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Toshiko Takaezu

American, 1922 - 2011

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One of the most celebrated American ceramic artists, Toshiko Takaezu was born in Pepeekeo, Hawaii, in 1922, and educated at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In 1955, Takaezu traveled to Japan to explore her Japanese heritage and the country's rich ceramic traditions. The creative spirit of Zen and Japanese folk art, an appreciation of irregular form, and spontaneous yet expert decoration have been integral to her work ever since.

Like other artists of her generation in the United States, Takaezu defied preconceptions about artistic expression, breaking from the convention that ceramics are necessarily functional and decorative. By 1958, she had simplified her clay pieces to the essential roundness of a thrown shape, and achieved the difficult challenge of closing these "forms," as she called them, almost entirely. Only a vestigial reminder of their functional origin remained in a small, roughly finished opening at the top. This denial of tradition to concentrate on the essence of ceramic form and material was recognized as a revolutionary breakthrough in ceramic art. Although she has found time to make paintings, sculpture, weavings, and monumental bronze bells, Takaezu has explored the concept of the closed form with constant curiosity and invention for more than forty-five years, creating the tapering and swelling domed cylinders and irregular spheres for which she has become known internationally.

Three-dimensional ceramics proved to be the ideal surface for Takaezu to paint. With a boldness that refers both to Japanese calligraphy and to modern action painting, the artist incorporates all the traditional glazing methods in a ceramist's repertory--brushing, dripping, pouring, applying with fingers--into her work. Takaezu's designs and the spontaneous interaction of glaze with fire result in ceramic objects that reflect the tactile appeal of clay and the infinitely varied texture and color of painted surfaces.

The compelling mood and presence of each work, enhanced by the evocative English, Japanese, and Hawaiian titles that Takaezu gives many of them, embodies her stated goal: "To me an artist is someone quite special. You are not an artist simply because you paint or sculpt or make pots that cannot be used. An artist is a poet in his or her own medium. And when an artist produces a good piece, that work has mystery, an unsaid quality; it is alive."

The Poetry of Clay: The Art of Toshiko Takaezu, 2004

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