Michael Posner and Friends is an exhibition of pottery in a small gallery in Muswell Hill, the Koukan Gallery, tucked away behind Alexandra Palace. I took a walk up through Alexandra Park on the first spring-like day this year to see what was on show. I found delicately beautiful ceramics, bold, dark pots and the artist himself ready to talk about his work and experience in Japan.
The ‘and friend’ whose work I was particularly interested to see was Japanese potter Hozan Tanii of Shigaraki, where Posner studied.
The Shigaraki area in Shiga Prefecture is one of the oldest pottery producers in Japan, dating back to the Kamakura period (1192-1333). They use a unique type of cave kiln, dug into the sides of hills, which are usually single chambers with a sloping tunnel shape. The largest type, called nobori-gama, has a stepped shape. The lowest level is fired first; when the temperature in that compartment reaches the right level, the next one is fired, and so on. A large kiln might stay lit for as long as nine days.
Tanii built his first kiln in Shigaraki in 1981 and constructed his anagama (cave kiln) in 2000.
His work is more colourful than I expected – I was particularly taken with this cherry-blossom pink glaze which is used on several of the works on show.
Some of his other work has a substantial feel, especially this green-glazed pot and large kettle.
The works are beautifully presented with their own boxes and packaging.
Posner began his career as a chemical technologist and came to study pottery late in life. He was accepted as a member of Tanii’s pottery and studied Tenmoku oil spot glaze, an iron-based glaze, with one of Japan’s foremen’s specialists, Dr Takai Ryuzou, at the Shigaraki ceramic research institute.
He works in the mingei (folk art) style of Leach and Shoji Hamada (more about Hamada in my post about Machiko Pottery), and follows Leach’s precept that pots should be for use, well designed and made with reference to tradition.
I found the Japanese influence in his work instantly recognisable. Much of the work on show is in the dark brown/black Tenmoku glaze.
He also uses a white ash glaze made from fir tree ash; a green wood ash glaze made from mixed hardwood ash; and a dolomite glaze which with gives a speckled off white colour.
The darkness of the glaze on many of his works forms a contrast with the Tanii pots but the shine and texture of the oil spot glaze gives them a sense of life and vigour.
This substantial tsubo has already been sold.
The exhibition continues until the 9th March. You can see more of Michael Posner’s work on his website.