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Touch Fire, Smith College Ceramics Exhibit
sonja holmberg 11 staff writer
December 15, 2009

Touch Fire: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics by Women Artists is a unique exhibit on show at The Smith College Art Museum through February 2010. The exhibit, consisting of work by 21 female ceramicists, showcases the artistic breadth of women artists throughout Japan. The 94 ceramic pieces in the exhibit, all lent by an alumna of Smith College, consist of diverse styles, ranging from Ono Hakuko’s spherical gold and platinum leafed vases to Takano Miho’s “Robot Girl” series. “Touch Fire” is sure to attract a wide range of visitors with myriad artistic interests.

Upon entering the exhibit you are greeted by the Georgia O’Keefe-esque work of Shigematsu Ayumi, a ceramicist hailing from Toyanaka, Osaka. Shigematsu’s pieces, such as “Yellow Orifice,” “Yellow Tip,” “Sweet Gardenia,” “Ferengi,” and “Pink-O” are all made with stoneware, clay slip, and pigments. Her works are characterized by sensual curves and matte finishes with rich, blending pastels. The organic forms of her ceramics often resemble flowers or bodies. Because of their natural shapes, Shigematsu’s ceramics look different, yet equally pleasing from every angle.

Hoshimo Kayoto, from the Fukuoka Prefecture, presents work with a contrasting style, but the same amount of mastery. All of her pieces, such as “Stand and Fall’ (2007), are made with stoneware, glaze and silver luster. Unlike Shigematsu’s work, Hoshimo’s trademark is silver ceramics in angular and geometric shapes. The silver luster finish heightens the contrast between rough edges and smooth interiors in Hoshimo’s sharp rock-like forms. However, Hoshimo’s piece entitled “Glazed Dish” strays from this established technique by incorporating subtle blues and purples into the silver luster.

Juxtaposed with Hoshino’s jagged shapes, Ono Hakuko, born in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, works mainly with large, spherical forms. Hakuko’s pieces, such as “Circle (Gold yun-kinsai vessel)” and “Shape of the Stars (Platinum yun-kinsai vessel)” are made with porcelain, gold leaf (first) and platinum leaf (second), and glaze. One feature that sets Ono’s work apart from others is the richness of color and the stunning iridescence of the gold and platinum leaf. The polka-dots sported by both pieces also lend to a bold and humorous tone. Ono Hakuko also shows more traditional styles in her pieces “Kinrande on Red Ground” and “Kinrande Kago”.

Unlike Ono, but with a similar humorous appeal, Mashima Kimiyo, of Osaka, reflects Pop artist sensation Andy Warhol in her fun and innovative works. “Sunkist Lemon Box” and Australia Postpak Box” depict utilitarian boxes stuffed with newspaper, all made entirely from silk-screened stoneware. While these serve as decorative sculptures, Mashima’s “Platter and Seven Plates” have a functional purpose. The platter and plates are all handbuilt and made to look like Japanese newspaper clippings.

In a complete departure from Mashima’s Pop Art style, Koike Shoko, born in Beijing, China, brings elegance and delicacy to the world of ceramics. Shoko’s “Shell vessel” series, made from stoneware, clay slip, and silver luster, are characterized by conch shell shapes, rough and natural forms, and white glazes with various undertones. All of these features lend an oceanic tone to the tasteful sculptures.

Like Mashima, Koike also experimented with functional pieces, such as her cerulean blue-rimmed “Tea Bowl”. More abstract pieces, such as “White Peak and Rough Water” were also a style departure for Koike. This piece, made with stoneware, clay slip, ash, and glaze, resembled an open clam shell with a bright blue pool of glaze serving as the focal point.

As with Koike’s work, elegance plays a key role in the pieces of Kitamura Junko of Kyoto. Kitamura’s works, such as “Great Wave,” “Plate with Seascape,” “Vase with Seascape,” “Plate With Geometric Pattern,” “Large Double-Ellipse Vessel,” “Double Walled Vessel,” and “Cone Vase” are made with stoneware and white slip. The smooth and aesthetically pleasing wheel-thrown pieces are adorned with white dots, which contrast beautifully with the black backgrounds. In the spirit of pointalism, the placement of these dots provides Kitamura’s works with an element of movement and the patterns are at once classic and contemporary.

Transitioning to an entirely modern style, the pieces of Takano Miho of Osaka, are action-figure-esque and sculptural. Constructed from stoneware, clay slip, and enamels, the pieces in Takano’s “Robot Girl” series look like larger versions of the figurines found in magazines such as “Juxtapose,” “Hi Fructose,” or websites like These pieces present futuristic, mechanical, and abstracted female forms. One piece appears to have the legs of a tripod, while the works in the “Chattering Girls in Spring” series have large shiny red lips in various positions. To add to the contemporary tone, parts of the glaze on Takano’s works look as though they were spray-painted on.

Needless to say, the variety and quality of the work in “Touch Fire” are truly astounding. Even if you have never participated in ceramics, or any art form before, you are guaranteed to find something in this exhibit to spark your interest. Traditionally forbidden from participating in this art, these women ceramicists have broken the mold and proven themselves to be incredibly capable, talented, and imaginative. “Touch Fire” will be open until February 28th 2010, so if you are looking for something to do on a weekend or over break, look beyond the hills and into the Smith College Art Museum.