Wabi Sabi a.k.a Coming to Terms with The Fact That You Aren’t Perfect

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that thrives on the idea of natural beauty, brief transitions, and the reminder that nothing should be perfect. An idea that inspires us to remember that we all once originated from nothing and that one day we will all return to nothing.

Wabi Sabi to some could be considered a way of life, by accepting that all things come to an end. It allows one to realize that while something may not be perfect, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be beautiful or meaningful.

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Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

The idea that all things should be perfect and permanent is a western construct, and by choosing to accept their ideals, we can never really come to terms with the fact that something isn’t perfect and that it won’t last forever. That thought will come off as disturbing to those who want to leave their mark on the world. That is not to say you cannot achieve that goal.   The point of Wabi Sabi is simply to reflect on all the beautiful things and accomplishments you have made in striving for perfection.

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Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

By simply accepting the fact that perfection should not be our end goal, we can better come to terms with the fact that we are all simply human. For anything to be otherwise perfect and permanent is to be considered dead and unnatural. So Wabi Sabi asks us to look past the surface of ourselves and the things around us and to see more than what first may appear.

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Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Bringing Wabi Sabi into your life requires no money, or training, or talent in the arts. It simply asks that you accept things as they are, without excessive decoration or embellishment. To appreciate what is there, instead of what isn’t. To observe with a careful eye, and through our observations find feelings of wistfulness or serenity. The feelings that help to bring forth meaningful and thoughtful contemplation, these are the feelings that embody Wabi Sabi.

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Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

If you’ve been to the Kobo at Higo Shop and Gallery located in the International District, I am sure many of you can attest to the vast array of beautiful art pieces and products that the store has to sell. Many of the art pieces, ceramics, and other products represent the store’s own version of Wabi Sabi. The store itself could be considered Wabi Sabi. Kobo at Higo, once just Higo, used to be a five and dime store, but after the Japanese internment in 1942 the Murakami family was forced to leave their store, and move to the camps.

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Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Masa Murakami, was the last remaining member of the  family and retired from operating the Higo Variety Store in 2002.   Kobo was invited by the extended Murakami Family to expand their business that they had started on Capitol Hill in 1995, and opened a second location in the Higo space. The Higo space was repurposed to create a new shop, gallery and a museum wall which showcased art and design as well as  highlighting the history of Japantown and the story of the Japanese family that immigrated from Japan to America during the turn of the century.  The space  showed signs of being touched by decades of passing years, the store now in its preserved state is both welcoming and important to the greater community. And while it may not be considered “perfect”, it is through its imperfections, history, and memory that brings about the beauty and  continues to preserve the history of a different place and time.

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Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Recommendations for Further reading:

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers By: Leonard Koren

Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts By: Leonard Koren

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence By: Andrew Juniper

Meet Me At Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese American Family By: Ken Mochizuki

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Kameyo Okamoto is a sophomore from Bennington College, who has been studying Japanese language and visual arts for the past two years. Over the last month and a half she has been interning for Kobo at Higo, allowing her the opportunity to immerse herself in Japanese art, language and culture. She hopes that during her time here she will have learned more about what it is she would like to do in the future, and in turn, to have learned something more about herself.

Simple Cup Show 2017

Takashi Hara

This is the 11th year of a wonderful tradition at KOBO: the Simple Cup Show, also known as the Simple Cup Invitational. Each year ceramic artists are invited to contribute 2-4 cups to this celebration of the humble cup. This year’s exhibition is curated by Peter Olsen, Executive Director of Seward Park Clay Studio, and Binko Bisbee, Co-owner/Director of KOBO Seattle.

Peter helped KOBO start what has become an anticipated yearly event and has co-curated the Simple Cup Show from the beginning. We had the chance to pick his brain about cups and more.

Jonah Amadeus

The Simple Cup show has been called “a unique take on a common object”. Why cups?
The cup is perhaps the most used ceramic vessel of any. We put it up to our lips, we carefully hold it, we look at it up close. Many potters love making cups because of these things. They may carefully think about how it feels to have lips closing around the rim of the cup. They consider balance and how to keep the user from burning themselves. Some potters use the cup as a tableau for decoration, since there is such close-up addressing of the pot.

After several thousand years of potters making cups, it is still possible to have an individual voice in crafting this most intimate object. Many times, one can immediately recognize a cup connected to a particular maker, just as one can recognize paintings or sculptures. They are that individual.

Bill Jamison

I can imagine being a bit intimidated to use one of the beautiful cups on display. Who buys the cups, and for what purpose?
I hope no one will feel intimidated by the cups. They are not as inexpensive as Pottery Barn or something like that, but they are handmade objects and are priced accordingly. If one wanted to collect affordable objects that grace one’s home (or office or car!) handmade cups are a very accessible and reasonable thing to build a group of. Often when potters get together in each other’s homes we enjoy looking at each other’s collection of cups.

There will be something for everyone at this show. Some people go for the pots with paintings on them. Some are looking for the perfect wood-fired little cup for a splash of bourbon, some are tea practitioners that want a very particular type of bowl. Some people collect the work of a particular maker.

If one is mindful about addressing the cups that we use, we begin to see particular beauty in the object. I can’t tell you how many times people have called the studio, almost in tears, to say how they broke their favorite cup, and could I please help them find the potter who made it. The loss to them is very tangible and I think this speaks to how important the cup is for many people.

Simple Cup Show KOBO Seattle ceramics
Picking favorites at last year’s Simple Cup Show

This will be your 11th year co-curating this exhibition. What makes this show exciting for you?
I have enjoyed my collaboration with [owners] Binko and John at KOBO. I am excited to know many of the people who make the work. I have a large collection of cups myself and am continually surprised by new ideas, new processes and the amazing variety of approaches to the cup. I absolutely love seeing people at the opening. The excitement is great, and people are so happy to be able to collect the cups that they love. It is a joyful experience.

Simple Cup Show 2017
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
604 South Jackson Street  Seattle, WA  98104 (map)
November 4 – December 2016
Sale by lottery begins at opening, Sat Nov 4
Draw a lottery number as early as 6:30; sale starts at 7:00
      11th Annual Simple Cup Show can be previewed beginning on Friday, 11/3.

Rob Vetter – Paintings

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Rob Vetter lives in Seattle’s Rainier Valley surrounded by parks, playfields and Lake Washington. It’s no wonder that his miniature landscapes evoke glimpses of the Northwest remind us of recent strolls through the woods and walks by the water. These little gems are oil paint on blocks of wood that can be grouped on a gallery wall or stacked one on top of another.

rob vetter landscape gallery

Your landscape paintings are all miniature, and done on wood. How did you come to this format?
Whenever I’ve taken a small impromptu sketch and made a larger, more meticulous painting out of it, I’ve failed. For me, painting is all about filling the given space – when I’ve filled the space, it’s done. From that standpoint, the miniature has obvious appeal. But I also love the idea of coming across something, rather than being hit over the head by it the minute I walk in the room. And miniatures are still objects, they belong to that category epitomized by the jewel, which never needs to be explained. The 2×4 is something I had on hand – also it’s something cheap and something we take for granted.

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Your tagline is “Humble art for humble folk.” Who is your audience?
I usually paint for the person I was twenty years ago, and the person I’ll be twenty years from now – the novice collector who just knows what they like, as well as someone more experienced who’s looking for something new. As for the paintings, the humble bit means, yes, they’re affordable and diminutive and can be put anywhere. In terms of the audience, they don’t really have to be humble – it’s just a tagline.

We love the snippets of nature in all your paintings. Do you paint them directly from life? These are not painted from life – they’re from photos I’ve taken. Whenever I’m out and about I always take my iPhone. I used to be very against this type of thing – a plein air (painting on site) purist you might say – but now that I have two little boys my self-righteousness has slackened a bit (along with everything else) and I’ve realized that the important thing is simply to paint. Plein air will always be the ideal, but in addition to being time consuming (travel time, set up, take down) and finicky (you can’t do it after dark), the failure rate can be high. And I don’t have a lot of space for failure in my life right now. I just hope that my years of experience as a plein air painter can imbue these pieces with enough authenticity to make them acceptable to the remaining purists, god bless them.

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What has it been like to work with KOBO?
For me, working with KOBO is kind of like landing a role in the new Star Wars movie. I’ve known and loved the shop for so long, to finally be a part of it feels both inevitable and also like a dream. And the way it all came to pass couldn’t have been more perfect – I was in the shop one day and the thought occurred to me for the first time and I said to myself, “Why not?” I introduced myself to [co-owner] Binko then and there and by the end of the week I was bringing in some work. It doesn’t ever go that way.

Rob Vetter, Paintings
KOBO Gallery (at Higo) (map)
August 4, First Thursday – August 21, 2016

Kris Marubayashi – Ceramics

MEET THE ARTIST  – ONE DAY EVENT: Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 3 – 6pm,

KOBO Gallery (at Higo) in Japantown
604 South Jackson Street
Seattle, WA  98102
(206) 381-3000
hello@koboseattle.com

Kris Marubayashi is a sansei (third generation Japanese American) ceramic artist based in Sacramento, CA.  She creates pieces that are highly textural, resembling rocks, geological formations, and metal.  KOBO patrons may be most familiar with her Caldera collection (below), inspired by volcanic cauldrons.

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Wednesday, July 1, FROM 3 – 6PM  at KOBO Gallery (at Higo), meet Kris and see selected new works from workshops in Wisconsin and Curaumilla, Chile. She will also bring some of her paper clay bowls, a recent experiment in mixing cement with paper clay to to create pieces that are strong, light, and unrestrained in size.

Kris Marubayashi ceramics

She writes, “I think each of the workshops I went to this year showed me different ways of working with clay, including new ways of creating designs from the past. I made medium-sized slab pieces in the past that tended towards cracking, and the extruder will enable me to create similar work [see above] without that problem!”

Black Paper Clay Vessel 2015
Black Paper Clay vessel 2015
Caldera Bowls
Caldera Bowls
Kris Marubayashi, Ceramics
KOBO Gallery (at Higo) (map)
One day only – meet the artist and see new work
Wednesday,  July 1, 3 – 6pm

Yuki Nyhan – Ceramics

Yuki Nyhan was born in Tokyo, Japan and lived in Saitama Prefecture until her family moved to the United States in 1968. Growing up in a Japanese household, she developed an appreciation for pottery, which led her to her first ceramics class at the Art Institute of Chicago when she was 13. We are pleased to show her work alongside Stephen Mickey’s at KOBO Gallery (at Higo).

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Briefly, how would you describe yourself and your work?
My work is very quiet. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a quiet person, but I like stillness when I work. I want people to take the time and pick it up to view and feel it. From this, I hope the view can feel some of what I feel in the making.

yuki nyhan
Photo courtesy Illinois Artisans Program

How did you become a studio potter?
I grew up in a house where everyone made visual art or crafts in one form or another. It was a part of our lives. Being Japanese, I appreciated the personal nature of pottery and wanted to make it myself. The first chance I had to take art classes outside of school, I took ceramics. My siblings opted for 2D work. It seems clay was always in my soul. Stephen [Mickey], my teacher decades ago at the Evanston Art Center in Illinois, was very good at pushing the fledglings out of the classroom nest and urging them to start their own studios. I was one of those who learned to fly from him, and trial and error.

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You work mostly in porcelain. What is distinctive about this material? What do you enjoy about using it?
I love the smoothness and delicate fluidity of the material. Yet, it is very strong and durable. These qualities are important because I carve and alter the forms, reflecting the undulating forms from nature.

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What brings you the most joy in your work?
When I am making something and I feel like the clay and my hands are working in concert, it is the most peaceful feeling. It’s meditative and very in the moment.

If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?
Quiet, soft, detailed.

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Stephen Mickey & Yuki Nyhan, Ceramics
KOBO Gallery (at Higo) (map)
June 27 – July 19, 2015
Opening reception with the artists Saturday June 27, 3-6pm

Haejin Lee

Haejin Lee is a ceramic artist from Seoul, South Korea now based in Vancouver, B.C. Her sculptural work seems to defy gravity and has won many international awards. Haejin’s elegant cups and tableware are available at both KOBO locations.

Haejin Lee ceramic artist Kobo at Higo Seattle

1. Your manipulation of clay into ‘ribbons’ is impressive! How did you begin to use this technique?

I have been always interested in the concept of Mobius strips. I find it fascinating that a two dimensional element–a line–can also be expressed in three dimensions and loop infinitely. ‘Continuity’ and ‘Infinity’ are the main themes behind all my ceramic work. Execution of the technique was not easy at first. It not only required me to calculate the drying rate of each strip, which has various lengths and thicknesses, but I also had to balance the weight of the strips so they wouldn’t collapse when fired. It gives me a sense of achievement when I successfully execute the design with strips that are almost impossible to balance.

kobo seattle haejin lee ceramics

2. How did you get interested in ceramics?
When I was little, I liked to buy little ceramic goods for my friends’ birthdays. I liked the attachment of ceramic wares to our everyday life; drinking tea, having a warm bowl of soup, etc. I always thought it would be a more special and heartfelt present to my dear friends than giving them a pretty fashion accessory.

I was accepted to Sunhwa Art middle school and high school in South Korea. By the time I was 17, I tried most of the media the Art schools offered. I definitely had the most fun in ceramics classes; making three dimensional pieces out of wet clay fired my imagination. I was obsessed with making each piece ‘perfect’ in my standard. I remember spending hours and hours perfecting the coiling technique when I was first learning. Also, my interest in food and table settings of different cultures fueled my passion towards ceramic art. Being able to use my work to hold nicely prepared food on a dinner table is one of the most enjoyable parts of working with ceramics.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramics

3. You write that your tableware should be used as everyday dishes instead of being admired in a closed cabinet. Any words of encouragement for those of us who are afraid of breaking such precious pieces?

Every element of my tableware is carefully thought out to make them comfortable and practical: the placement of each handle, the width and volume of cups so they fit in your hand more comfortably, the weight and thickness of each piece is also calculated to be as light as possible, but durable when washed. I think all these little considerations are also a privilege for clients to enjoy when my dishes are utilized rather than being admired in a closed cabinet.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramics

4. Do you use your own ceramics at home?

Yes, I do use my own ceramics. In fact, more than 80% of all ceramic ware we use at home was made by me. I think it’s essential to use one’s own designs at home; all of my tableware is tested by me at my own home. I make minor adjustments based on the different experiences I have with each design. It also helps me to come up with new designs.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramic tableware mugs

5. If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?

Infinite, controlled, extempore (spontaneous, done without preparation).

Haejin Lee / Ceramic vessels & sculpture
& Risa Salsberg / Drawings & illustrations
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
August 23 – September 21, 2014
Opening reception with the artists Saturday August 23, 5-8pm
“Made in America” by Kathy Yoshihara on display through Sunday August 17th.

Birdie Boone

In last year’s Simple Cup Show at Kobo, Birdie Boone’s contributions sold quickly and generated inquiries from admirers. Starting Saturday June 21, Kobo at Higo will show her work alongside fellow New Mexico potter Betsy Williams.

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Birdie Boone is a ceramic artist with a particular interest in personal identity, food, and modern lifestyles. Known for her minimalist handbuilt tableware and atypical glaze colors, and declared her intent to be a potter at the age of 6. Birdie grew up in the slow culture of southwestern Virginia and the fast culture of San Francisco, but currently lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

cleaning up berry bowls

1. If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?
soft, intimate, minimal

bowl stacks 8x10

2. You are known for using atypical glaze colors. Could you tell us a little more?
“Color, like emotion, is subjective, complex and mutable.” – Carole Crewes, author of Clay Culture: Plasters, Paints and Preservation

Johannes Itten, who developed and taught the first color course at the Bauhaus, thought of colors as ‘primordial ideas’. I think of thoughtful combinations of form and color as the most persuasive means of accessing a user’s senses. These collaborate to create a complex visual depth replete with connotations. This sense-full ideology requires only that the user be open to its possibilities. Thus, my pots are not only useful objects, they are also subjects that have the ability to affect their users’ sensibilities and to act upon the domestic spaces they occupy.

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3. How does living in New Mexico impact your work?
The most influential thing about living in New Mexico has been the skies, especially at sunset. The colors I see in the sky tend to be directly absorbed into my color palettes, almost without thought. I think it’s also worth noting that New Mexico’s relative lack of water has influenced me in a surprising way: for the past couple of years, I have had a definitive crush on water. Both sky and water are ‘complex and mutable’ and thus perfect subjects for me to investigate.

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4. Do you use your own ceramics at home? Other artists’ work you enjoy using?
I do use my own work at home. Most often, we use my square dinner plates, but they are all seconds! I have a lot of pots made by other ceramists and I love them all, but currently, I reach most often for a Matt Repsher or an Eric Jensen cup.

Birdie Boone’s ceramics will be on display at Kobo at Higo alongside the work of Betsy Williams from Saturday June 21 – Sunday July 13.

Learn more about Birdie Boone here: Birdie Boone Ceramics | Facebook

Betsy Williams

This month Kobo at Higo has the pleasure of featuring two ceramic artists from New Mexico, Betsy Williams and Birdie Boone. 

Image by Robert Eckert

A few years after graduating college, potter Betsy Williams moved to New York on a whim and was trained as a money market trader at a Japanese bank. During her 5 years there, her Japanese co-workers introduced her to the incredible world of Japanese culture, especially ceramics, and ultimately Betsy left her job with the bank to apprentice with ceramist Yutaka Ohashi of Karatsu, Japan. After 4½ years of intensive training, Betsy returned to New Mexico to build her own adobe house and studio. She has been a professional potter for 13 years.

the kiln

1) You have a background in Russian literature, and discovered Japanese ceramics through coworkers at a bank. Did your obsession with Japanese ceramics take you by surprise?

Yes – it completely knocked me off my feet.  I had liked my job and my co-workers, but on a deeper level, I had so many questions about life and felt unsatisfied with mine.  When I first visited the Metropolitan Museum with a co-worker and stood before this one particular piece – a slightly asymmetrical celadon vase from Korea – something just clicked.  I started to read books about ceramics, and to look at ceramics.  I looked and looked and looked,  especially at the old pieces, from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Then the same co-worker called a little Japanese pottery studio near FIT in Manhattan, and asked on my behalf if I could join. I started going there after work, and on Saturdays.  They had an excellent collection of books there, each dedicated to a particular historical style of Japanese ceramics.  It was then that I began to hatch my plan of moving to Japan…

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2) If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?
1.  composed
2.  mysterious
3.  graphic

 

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3) How does living in New Mexico impact your work?
The quiet is the main thing.  The birds, trees, bugs, the clarity of light and shadow, the air, the sky, the being able to see far, the million shades of green, the seasons.

 

tiny plates in progress

4) Do you use your own ceramics at home? Other artists’ work you enjoy using?
Oh yes – our cabinets are filled – but mostly with extras from orders or things with some flaw here or there that I like enough to use, but that don’t quite make the cut. I have a piece of Birdie’s that I use often.  A few Rebecca Wood plates.  Samuel Johnson cups. A variety of pieces from Japan.


Betsy Williams’s ceramics will be on display at Kobo at Higo alongside the work of Birdie Boone from Saturday June 21 – Sunday July 13.

Learn more about Betsy Williams here: enbi studio | Facebook