Later in the week in Kyoto

It’s a dull overcast Sunday morning, so we decide to stroll over to the National Museum. On the walk it starts to shower a light sprinkle of rain. A good reason to spend half the day inside the temple of culture, keeping dry and warm. Unfortunately everybody else in Kyoto is thinking the same thing, only they seem to have set off much earlier than we did.

So, by the time we arrive at the museum in mid morning, there is a queue zig zagging back and forth across the quadrangle, like the ones that you have to wait in at the air port bag drop. Then the queue isn’t finished yet, it snakes out of the gates of the museum and meanders up the street. Right up the street! I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Fortunately, there are plenty of security on hand to direct the glacially slow passage of humanity up the street.

Just for our information, we decide to follow it all the way around the corner and into the big car park, were it does another airport style flail. We don’t bother to follow it in there, we’ve see enough. This will be at least a four hour wait in the rain.

It does make me ask myself, what is so important in there that all these people are prepared to wait so long to see. All we know from the posters, is that it is a show of some National Treasure items. I don’t know exactly what they are, but they must be important.

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We decide to keep walking past the tail end of the queue. We’ll come back another day.

The Kawai Museum is just around the corner, so even though we have been there a number of times before, it’s still an interesting slice of history and there are some lovely pots displayed and some of the items are changed each time I’ve visited. I’m still impressed by the mans individuality and amazing creativity

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It’s a beautiful old kiln. I’m still amazed that they were able to keep on firing it right up until the mid sixties, right in the heart of the city like that. The kiln has a longer history than just Kawai. I was told that Kawai inherited it from one of his teachers and then built his house in front of it. It was far too big for him to fill alone, so he rented out space in the kiln to other local potters. The kiln was fired on the same day in the month, every month. All the potters knew the date to turn up and fill their own pre-booked space. It provided Kawai an income, and the local potters a chance to get their work wood fired. The house he had built is not a typical Japanese house. It was designed by Kawai to reflect his particular taste and has some unusual features.

It’s lunch time by the time we finish up with Kawai. We walk up the chawanzaka street and start to look for a place to eat. Everything is so full that there are waiting queues out side. We keep on walking. We decide to head for the Museum of Cloisonné, up in the North of the city, so take the philosophers path that leads up in that direction. Everything is crowded and full. as we start to leave the shopping district We notice a sign in a very narrow ally. It looks new and I’m pretty sure that it   wasn’t there last year. Black painted Kanji on newly polished pine wood. It looks like the sort of sign that would indicate a restaurant. It’s in Japanese and I can’t read it literally, but I think that I can read its intension, so I walk up to investigate. It seems to lead to another little by-way and sure enough,  there is a new sushi bar. We go in. the chef welcomes us in. I ask how long he has been open and he tells us that he has only been here for one month. We order his sushi ‘set’ and a cold dry sake.

We are the only customers in the place. I don’t know how he is going to make a living. He seems a nice guy and the food and service were excellent. It was amazing to have the place to ourselves. The food starts to flow and continues. We spend a lovely hour chatting to him using charades, my very limited language and my phone translation app. He asks us where we are from and I tell him Australia. He replies, “Shiraz”!

I love os-torr-ray-re-a shiraz! We can only agree with him. So do we.

I ask if he has been there and he tells me No. But then goes on to tell me a very long wistful story that is in fast Japanese that I can’t follow. He’s a bit impassioned and speaks quite fast. He doesn’t realise that I can’t speak Japanese all that well – if at all, but I can sometimes work out what is going on around me after a week or so and I get my ‘ear in’ as it were. So now I think that he’s telling me that he wanted to travel, but there was the very long apprenticeship and this over-lapped with his marriage and then the kids came along, and now he has worked his way up to getting his own place! Life just Happens! I nod, Yes. I know!

Even though I don’t, but I think that I do.

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We try two different medium dry sakés as we progress through his courses of culinary delights. It’s a really worthwhile simple pleasure and an hour of my life well spent. Before we leave, he offers us a very small chilled glass of a sweet fruity after-dinner style saké to finish the meal. Really great mouth-filling flavour mmm! It’s a very beautiful gesture and  gratefully received and appreciated. If you ever go to Kyoto. Go there! Support this guy. – If you can find him?

I’m very pleased when another couple come in just as we are about to leave. I’d hate to think of him waiting there in an empty shop.

We continue on our way to the Museum of Cloisonné on the other side of town. The rain is clearing, so we keep on walking. It takes us about an hour, but is a very pleasant affair. I’ve never been there before, but a quick glance at the map tells me that if I follow a series of interconnected canals and streams, or the roads that follow along them rather closely, it will take me there, or to within 100 metres. So we do and it does.

 

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Along the way we get a few little glimpses of Sunday morning life in Kyoto’s back streets. There is a man down in one of the little streams along the way, that flows into the canal. He’s spending his morning cleaning out all the weeds and rubbish that have washed down during the week. Somehow, it is a nice warm feeling to see someone doing their ordinary civic duty. I appreciate his gesture, but can’t tell him. I wonder what people think when they drive past me on our dirt road and see me cleaning the gutters and picking up the MacDonald’s wrappers and beer bottles with my wheel barrow and shovel? The big difference is that I’m not doing any civic duty, I’m clearing the gutters because the water that will eventually flow down there when it rains, will end up in my dam. So I’m just being selfish. It’s not the same.

When they built this canal in Kyoto, someone thought to build in a small narrow set of stairs, so the locals can just duck down and access the water.

It is an interesting walk through a part of town that we hadn’t been before and really worthwhile. The cloisonné Museum is just where we expect it to be and we find it easily.

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IMG_9362 Namikawa Yasuyuki was a very famous Cloisonné artist who lived and worked in Kyoto from 1868 to 1926. His museum is in his old house and is of the old-fashioned Kyoto style called ‘machiya’ . Namikawa became very wealthy from his work as he invented new styles of working and new techniques. I’m not particularly interested in Cloisonné, but I’m very impressed by the technical genius and level of skill. It’s hard to believe that this level of fine detail could have been achieved prior to the invention of oxy torches, plasma cutting and tig welding. As it turns out Namikawa didn’t actually do the manual work. He just designed it. He had a righthand man called Nakahara Tessen. He was the real genius! But as with all things, it’s a union that makes for a greater whole.

Still, I’m actually more interested in the garden. Namikawa had diverted the local small stream into his garden and had a pond built-in, under and around the house then through the garden. He was rather rich by his mid-career, he could afford it and had good sense of style and taste. It’s a beautiful space and a lasting credit to him.

I’m writing this up on Xmas day,  we spend a quiet day trying to restrain ourselves from doing any outside work. There is plenty that needs doing, but I put on clean clothes to stop my self from going down to the studio and working. We have a small restrained lunch of a small amount of cheese, some home-made hommus and beetroot dips, a few tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, toast and a glass of good red. Simple, fresh and wholesome.

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I went out yesterday and while cleaning the gravel from the gutters to improve the road drainage, I decided to wheel barrow the spoils up to my neighbours place and I filled in two big holes in his drive way with the gravel. He doesn’t know it yet, but that job needed doing for a couple of years. As the holes grew bigger, deeper and filled with water. I thought, I should do something about that. So as my Xmas gesture to my neighbour. I go up and fill in the pot holes in his drive. That will be his xmas surprise, the next time he drives out.

Its a very quiet peaceful and non-commercial xmas.

A Week in Kyoto

Our Poverty Air flight puts us down in Osaka and we make our way to the airport station to catch the train to Kyoto. It’s about an hour and a half to Kyoto central station, then we have to get to the North of the city with our bags, so we opt for a cab as it’s getting late and to top it off, it’s starting to rain. I know the way to where our inn ought to be, but it’s a good 30 to 40 mins walk in the dark with our wheely suitcases, so we hang the expense and choose comfort & speed.

We are now staying in a very small inn in the Gion District. This is where you are most likely to see real Geiko and Maiko (not just tourist maiko-overs), on their way to and from work in the specially designated places where they are employed.  This is a bit of a glam area for us, so I was quite surprised to find a very old house/workshop that had been converted into a very small inn. Only 5 rooms and still very reasonable, so much so that we can afford to stay there. It’s just off the main granite paved Geisha/Geiko/Maiko street and up a very narrow walking lane, just 1.2 m wide. It’s in an all wooden building area and because of its location in an ancient lane, off a pedestrian street, it is one of the quietest places that I have stayed in.

Each day as we come and go from our lodgings, we see the Maiko walking to and fro between jobs and training sessions. Sometimes alone, but nearly always with a minder. On this occasion, as one of the Geiko walks right past me I say quietly, “you are beautiful”.

She stops dead and turns to me, blank faced, no emotion in her practised impasto guise at all. Her minder, a much older lady, who is walking beside her says to me. “Do you want a picture?”. Her minder takes my phone and clicks this image. They turn and walk off, straight into one of the small doorways nearby and disappear inside.

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We make our way to the Nishiki street food markets one day to buy a special Japanese knife, as requested by a friend. We head for the Aritsugu knife shop. The Aritsugu family were originally sword smiths, founded in 1560, but as the need for Samurai declined they reinvented themselves as kitchen knife makers and have developed a remarkable reputation as one of the best. The current master is the 18th generation of the family to run the shop and business. They are certainly very accessible here in the Nishiki food market. The shop is alway packed and difficult to manoeuvre around in the narrow isle between the glass cabinets of beautiful trays of knives. I have bought 3 knives here over the years.

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While we are wandering, we notice that there is a new sushi restaurant opened up in the street. We can’t resist and take a peek inside past the noren. It’s very stylish and restrained. We like it, so go in. There are just two seats left at the bar. It’s meant to be.

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There are only two choices on the menu. 7 or 10 servings. We go for the full 10 pieces. We are served tea and a hot wash cloth. Our man speaks just a little English, which makes everything a lot easier. He asks us, “Wasabi OK”? We tell him, “Yes indeed, we’re fine with wasabi”. He makes each piece for us individually, one at a time and names the species of fish each time, once in Japanese and then in English. He also offers the advice of whether we should use soy with it or not. A couple of the servings have already been treated with a vinegar dressing and he suggests, “This one – No soy”.

The rice is perfect. Not warm or cold just right, Goldilocks rice. There is a very long tradition of making sushi rice. It has a huge history and part of the 7 year apprenticeship to become a sushi chef is learning the vagaries of rice.

The special sticky rice used to make sushi varies from strain to strain and also from the differing climatic zones of Japan. It also has slight differences from year to year and harvest to harvest. Nothing is certain. the chef has to be able to understand these subtle variations and choose the rice of the season that best suits his approach to sushi. Then there is the preparation. The age of the rice has to be taken into consideration. To wash or not to wash, to soak or not to soak. How long to boil before the long slow simmer – if at all. The real skill is however involved, not in the cooking, but in the cooling. This involves fanning the rice to cool it and the secret additions of the vinegar, sugar, salt, sometimes sake and whatever else. Every sushi chef has an opinion and a secret recipe. The restaurant develops a house style that is appropriate to the clientelle, the district, the Ken, the island and the season. These variations are all considered to ensure consistency. In Kyoto, they seem to serve it a little bit sweeter than in Tokyo, a bit like the variations in Miso. The Kyoto speciality is white ‘shira’ miso which is sweeter then the northern saltier ‘aka’ red  style.

I been told that the best sushi chefs can dip their hand into the rice bowl without looking and scoop up the exact amount of rice everytime to within a gram. Then, and this part I don’t believe. He will scoop, round, pat, squeeze and swivel the little ball so that all the grains of rice face the same direction! I looked closely, my man wasn’t choosing to display this skill to me. Maybe I wasn’t paying him enough?

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We enjoy or sushi with the chef’s recommendation of a bowl of sake, not too dry and not at all sweet. On the dry side of the middle range. It’s a very nice accompaniment.

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We reflect on our beautiful day in Kyoto as we walk home along the Kamu.

Post-Conference Surprise

As part of the conference proceedings we are all asked to do a demonstration over two consecutive days. On the first day, we all make a few things that represent a sample of what we do. These pieces are left to stiffen overnight and the following day we finish them off before the assembled conference audience, who walk around and chat to us to get better informed about what we do. My translator shares herself between me and  Janine, who also demonstrates. Janine draws a much bigger audience than I do as her work is intricate, decorative so much more interesting to watch.
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After the conference is wound up. All the presenters, their translators and all the Museum staff are taken to dinner by the Museum Director, Mr Jung. We enjoy a full Korean banquet and after the meal, Mr Jung performs a traditional Korean drinking trick to amuse us. He mixes Korean choshu and beer in different ways, all of which amuse, entertain and surprise us.

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My friend Warren calls this kind of potters beer drinking performance trick “Beertrix Potter” Jokes!
We all assemble at our hotel the next morning for a final breakfast together. I had figured out how Janine and I would catch the series of busses back to the Incheon International airport in time to catch our flight back to Japan. But I shouldn’t have worried. Mr Jung has it all planned. He will deliver all of us to the airport by courtesy limousine provided by the conference. However, before we leave Mr Jung’s assistant, Mr Mun, comes around and gives each of the presenters an envelope. This is good, because I had come here on the understanding that my airfare would be paid, but I had to buy my own ticket and present the receipt to be reimbursed. Other than that, I knew very little else about the conference or its schedule before I arrived. All my information was relayed to me in Australia via Miss Kang in phone text messages. I had nothing in writing. So I was a bit relieved to see an envelope coming my way at this last moment.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the wad of wan that it contained! Apparently we were to be paid for our presentations and demonstrations. I wasn’t told this beforehand. When Mr. Jung asked me if I would take part in a conference if he organised one in the future. I agreed without hesitation. He then asked me how much I would charge. I replied that I’d be happy to do it for free, just as I have always done here in Australia over the past 40 years. He then offered to pay my fare, and asked me how much my airfare was to get there on that trip. I replied that it cost me about Au$1,200. He visibly recoiled! He sat and thought for a while and then said that he might only be able to afford a one way ticket. I said that would be OK. I’d still come. I really like this guy and feel that I owe him a debt for all the help that he had offered me in my prolonged ‘5 Stones’ project.
Australia is a very long way away from Korea, unlike China and Japan are in respect of Korea. These ‘local’ Asian airfares are in the low hundreds of dollars. So I understood the situation and didn’t expect anything more.
So when I felt the thickness of the envelope, then opened it and saw the massive bundle of notes. I was really quite shocked. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like it. But I was very pleased to receive it. I’ve never earned three million in cash before. Pity it was in Wan and not Dollars!
It’s an easy trip to be collected from our hotel and driven in comfort and style all the way directly to the terminal. Because we have travelled direct, even though we have left later then I would have planned to, we arrive earlier than I had expected.
Mr. Jung sees us into the terminal and checks the flight schedule for us. We are so early that we have time to share coffee and cake, before disappearing into the Airport system to be ‘processed’ through emigration and security. To keep the cost of the airfare as low as possible. We chose to fly with Poverty Air. I’ve flown with them before and we are prepared for the 200 mm leg room and no heating or oxygen to supplement the rarefied air at altitude. We decide not to buy the over priced water on the flight and we have come prepared with a sweater to keep us warm.
Having travelled well prepared, we arrive in Osaka in good shape, just a couple of hours later and make our way to Kyoto on the train. We were not able to book into our usual inn In the Higashiyama ‘pottery’ district, but find another one not too far away. It’s late by the time we get ourselves booked in and settled. We walk out to look for a place to eat, but there is only one place open at this hour in this more remote area, away from the usual tourist haunts. We walk in and sit down to discover that we are in an okonomiyaki cafe. It’s fabulous! It’s a really local little family place. It’s full of kiddies and families. Kids drawing with crayons and pencils on scrap paper with their parents. We are lucky to get two seats at the bar so we can watch the chef a work. At the end of the bar there is a teenage boy with text books out, doing his homework. It’s all so family oriented, noisey and chaotically wholesome.
We order okonomiyaki and omelette.
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It’s a great start to our next week in Kyoto.
Best wishes from
Steve and Janine in Korea and Kyoto

Bodoko

In the boro museum we get to understand some of the history of this amazingly time-consuming and beautiful example of enforced creative frugality.

In the north of Japan there was a history of recycled cloth called ‘bodoko’, sometimes shortened to ‘bodo’. Bodo are made by sewing many small pieces of used and worn cloth together to make a larger sheet. Bodoko sheets are primarily used in childbirth to lay the newborn baby on. They were also used as sleeping sheets when laid over layers of dried leaves or straw on the ground. Times were really tough back then! We live in luxury now and look upon these old fabrics today as cultural art objects, but they were originality created out of the necessities of poverty.

The items of the Boro Museum were collected by Mr. Chuzaburo Tanaka from the mid sixties onwards. He had a love of these old fabrics from his earliest days. Some of the museum displays are fortunately written in English and enlighten us as to more of the history. One of the panels tells us that when a baby died in child-birth, it was buried with nothing other than a stone. To make the baby tougher in its next life!
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It’s a great thrill to see all these old fabrics in a well-lit, well displayed place. There is a wealth of material here in this museum spread over several floors of the building.
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Later we make our way to the local sushi bar for lunch.
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The next morning we are up very early and off to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market for a wander around. The fish market is only a 15 minute walk from where we are staying in a cheap hotel. There are all sorts of stalls in and around the market. There is a very nice Japanese knife stand, but they are very expensive and out of my price range. However there is an enormous range of all sorts of fish and sea food products on sale. I’m particularly taken by the sea urchin pulp with wasabi paste and pickled ginger served in a lovely wooden box.
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There is fresh wasabi root, dried squid and lovely mushrooms. I wish that I had a kitchen, so that I could justify buying some of this.
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I’m quite taken with the fish eggs displayed all in a roe.
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We spend a few minutes watching a master fish chef de-boning a very large tuna. it’s a very skilful art. A big tuna like this cost thousands of dollars just an hour earlier, and is broken down now into smaller affordable pieces for the days sushi and sashimi restaurants.
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We can’t help ourselves. We have to have some more sushi and sashimi after this.
Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Tokyo

Mottainai

Janine and I have just returned from an extended trip to Japan and Korea.
I was lucky enough to be invited to Korea to represent Australia at a conference in the Yanggu Porcelain Museum and Research Centre in Bangsan in South Korea.
I wouldn’t normally go to conferences, but this one was all about single-stone porcelain, its history and its contemporary applications. A topic close to my heart.
They also offered to pay my air fare, which made it a lot easier to decide to go.
However, I wouldn’t usually consider flying half way around the world for just 2 days at a conference. It’s a lot of environmental damage, for just 2 days of interesting experiences. So to make it more worthwhile Janine and I decided to take the month off and go to Korea for an extended time, so that we could catch up with our friends there and also take in some time in Japan on the way.
I can’t really justify taking a month off just now, as I have a lot of orders booked in and we are very busy. Not to mention that there is a lot to do in the garden at this time of year. However, this was a wonderful opportunity not to be missed, so we made efforts to fit it in.
As we had decided to fly via Japan, we arrived in Tokyo and spent a few days visiting galleries and museums. There is a lot to see in Tokyo, but we only had limited time, so we had to be selective and we kept very busy fitting it all in.
There were a lot of Galleries and a lot of shows, but I will only write about a couple, so as not to bore you.
As I am a keen patch-worker, but not for any fashionable reason. My interest in hand stitching patches onto my worn out work clothes is just to extend their life really. However, it also creates something beautiful and unique out of what would otherwise become a rag. It’s something akin to the kinsugi technique that I use to repair chipped and/or broken pots that are meaningful to me and deserve to be repaired and made more beautiful than they were originally, just because I like them and respect them as objects. A nicely repaired chipped pot is more precious than it was before it was damaged. So, the same applies to my old jeans. They become more interesting, beautiful and precious after I have spent a bit of time on them, and it saves the waste of throwing them out and buying new ones every few years.
I can afford to buy new jeans and new shirts, I just choose to repair and maintain my older clothes as a political statement about over-consumption and our throw-away economy. The fact that these things become gorgeous as well is an added bonus.
So, with all this in mind, Janine and I went looking for the ‘Boro’ museum. Boro, is a traditional Japanese word used to describe old clothes and blankets that have been patched, repaired and maintained for several generations because of poverty, but these days these old clothes fetch hundreds of dollars in the antique markets.
The boro Museum is a small private museum in outer Tokyo. We tracked it down and spend a very interesting afternoon there.
Amazingly, there was an exhibition of contemporary indigo fabrics on show on one of the lower floors. Janine just happened to be wearing her indigo dyed Japanese shirt that she bought some years ago on one of our earlier trips to Japan when we visited Mashiko. We spent a bit of time in the old indigo dying workshop in Mashiko while we were there. The indigo dying workshop in Mashiko dates back about 600 years if I remember correctly. The Lady artist showing the fabrics in the Boro museum contemporary gallery recognised the shirt immediately and told us that it was made by her teacher, who has since died. Such a coincidence.
Janine tries on a few pieces of old boro from the collection.
 
 
All these items were simple peasant farmers clothes that were patched out of necessity. A lot of these pieces were made in the north of Japan, in the Aomori Prefecture, where it gets quite cold and the seasons are short. It is too cold to grow cotton up there, so all the clothes were made of hemp and/or other local natural plant fibres, all dyed with indigo to preserve them and make them long wearing. indigo dyed cloth doesn’t rot and insects wont eat it. It is interesting to see old cloth that has both blue and white designs woven into it. In the very old pieces, the white areas have rotted or been eaten away and only the blue indigo dyed areas remain.
Really old and extremely worn out fabric was pulled to pieces and used to stuff bed-clothes, or cut up into strips and rewoven into indigo hemp warp to create new cloth from the old. This recycling, making sure that nothing is wasted, has a term in Japanese. ‘Mottainai’. Which can be literally translated as ‘being too good to waste’.
I have written about my interest in ‘boro’ in the past on this blog. See, “Something boro, something blue”. Posted on
Best wishes from Steve and Janine in Tokyo.

My New Book – 5 Stones

IMG_7383205 pages, 125,000 words, full colour, soft cover. Written, collated, printed and bound on the kitchen table. A very limited edition hand made book.

I have spent the last few weeks and months editing and formatting my new book. This will be my 6th book and 7th if I include my contribution to Handbook for Australian Potters.

This new Book is titled 5 Stones, and details my recent research into single stone porcelain. The book will be launched by Grace Cochrane at the opening of my show at Watters Gallery on Wednesday 16th of August from 6 to 8 pm. I have a selection of single stone porcelain from all 11 sites on show in the exhibition.

15 years ago, I discovered a white porcelain stone near where I live. It made me think about where else porcelain has been discovered and when. Over the past 15 years, I have travelled to each of the places in the world where porcelain was originally discovered/invented independently from first principles and found that they all had something in common, and that thing was a stone called ‘sericite’. It turns out that originally, porcelain wasn’t made from the white clay at all. Kaolin wasn’t involved. All the original porcelains were made from a special type of stone called mica.
My travels led me to China, Korea, Japan, Cornwall, France and Germany. I even developed communications with academics in California, Alaska and London. Then finally back to Mittagong in Australia. Near to where I started.  I have made my porcelain pieces out of these weird and interesting materials in remote villages, artist studios, back rooms, workshops, even factories. Where-ever I could track down and find amenable people using this ancient technique who were open to collaboration. 
At each site that I visited I made works out of the local porcelain stone, but I also used the opportunity to collect samples of their stone and posted these rocks back to Australia where I could process them myself and make local, contemporary versions of these ancient porcelains. I collected native porcelain stone material from 11 sites around the world and have made what I think are beautiful pots from them, both on-site, where that was still possible and back at home in my own workshop. 
This exhibition shows results of my firings and 15 years of research into these single-stone native porcelains. To coincide with this show I have written a travel journal documenting my travels. My book, titled ‘5 Stones’ will be launched at the opening by Grace Cochrane. The book stands alone in its own right as a travellers tale, as it has its own characters and arc of narrative, but also helps to illuminate the story behind the actual works on display in the show.
I have works in the show that were fired on-site in clean conditions to give very white and translucent pieces and I also have the same materials fired at home in my wood fired kiln with very different results.
4 of the 11 examples are made from porcelain that is no longer available, as 2 of the sites are lost forever and another two have complications.
I consider my self very lucky to have been able to get my hands on all of these ancient and very special porcelain materials. This will be the first and only time that all these porcelain ‘clays’ have ever been shown together in the one place.
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Unglazed and flashed wood fired Arita porcelain
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Wood fired and celadon glazed Japanese porcelain, fired in my kiln in Balamoral.
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Korean porcelain made onsite in Korea
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Woodfired Japanese porcelain
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My woodfired local Joadja porcelain, showing some carbon inclusion on rim and base.
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Korean porcelain stone body, woodfired in my studio.
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Amakusa porcelain from Japan, made in Arita.
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My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with a lot of ember and ash contact. The intense carbon inclusion reduces the translucency.
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My local Joadja Aplite porcelain, wood fired with ember and ash contact.

Something boro, Something blue

I have started to get stuck into the pile of shirts and jeans that need repairing. I have managed to wear out several pieces of clothing in recent weeks, all work wear items, worn through in the regions of highest wear.

The most critical was my welding shirt, which has worn very well for many years, possibly 5 or 6 years. It had become a bit threadbare and almost transparent at the front. To the point that I got a radiation burn on my tummy after spending a day welding up all the seams on the recent kiln. I didn’t realise at the time of it happening, that I’d torn a hole through it. I had a ‘T’ shirt on as well but it wasn’t enought, as you don’t feel radiation, but in the evening, when I showered, I got a nasty shock.
So my first job is to add some dense dark fabric to the front of my shirt. I also have a few pairs of jeans that have worn through in the front thighs and knees, but also suspiciously in the crotch? I’m guessing that this is from sitting on the Leach-style potters kick wheel wooden saddle? I’m hoping so, as I can’t think of any other reason.
These are some sort of stretchy jean fabric, so I steal the off-cuts from the bottom of the legs of Janine’s new turquoise stretch jeans, that she had to shorten, so as to get the same weight and stretch of the materials matched. The colours work OK too. Perhaps not in public? I’d feel a bit like one of those Japanese monkeys!
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I have quite a collection of used, 2nd hand, Japanese indigo fabrics. I buy these off-cuts and old recycled pieces of clothing whenever I go to Japan. They are still plentiful and reasonably cheap in the markets. I really like them. indigo dyed fabric is so long-lasting because of the preserving effect of the indigo. I also just happen to love the colour. There was a time, when I was younger, when I couldn’t feel really comfortable in the colour blue, I preferred orange, then my favourite colour morphed into yellow, eventually into green, and finally I’m OK with blue and mauve, or even a bit of purple. I guess that this leads me to thinking that I’ll end up wearing red. Perhaps I’ll go full circle and wear yellow again? Or will I finally end up liking white? I doubt that. I lead a very busy life. I just can’t wear white. It gets dirty so quickly.
What ever the reason, I’m very happy to wear Japanese indigo fabric as patches on my clothes. The Japanese even have a specific word for this, and it’s called ‘boro’. The repair or mending of worn clothing with patches to prolong their life. It was always seen as something shameful in the past, when it was a sign of poverty, but these days, I’m starting to see Japanese patchwork clothing everywhere. It’s finally trendy. I don’t do it because it’s trendy. I’ve been patching my clothes ever since I learnt to sew. My mother taught me to sew on my own buttons, take up my the legs of my new jeans and hem them. So it wasn’t such a big step to add a patch or two as needed.
Next, I work on my worn out shorts that need a new front to one leg.
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then the jeans.
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An earlier pair from the time when I was transitioning out of orange through yellow into green.
This activity fits in well with my philosophy of self-reliance and not throwing anything out until it is really worn out. For me this is not any statement of fashion, as fashion is just not on my radar at all. It’s a political statement. Not consuming stuff that you don’t really need and making things last, it’s cutting against all the advertising and market pressures. Over consuming is polluting the world with toxic landfill and adding to global warming. So much of what we are encouraged to buy is just not necessary. So I’ve decided to minimise my spending and as a result, I’ve found that I have more money left over for the things that I really want and need, when I really need them.
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I spend my evenings these days sitting comfortably and listening to music or listening to the idiot box with half an eye to the screen, while I pin-up and stitch my patches. Some of these clothes that I’m working on go back 15 years and they are still going, and I believe becoming more interesting as they display their work life and history. I’m applying new patches over worn-out older ones. The layers just keep building. It’s an interesting topography of work, wear and repair. A 3D sculpture or installation that gently illustrates environmental activism as some sort of artwork.
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I’m pretty sure that it’s not art, It’s not quite ‘boro’, it’s possibly interesting, maybe it’s beautiful? Maybe not?. Otherwise it’s certainly ‘creative’ and a nice piece of re-cycling, re-purposing and life-cycle extending handiwork. After-all, it’s just work-wear.
If nothing else, it’s a very rewarding evenings entertainment.
Best wishes
Steve