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Confidence and Freedom: The Art of Yasuhiro Kohara

by Patricia Pelehach

Please note: This article first appeared in Ceramics: Art and Perception, 2005, Issue 60 and is reprinted here courtesy of Ceramics Art and Perception Pty Ltd


Born in 1954, Yasuhiro Kohara at age 50 is in full possession of his artistic skills and aesthetic vision. Totally acquainted with his clay and kiln, Kohara works with a maturity and assurance that allow him to soar into a place of perfect freedom. He creatively exploits the possibilities inherent in his handsome and tactile Shigaraki clay and sets up the conditions for "kiln accidents" so appropriate and beautiful in their results that it is clear they are the results of careful calculation. Self-taught, Kohara had no formal schooling in ceramic art, and he apprenticed to no master. This, perhaps, is what gave rise to his notably free and intuitive approach.

sake bottle

Kohara works in a variety of forms: vases, teabowls, baskets, covered boxes, rectangular and circular platters and distinctive wall-mounted flower holders. His forms exhibit a bit of bravado; they are always just a little bigger, a little longer, a little stronger than one would expect. The long hanging v
ases are particularly difficult to make, because they must be drawn out of the kiln by means of a long metal pole, and Kohara notes that as he gets older it is harder to handle the weight of the pole.


tea bowl

Kohara manipulates ash glaze, clay and form in a delicate balance of strength and fluidity. He handles thick, muscular hunks of clay with lightness and dynamic lyricism. His objects are characterized by elaborate green glaze washes and rivulets and pools and exquisite red-orange flashings against the grainy, buff-to-grey Shigaraki clay. Vases and teabowls often exhibit the desirable “dragonfly eye”, created when the glaze collects and solidifies into a prominent jewel-like drip.

Kohara’s aesthetic sense and technique have been shaped by the strong Shigaraki tradition. The lush, green, and mountainous vistas of Shigaraki find expression in his work, which is evocative of volcanic forces, waterfalls, pristine pools. Neighboring artists Michio Furukata, and Naokata Ueda are frequent companions and Kohars notes that Shunsai Takahashi has been his inspiration for how to be true to the calling as an artist, never settling, always looking for something new.


While giving tradition its due, Kohara is an exuberant modernist, international in his tastes, and passionate about his many interests, which range from jazz to scuba diving. Other influences include Miro (the paintings, not the ceramics) for his use of negative space, Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat. A jazz buff, he admires Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and one can see a kind of improvisation in his ceramic art. The artist likes to surprise. His boxes, square and squat, shibui (sober, quiet, refined), give little indication of the surprise inside – elaborately colored and gilded interiors.

One is tempted to judge Kohara a romantic. Or one might speculate that the circular decoration on his platters are a form of “enso” or Buddhist circle. But Kohara denies any emotive or spiritual intention, stating firmly “No philosophy.” Rather he judges his work in purely formal terms, noting how a well-situated drip is balanced by a corresponding rivulet, how a neck and lip are ideally sized on a well-proportioned body. This is self-assured work – spontaneous, direct, emotional – much like the artist himself, and the landscape he calls home.

bowl with handle








MOCA/NY is a tax-exempt 503(c)(3) educational organization devoted to the collection, exhibition, study, and appreciation of ceramics from ancient traditions to spaceage technology.

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