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.
205 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.
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.
We live in an age of instant access to information and news, except that it’s all mostly bad. I’ve stopped watching the news. It’s all too depressing. I don’t want to be ‘connected’ to this. I want my interactions to be quiet, peaceful and positive. I want to choose a constructive, creative, engagement with my environment and the people around me.
I have spent my life developing a philosophy of minimal consumption and self-reliance. I believe in not buying anything that I don’t need and not throwing anything away that isn’t fully worn out. This has been part of an exploration of how it might be possible to live frugally and gently in a faster, noisier and bigger world of seemingly senseless and excessive consumerism.
My Partner Janine King and I work in isolation, making only what pleases us. This is not good business practice, but we don’t think of ourselves as being in business. We are trying to live an independent creative life, that is sensitive to our surroundings, gentle on the earth, low-carbon and low-impact on others around us. We are attempting to live this life of small monetary rewards, but high satisfaction and so far it seems to be working out OK for us.
I work with the raw materials that I can find around me in my immediate locality and then research and test them, to attempt to discover what interesting qualities they exhibit and then try to make original ‘location-specific’ works from them. I find this approach most fascinating and very rewarding. I have discovered a single-stone native porcelain, and developed a body from it that is very beautiful, especially when wood fired. I have also found and developed a single-stone, washed basalt gravel, blackware body that is gorgeous. These two special materials are the result of a lifetimes research. Not much to show for a life, but I continue to create these Senseless Acts of Beauty, because it pleases me. I am under no illusions. I know that I could not have lived this quality of life without Janine as my partner to help me achieve it, but most importantly, we have been very lucky to have lived this simple, artistic life in Australia, where there has been no civil unrest.
It has been my intension during my career to make simple, elegant, and hopefully beautiful bowls. These bowls have been significantly influenced by Japanese and Chinese aesthetics as well as the Japanese culture of tea and Zen Buddhism I’m not a Buddhist. But some of the thinking around Zen practice has influenced my quest to live a simple, non-consumerist, low-carbon life. When I was studying the origins of single-stone porcelain in Japan recently. I did a course in Kintsugi. The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer and pure gold. I have started to repair some of my more interesting failures using this technique.
Kintsugi embodies three Buddhist concepts and makes them tangible. The first is ‘wabi-sabi’. Realising that something that is flawed and imperfect can still be extraordinarily beautiful The second is ‘mushin’, the concept of non-attachment and acceptance of change. Nothing is perfect, nothing lasts and nothing is ever finished. The last is ‘mono no aware’, a certain wistfulness at the impermanence of things. We are only here for such a short time together. Our transience is a reality of our life. Embrace the moment as it is.
I feel that when I repair a beautiful pot that is broken, damaged or otherwise ‘non-perfect’ in a Western, conservative sense, I make it all the more beautiful. Spending time recovering and enhancing something that is otherwise lost, is a sign of great respect for that object. It fits well with my philosophy of minimal-consumption, self-reliance and making things last as long as possible.
Because kintsugi has been called the art of embracing damage, it occurred to me that these, recovered bowls might be a suitable and beautiful metaphor for recovery from conflict. Hence my offering them for inclusion in this up-coming end-of-year show at Watters Gallery called ‘war’.
I have very few ambitions in life. When I was young I decided that I would live in the country and to grow my own food, to make a creative life of some sort, build my own house, and live a self-reliant life. I have more-or-less fulfilled all of these modest ambitions. My lasting ambition is to make things that are meaningful, simple and modest. I go about this work of creating random acts of beauty without any regard to the effect that it may have on others. I am selfish, but not thoughtless.
Our indigenous peoples have a long tradition of respectful collecting, gathering and hunting. I feel that my small experiments interacting with the natural world, collecting stones to grind up to make my pots are compatible as a contemporary continuation/interpretation of this ancient practice. It respects place and biota. It’s 40 years since I moved to this small Village in the Southern Highlands south of Sydney. I’m pretty self-contained here. I don’t want for a lot, so I have everything that I need and I am grateful for that.
My bowls are small, simple gestures. They appear to be empty, but are in fact full of good wishes and calm, thoughtful intent.
The exhibition ‘War’ at Watters Gallery opens on Wednesday 23rd of November.
We are now just back from our 5 weeks in Japan continuing our research into single stone porcelain. We were lucky enough to get to many more sites on this visit, where porcelain stone is, or has been mined. See my earlier posts below.
I have been able to make a few nice pots while I’ve been here. Actually, I made a lot of pots, but destroyed all of inferior work that wasn’t up to scratch and didn’t make the cut. I’m not here to make rubbish. I want to make things that I can be proud of, nothing less. My rejected pots have all been crushed up to dry powder, packed into boxes and shipped back home for a possible 2nd life. My best work was glazed and fired onsite and also shipped home. All my efforts are currently in containers at the port or on the high seas. I will see them again in 2 months. Hopefully they will still look as good when we are reunited.
This work is all a part of my 10 year project to go to all the places in the world where single stone porcelain has been made and then make some work at each of these places, out of the material that is to be found there. These works will then be shipped back here to Australia, where I will exhibit the whole body of work from all the sites along-side my own single stone porcelain pots, that I have made here, in one big show. I’m rather hoping that it will look good when all amassed together in one show. Only time will tell. I’m almost finished. Next year should see the end of it.
As soon as we are back home and settled in. We unpack our bags and put on a load of our soiled clothes into the washing machine, which grumbles and squeeks as it grinds along. I can’t complain, this machine is over twenty years old and still going – just. I think that it is the leaking water pump that is the problem. I have a new one in stock. I ordered it months ago when I noticed the water starting to leak from underneath. It took months to get here. It arrived just a week before we left on our long trip. I didn’t have time to install it before we left. Now that I’m back, I will have to make time.
After the basics are dealt with, then it’s straight out into the garden to check out how all the plants have fared while we have been away. Apparently it has been very dry for most of the time, with just one proper fall of rain. Annabelle Slougetté has been living here in our absence and has kept everything alive for us.
The first thing that I notice when I get into the garden, is how dead so much of the garden is. The last of the summer corn, has finished, dried out and turned up its fibrous toes. We made an effort to mulch as much of it as we could in the week before we left and this has really paid off for us. There are so few weeds now. A couple of days of intensive work will bring it all back into healthy production again, as there are loads of winter vegetables coming on. I made an effort to get all these planted early in the season, at the end of summer/early autumn. So, now we have broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and spinach ready to pick.
Surprisingly, many of the late summer plants are still lingering on and still producing food. Others, their time being up, have gone to the big veggie patch in the sky. They will soon be headed into the compost bin, where they will rot down and be fertiliser for next seasons crop of summer vegetables.
As I look around, I see that there are still some little yellow tomatoes ripening on the old, almost dead, vines. We have been picking tomatoes now for 5 months, pretty amazing for us. So this is global warming?
This will likely be the last pick, as the plants have lost all their leaves and are pretty much dead now. Interestingly though, there are still some small new tomato plants germinating and growing up. One is even flowering, but I can’t believe that this will amount to anything, as the first day of winter is only 2 days away. The first frosts can’t be too long after that.
We used to get our first frosts at the beginning of May, now its the end of May or early June and possibly later? A couple of years ago, we went right through winter with only minimal frosts, to the point that we didn’t get any apples on any of the trees the following summer. Apples need a minimum number of frosts (or winter chilling hours) to develop the hormones that are necessary to make the flowers fertile.
I go straight back out into the garden with my basket and fill it with little yellow tomatoes, the last of the lingering sweet basil and a load of capsicums and chillis.
I set about making a tomato/caps/chilli salsa by browning a few onions in good olive oil and adding 6 small knobs of garlic. The ones that are so small at 20 to 30mm. dia. that it really isn’t worth peeling them. They will add heaps of flavour to this mix and the small amount of skins and paper will be removed when I strain the whole batch. I let them softening down along with all the diced fruit over a long time at low heat on the wood fired kitchen stove.
I will pass it all through the kitchen mouli sieve to take out all the tomato and capsicum skins and seeds, then reheat it to sterilise it and bottle it in heated glass jars. It will keep for a year or so, but probably won’t last that long. It’s too delicious, although very ‘hot’ with chilli flavour. It will make a great addition to winter stocks and sauces over the coming cooler months.
This little effort marks the end of our summer preserving for this year. I’m very pleased, as I wasn’t expecting there to be any fruit left to preserve. This simple garden-to-kitchen-to-pantry excercise grounds me and resets my emotional and spirituual compass to ‘home’ after being away. This is what I do. This is what I live for. This is me. The self-reliant potter/gardener.
A close inspection of the garden beds reveals a lot of little germinating seedlings of onions, carrots, beetroot and rocket. I planted these seeds just the week before we left. I also planted a few hundred cloves of garlic. Most of which have now germinated and are showing their green shoots. Peas are also up and growing quite strongly, I hope to see them flowering soon.
There are a lot of capsicums ready to pick, so I decide to stuff them with ricotta and bake them in the oven, as the stove is lit, we are making hot water and warming the house up as well, seeing that we are now home and the weather is so windy and cold. Such a change from the weather in southern Japan, where it was almost summer and the weather was balmy to hot.
I make a stuffing out of whatever we have at hand in the fridge. Before we left I had bottled some little cucumbers and some dried tomatoes. I add these into a lump of fresh ricotta. I add a few cloves of our garlic, along with a few capers and an anchovy or two, a few olives, a shallot and some parsley. I dice it all up and mash it together with some veggie and herb salt substitute. I would like to add a little bit of finely diced feta cheese to give it a little bit of chewy texture to the cheesey mix, but I don’t have any at this time. I’ll add to my shopping list for next trip into town. There are plenty of capsicums left to pick, so we will be having a meal, not unlike this one again in the coming days or weeks. I like to use what I have in the garden and pantry. Our main food expense these days since we lost our chickens and ducks is protein, which these days consists mostly of fish.
The fresh fish truck is up from the coast today, so I buy a small piece of super-fresh sashimi grade kingfish, we have a small fillet for lunch. I skin it and slice it up and we have it with a little soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger in vinegar. Yum. Itadakimas!
On our way home, we let our hair down and go out for dinner a few times. Just cheap places, mostly okonomiyaki. We get three different meals in 3 different cities. We get to try okonomiyaki in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.
Although the technique varies from city to city, from restaurant to restaurant. The general taste is pretty much the same, because most of the ingredients are the same. The overriding flavour is that of the brown okonomiyaki sauce and cabbage. The sauce, which is not unlike brown BBQ sauce and the smothering of kewpie mayonnaise add a very distinctive character. These tend to be the dominant flavours.
There is however, a noticeable variation in texture from place to place. In Osaka the texture of the batter is a little bit creamier. In Tokyo, it was a bit more dense and solid in texture. In Kyoto we saw one place where so little batter was used, that it was mostly the egg holding the whole thing together. Yet in another, there was plenty of flour in the mix.
Of course, I realise that you can’t just eat half a dozen meals and say that these represent the whole of each locality. We were eating at the markets and in cheap cafes and restaurants while in transit around the country. So what I write has to be taken with a sprinkle of bonito flakes and a pinch of salt!
It was an amazing series of taste and textural experiences in a short period of time. The Tokyo version was quite firm with what seemed like a lot of flour in the batter. I noticed that when the chef flipped it over to cook on the other side, the thing bounced a bit like rubber! Very dense indeed. I watched the other chefs cooking other varieties for other customers at the long teppanyaki grill table, and they were all of the same dense texture.
I Kyoto, the batter was a lot thinner and the resulting texture was a lot more fibrous with the cabbage showing a major influence on the finished dish. There is a very slim layer of batter applied to the hot plate first. Then a big pile of cabbage is placed on top. a dressing of some sort of liquid is ladled onto it and after some time a little hole is made in the pile and an egg is cracked into it.
Some more batter is ladled onto the cabbage pile and then the whole thing is flipped over and the other side is cooked. If bacon is to be included, it is added on top just before flipping over.
While in Osaka, the texture was soft and creamy. I’m told that they use a local mountain potato or yam, that when it is grated, it turns directly into a thick, sticky liquid and it is this that defines the taste and texture. I don’t know, so I can’t say. This is just what I was told, so I’m repeating it.
At the Toji markets in Kyoto we make a point of always having the okonomiyaki from the same stall. It’s a hot day this time around and the pancake goes down very well with a chilled beer. It’s a filling cheap and cheerful respite from the crowds and all the hussle and bussle and delicious with it.
In Arita, down in Kyushu, we were served a special okonomiyaki, made at the table of our friend, for a dinner party of mixed international visitors. This was the most rewarding to eat, because of the circumstances and company. We are very fond of the friends that we have made here in Japan and we value their friendship highly.