Art form fuses man and nature
Almost five hundred people visited the home studio of artist Toshiro Tsubokura during last month’s Circuit des Arts Memphremagog and, judging by the small number of pieces of Shino-glazed pottery that was left in his studio earlier this month, many
of them didn’t go away empty-handed.
Born in Japan, Mr. Tsubokura studied photography and lithography at Seika University, in Kyoto, then worked in photography, graphic design and garden design before discovering his passion for pottery. “When I decided to start doing pottery, I had my favourite: Shino pottery,” said Mr. Tsubokura in an interview at his home in North Hatley.
Shino glazed pottery is made with a glazing tech- nique first created during the Momoyama Period in 16th century Japan. “Tea ceremonies also became very popular during the same time; it was a very rich, artistic period, known as the ‘Japanese Renaissance’. One very old tea cup that is considered a national treasure in Japan is Shino pottery,” explained the artist.
The Shino glazing method creates a unique finish on both hand-shaped or wheel thrown pieces, from milky, satiny white in colour to pink and orange shades and much deeper, almost metallic tones on some of Toshiro’s work. The glaze often features speckling in varying degrees, adding to the texture of each piece.
A self-taught potter, memories of Toshiro’s childhood came flooding back when he began working with clay. “I began remembering playing with clay when I was a child of probably three or four. My mother’s family produced clay roof tiles.”
The learning process wasn’t without its hurdles. “In pottery, the clay chooses the glaze. I needed to find the right clay for Shino. I tested a lot of clay but often the colour and texture wasn’t right. After two years I found the right clay in a pottery store in Laval. I did a lot of firing of clay and threw away a lot of pieces, but I was determined,” said Mr. Tsubokura. Many ceramists actually avoid the Shino glazing technique because of the high failure rate during the firing of the pieces.
Not only has Mr. Tsubokura improved his glazing technique since he first took up pottery almost fifteen years ago, he has also moved from working manually to using a wheel. “At first I made pinch pots; three years ago I started using an electric wheel,” said the artist as he showed me around his studio.
“Every time you fire a piece in the kiln you get a different result. Inside the kiln, the piece is affected by the weather outside so you must be aware of all the weather. It is still challenging and I’m still learning. I’m changing, getting better.” The integral connection with nature is what this artist seems to value most about his art. “When I create a piece, I put my mind, love, passion, sweat and time into it. Then it goes into the kiln and I can’t do anything more but pray; it’s up to the fire, wind, earth and rain. I cannot sleep well when I have a piece in the kiln.”
Mr. Tsubokura’s most recent works have been very light, milky white in colour, with simple lines and textures. “I felt like I was in mourning after the earthquake in Japan. People had different reactions to the work and some were surprised, but they could understand why.”
Many of the people who visited the studio during the art tour got an extra treat during their stop: a tour of the enchanted garden surrounding the home of Toshiro and his partner, award-winning impresario Uriel Luft.
Asked if he liked living in the Eastern Townships compared to Montreal, where he first lived after coming to Canada, Toshiro answered: “Yes, very much so. I needed to be in nature. The people here are very nice and it’s very convenient, close to Montreal, Sherbrooke and Lennoxville. I was a photographer first so I’m a watcher. I’ve seen that people living in nature live a calm, simpler life. That lifestyle keeps me calm and gives me a good feeling. I’m very happy to be a part of that culture. If we were still living in Montreal, we wouldn’t have that.”
The next exposition that Mr. Tsubokura will be taking part in is the “Chant de la Terre” exhibition, this fall, in Baie St. Paul, the famous Quebec Mecca for artists.
Artist Toshiro Tsubokura draws inspiration from the natural beauty surrounding his home in North Hatley.