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KEI - MEMORIES IN CLAY
3 September - 17 September 2016 (Japan Creative Centre)
20 September - 15 October 2016 (Mulan Gallery)
Mulan Gallery, in collaboration with JCC, Embassy of Japan in Singapore andYufuku Gallery, Tokyo , proudly presents Kei - Memories in Clay, a solo exhibition showcasing 12 new sculptures in clay by celebrated artist Ken Mihara of Izumo, Japan. This exhibition will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Singapore-Japan Diplomatic Relations (SJ50), and will mark the culmination of Mihara's celebrated artistic series Kei (Mindscape).
The artist's debut solo exhibition in South-East Asia, Memories in Clay will run from 3 September to 17 September at the Japan Creative Centre (JCC), and will then move to Mulan Gallery from 21 September to 15 October. As the grand finale to Mihara's globally acclaimed series Kei (Mindscape), it will be the last chance to enjoy the aesthetics of Kei within a single exhibition.
Pristine forests, rugged ravines, gentle rivers and quiet mountains. Such are the landscapes that Ken Mihara experienced as a child, growing up in the majestic scenery of Izumo in Western Japan. With natural surroundings of great beauty, steeped in the mysticism of ancient Shinto lore, Mihara’s solemn sculptures in clay have been borne and influenced from idyllic environs reminiscent of Thoreau’s Transcendentalist utopia. His works are far more than odes to nature, however. They are, above all, a window into the artist’s soul, and are totems of self-expression that capture and convey the Ken Mihara of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Mihara’s emphasis on form is realised by an intricate process of hand-coiling using the ironrich clay of Izumo, with its rough, unrefined and grainy textures revealed when fired. Building by hand is the process that allows Mihara to instil and transpose an internal beauty upon his external clay bodies. He does not sketch, or begin work with a certain form in mind. Rather, he allows his hands to “begin a conversation with clay”, and it is through this dialogue that Mihara is “led” by his clay to give birth to unchartered silhouettes. Mihara has always preferred the ambiguity, the uncertainties, and more importantly, the unpredictability of the technique of hand-coiling as opposed to the uniform and methodical approach of the potter’s wheel. He is, in effect, building in clay to search within.
The unique technique of firing a single work three separate times imbues Mihara’s stoneware with vibrant colours and natural kiln effects. After a work is formed and dried, a bisque-firing in Mihara’s gas-kiln is performed. The work is then pulled from the kiln and covered in fire-resistant silica slip, and is placed in the kiln once more to undergo a main firing of 40 hours in length and 1280 degrees Celsius in temperature, whilst moving from oxidation to reduction, and back again. Silica slip is a key element, for it helps to protect the surfaces of his works from direct contact with the kiln fires. This protective shield is shorn away after the first main firing, and the work then further undergoes a second firing of equal duration and temperature with varying complexities in reduction and oxidation, thereby revealing Mihara's trademark colours in greater depth.
Mihara's palettes emerge from deep within his clay surfaces by multiple firings, and are not applied or enhanced with artificial or natural glazes. In essence, each and every Mihara work uses the same clay, but it is the way in which each individual work is uniquely fired - where the work is placed in the kiln, whether it is reduction-fired or oxidised, how the kiln temperature is raised or lowered, and where the flames actually move within the kiln, which give birth to the wild, powerful landscapes that are found on the artist's recent oeuvre. His firings have been perfected to a point where Mihara can now accurately predict whether a work will result in a bluish, greyish or orange hue. Yet incredibly, Mihara records no data in regards to his firings, and relies only on experience and memory to achieve a distinct landscape.
Kei, Mihara's current series, finds the artist wrestling with themes not found in his previous works - the desire for asymmetry, the hope to make his bases disappear, the wish to capture space within the walls of a work itself. In effect, Mihara’s forms have intensified their volatility, their movement, their gracefulness. Yet constantly on the move, the artist is far from satisfied. Kei will be put to rest after his Mulan Gallery exhibition - his first solo exhibition in Asia outside of Japan - and a new form will rise from its ashes. The leisure for complacency is fleeting.
Mihara’s clay monuments are the manifestations of the artist himself. They also very much embody the land of Izumo, his forms limning the landscapes and traditions of ancient Japan, borne through breathing life with fire into ancient clay and earth. Essentially, Mihara, Izumo and clay cannot be separated. They are entwined as one.