyoto and Nara,” Arimoto explains. “On some of those trips I saw old Imari porcelain and thought that was what pottery was all about, until one day an antique dealer showed me a Shino chawan and remarked, ‘This is also pottery.’ So I bought it for 5,000 yen!” Not long thereafter he quit his computer science job at a university and became a potter at the age of twenty-nine.

Arimoto often visited the Mino region and was taken under the wing of a clay broker who taught him about the best Mino clay, called mogusa. A few years ago he was lucky enough to be able to purchase fifty tons of the prized clay, enough to last him a lifetime. The only place where one can appreciate it on his glazed wares, though, is on the bottom or kôdai of the piece.

As one can see from the chawan in the picture, it has a wonderful citrus-rind pitted glazing, with soft white and peachy tones. Then there is the Zen-like single line with an iron underglaze, the carefully balanced “mountain lip” and the unusually placed patch of unglazed clay. It is a seductive work of art, meant to be handled and used. Arimoto is a humble man who turns 50 next year. The Japanese say potters makes their best work in their fifties after a few decades of experience. Arimoto is right on target to deepen his art even further, creating Shino wares that will live on in the annals of Japanese ceramic art culture.






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