The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence

The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence

The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence

The Art of Toshiko Takaezu: In the Language of Silence


Tracing the artistic development of renowned potter Toshiko Takaezu, this masterful study celebrates and analyzes an artist who holds a significant place in the post-World War II craft movement in America.
Born in Hawaii of Japanese descent in 1922, Takaezu has worked actively in clay, fiber, and bronze for over sixty years. Influenced by midcentury modernism, her work has transformed from functional vessels to abstract sculptural forms and installations. Over the years, she has continued to draw on a combination of Eastern and Western techniques and aesthetics, as well as her love of the natural world. In particular, Takaezu's vertical closed forms have become a symbol of her work, created through a combination of wheel-throwing and hand-building techniques that allowed her to grow her vessels vertically and eased the circular restrictions of the wheel. In addition to her art, Takaezu is renowned for her teaching, including twenty years at Princeton University.
This beautifully illustrated book offers the first scholarly analysis of Takaezu's life work and includes essays by Paul Smith, director emeritus of the American Craft Museum, and Janet Koplos, former senior editor of Art in America. Jack Lenor Larsen, an internationally known textile designer, author, and collector, provides a foreword.


Janet Koplos

Toshiko Takaezu is seen as a rather private person, although she has not cultivated a deep air of mystery like that of her close friend, the textile sculptor Lenore Tawney, and Tawney’s close friend, the painter Agnes Martin. That’s probably because of the interactions required by her teaching career of more than 30 years. Still, she is known for workshops that rely on demonstration more than talk, she is reluctant to analyze her work, and she tends to speak in bursts of short sentences, as if the words had to pass some filter to be free. She was delighted when a young viewer said that her work spoke in the language of silence. It may be that she has inherited the Japanese notion that brevity makes a thing or event more precious, for it seems that her hard-won words open doors to thinking both about her abstract ceramic sculptures and life in general. Consequently, “some see her as a kind of priestess of clay, a nun of earth and fire, a female monk,” the critic John Perreault has observed.

Her work and career can be characterized by a number of contrasts or even paradoxes. a modest example: she is famous for her ceramic work but has remained interested in weaving and painting as well—mediums that are radically different in dimension and in process. More significant: her work is recognized for both subtlety and vividness in color and for both monumentality and intimacy in size. As she has become more reserved in person, she has made sound a part of many of her works, including bronze bells and closed ceramic forms that contain a wad of clay that clatters as they are moved. All these oppositions expand the impact of her work.

Less happy, for the scholar and biographer at least, is the fact that although many qualities of her work are distinctive and it is immediately recognizable as hers, she has never dated or conscientiously documented her creations. Thus her works are more easily experienced individually than studied as a whole. That may be just fine with her, but her ceramic oeuvre is agonizingly amorphous for the curator or critic who wishes to track it. the weavings and paintings are even less known. They have not been shown or studied as specific bodies of work but only displayed as accompaniments to the pottery.

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