Yokoyama Naoki 横山直樹

by Robert Yellin

I have to admit that I’m a clay addict in the worst degree. That doesn’t mean I shoot, smoke or sniff the stuff; it simply means the breathtaking qualities of the finest Japanese clay give me a sense of euphoria. Just the other day I went to an exhibition in Kyoto for Yokoyama Naoki and bought myself one of his sake cups that I literally can’t wait to get my hands on each night. The marbled clay façade is a delight to the eyes and the smooth, earthy feel of the unglazed surface roots me to the earth and the now in a profound way. Indeed, using such works of art in one’s daily life is akin to a religious experience and one of my favorite artists is surely Yokoyama.

Yokoyama was born in Bizen in 1970, into a pottery family. He had no desire to become a potter until he was at a crossroads in his life in his early twenties. University was not in the cards, so he turned his direction home and entered the Bizen Pottery Center to learn the trade. These places teach technique alone, which is part of the shokunin no kokoro, or craftman’s spirit, that is truly the backbone of most of Japan’s arts and crafts, and even food culture. A Bizen potter—or any potter for that matter—needs to learn these basics about their respective traditions and Yokoyama did so there. His next step was extending these fundamentals in a more artistic direction and that’s where his apprenticeship with Kawabata Fumio benefitted him. Kawabata is a clay fanatic and this rubbed off on Yokoyama, particularly Kawabata’s research into shizen-nerikomi, or natural marble.

Shinzen-nerikomi involves using two or three different rice paddy clays and then meticulously processing the clay by drying it, picking out by hand impurities such as pebbles, and then wedging and slicing the blended clay. All in all Yokoyama says the time-consuming process takes ten times longer than if one simply uses traditional Bizen clay. Yet it’s that added attention to material that brings to life his shizen-merikomi, seen here in the large orbed vase and the boat-form flower vessel. My sake cup is also shizen-nerikomi. All the shizen-nerikomi works are either hand-coiled or slab-built, as the clay is too brittle for a potter’s wheel.

In his large kiln that he fires only twice a year there are between 1,500 and 2,000 pieces, with his shizen-nerikomi usually accounting for about one-fourth of the total. The rest are more traditional Bizen firing styles. Yokoyama understands the value and importance of both. He’s also broadening the appeal of Bizen by challenging what the style can be, not only in his addictive shizen-nerikomi works, but also in his imaginative forms. For such work, he was even recently selected as one of the most popular under-50 potters in Japan by the leading Japanese ceramic art quarterly Honoho no Geijutsu. Approach Yokoyama’s work with caution, though; you may get hooked.





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