Koichiro Isezaki (b. 1974) is one of the most exciting potters working in Japan today, and his first solo exhibition at Goldmark is among our most anticipated of the year. Born to a potting dynasty, Isezaki has combined his exposure to 20th century sculpture and his studies in the West with his deep roots in his local Bizen tradition, producing work that is at once fresh, contemporary and connected deeply with the past.
Koichiro is the son of Bizen’s current Living National Treasure Jun Isezaki (b. 1936), whose brother, Mitsuru (1934-2011), and his own father, Yozan (1902-61), were both designated Okayama Prefecture Intangible Cultural Properties for their contributions to Bizen ware pottery. Like his father, Koichiro has a firm belief in the need for creative innovation, nurtured by an understanding of the methods and values of previous generations. While the fundamental elements of his working practice are the same as those used by potters in Bizen City for over a thousand years, in form and philosophy his work is often radically different.
Having initially studied in the sculptural department of the Tokyo University of the Arts, Koichiro was apprenticed to Jeff Shapiro in New York – a world renowned potter, who had himself been taught by a disciple of Koichiro’s father in Imbe, the original site of Bizen pottery.
Bizen ware is unusual in being entirely unglazed. The local clay is thrown or shaped, and the work fired in a wood-fired kiln for several days, relying on the intense atmosphere of the kiln, the path of the flame, and the mineral body of the clay to produce its rich variety of surface qualities and colours. A traditional technique, still used today, is hidasuki, in which unglazed wares are first wrapped in straw bundles before being placed in the kiln. As the straw burns away in the firing, it leaves its mark on the surface of the pot – a pattern of criss-crossing lines that can be used to emphasise or contrast a form to extraordinary effect.
As inspired by Isamu Noguchi and Brançusi as he is Bizen pottery of the past, Koichiro brings to his work a vitally modern spirit. His recent pots play especially with volume, bending, squashing, and allowing his clay to fold in on itself, creating works that cast their own intriguing internal shadows.