In Praise of Shadows
The Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, 0131 558 1200, www.scottish-gallery.co.uk, Until April 1
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Akiko Hirai’s works are all made “in praise of shadows.” It is the shifting shadows on the “imperfections” of the handmade that intrigues Hirai, and it is one which is visible in her many practical and decorative vessels and forms, from moon jars – a type of storage jar unique to Korea in the 17th and 18th centuries – to milk jugs.
Born in Japan, Hirai moved to London to study ceramics at the University of Westminster and Central St Martins. She is now head of ceramics at Kensington and Chelsea College. Her work is very much rooted in the strong Japanese ceramic tradition, yet also in the British studio pottery tradition. The colours are reduced, letting the textures and form dominate. Glazes and surface treatments range from glossy to encrusted, thinly brushed or thickly applied. Hirai works in dark clay, for the effects its impurities have on the work during the firing process, frequently using a white surface treatment for a contrasting “veil”.
An artist of the “uneven forces”, she pays attention, she says, to the signs of process. “It can be a cracked surface that was pulled by the expansion and contraction of the material on the ceramic surface, the unevenness of the colour due to the change of atmosphere in the flame in my kiln, the impurity of the material that comes through to the surface in a high heat. You think you are looking at the outcome of events, but what we are seeing is not the results of the objects but the forces that create these marks. This is the same mental process of looking at the shadow in order to enjoy the light.”