Saturday, July 10, 2010

The quiet of Toshiko Takaezu

It is always inspiring to come in contact with the work of a genius, especially a genius in your genre.  It's heady, observing the physical manifestation of all that "could be", all those choices, having been weighed and manipulated by someone with deft mind and hands.  And the result stands there before you, decisions having been contemplated and made, close enough to touch.  (And, for the record, though my fingers were itching, I did not.)

I have loved the work of Toshiko Takaezu from the first day I saw her massive Three Graces at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton.  There the three figures stand, larger than us, than life, against the grass, trees, blue sky. They "grace"fully bridge the gap between art and nature, are strong enough to hold their ground against the ground.  They do not get lost. The figures and the landscape are better together than apart.

I appreciate Takaezu's need to liberate herself from the restrictions of the wheel, combining throwing with handbuilding, to create these large-scale works.  I appreciate that she was one of the first modern potters to successfully close her pots, and in doing so, elevated the modest pot to something else completely.

So this week, it was a gift to visit the Princeton Art Museum for Takaezu's quiet show: Presence and Remembrance, a tribute to the thirteen Princeton alumni who were lost on September 11, 2001.

Nineteen pots are tucked into a small gallery on the second floor.  The show is part jewel box, part zen garden.  Some are from the permanent collection there, some on loan.  The designs seem simple and effortless, though I am old enough now to know that things that seem simple and effortless are a result of years and years of exactly the opposite.

Just as her actual, unapologetic fingerprints are on these vessels, her "fingerprint" is on these vessels.  The glazes are matte, painterly.  Look closely at the colors. You might think they're just brown or black, but there are the most beautiful subtle shades of indigo, violet, even raspberry.

I don't want to say too much about them, because it does not do them justice.  Just go there, if you can. Though several pieces are over three, four, five feet tall, it is not just their physical size that makes their "presence" known.  They stand like sentinels, watching us, guarding us, remembering.

The show at the Princeton Art Museum runs from now until September 11th.