Tenmoku is a type of iron-glazed stoneware originating in China during the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279). It takes its name from the mountain range where it was first produced (Tiānmù-shān), and when translated means, quite fittingly, "heaven's eye." The finest bowls from this early period in its history were fired in massive wood-burning kilns and have a lustrous black glaze with streams of rust red running toward the center.
In the 13th century, tenmoku bowls were introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks returning from their studies in China. They were highly regarded among the Ashikaga shoguns, both warriors and avid tea practitioners, who promoted their use in chanoyu, or Japanese tea ceremony. Since then, tenmoku tea bowls have held their revered position in the history and development of chanoyu.
At a modest kiln located in eastern Kyoto, ceramic artist Kamada Kōji keeps the tenmoku tradition alive with his works filled with mystery, energy and shimmering light.
Born in Kyoto
Begins training under Tadashi Shimizu.
Graduates from the Kyoto Municipal Institute of Ceramics.
Starts study of tenmoku at community kiln (Gojozaka, Kyoto)
Accepted into the Japan Ceramic Arts Association.
Holds first solo exhibition at Osaka Central Gallery
Holds first solo exhibition at Takashimaya Dept. Store Gallery (Kyoto)
Holds first solo exhibition at Mitsukoshi Dept. Store Gallery (Tokyo)
Accepted into the Japan Green Tea Arts & Practitioner's Association.
"Tenmoku & Celadon" exhibition, Gallery Dai Ichi Arts (New York)
Holds 30th Anniversary Exhibition, Takashimaya Dept. Store Gallery (Tokyo)
Works acquired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Works acquired by the Philidelphia Museum of Art
Kamada's career began in 1968 when, under the guidance of his teacher, Tadashi Shimizu, he decided to pursue a life in pottery making. During these early years, he fired his pots at a community kiln located along Kyoto's Gojō-zaka street - the same kiln where legendary mingei artist Kawai Kanjirō fired his own iron-glazed pottery years before.
It was here where the young artist's fascination with the changing character of tenmoku glazes was born. When the wood-burning kiln was closed in 1980, he decided to continue his pursuit of this elusive glaze by building his own kiln at his house in Kyoto's Fushimi district.
Today, Kamada Kōji is one of a small handful of Japanese ceramic artists who have chosen to devote their lives to the research and production of tenmoku. Through years of experimentation and practice, Kamada has elevated this originally Chinese glaze to an even higher level of refinement with the introduction of a number of signature glazes - each one adding another facet to the incredible diversity of his art. In the process, he has secured his position as one of Kyoto's most outstanding contemporary ceramic artists.
At the core of Kamada Kōji's glazing repertory is yōhen yuteki, and a number of his signature glazes are lineages of this well established type of tenmoku, with slight variations in the basic components of iron oxide, feldspar, and wood ash. Inside the kiln, yōhen yuteki goes through an amazing transformation. At a temperature of around 1,232°C (2,250°F), the wood ash in the glaze begins to separate from its heavier iron layer and vitrifies on the surface in feathery streams. The resulting effect is transcendent - like the veins of a moth's wing in the sunlight.
One of the most noteworthy of Kamada's signature glazes is his yōhen shikō, which he debuted in 2007 after nearly a decade of experimentation. Yōhen shikō's characteristic purple halo forms only under the most exacting kiln conditions, and the artist himself still cannot claim mastery over this elusive glaze. However, those pieces that he is able to complete successfully speak most closely to tenmoku's otherworldly association - like heaven's eye.
Another one of Kamada's signature glazes, ginshō tenmoku, has made a significant impact on his body of work to date - especially with respect to forming. Where other tenmoku glazes, especially those in the yōhen line, develop best when there is a constant gravitational pull, like on the inside of a tea bowl, the metallic quality of ginshō tenmoku forms at any gradient or irregular angle, and this has afforded the artist with the latitude to experiment with vessel shapes of nearly any type.
Kamada Kōji's busy exhibition schedule includes major department store galleries across Japan and a number of other venues. In 2005, his work was granted permanent display at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Kamada Koji's tea ceremony bowls and larger works are signed with the kanji character for "Ko" - the first in his given name. His saké ware is stamped around the footring with the same character. The wooden presentation box is also signed "Ko" and holds his name stamp.