From the Flip-Side of the Coin. A review of Masaomi Yasunaga’s exhibition at Lisson Gallery
By Doug Navarra
“Unique” is the term that comes to mind when looking at the work of 38-year-old Yasaomi Yasunaga. Unique because nothing in the ceramic world resembles this kind of hybrid, experimental form and approach. In fact, we are told at the outset that these works incorporate “no clay” and that they are built with a glaze instead.
The term “visceral” is often used to convey the gritty inclusions of stone, and rock materials that are embedded into the architecture of each piece. Rock, stone, and other inclusions may not be necessarily new to contemporary ceramics as noted in use by other ceramic artists like the London-based Aneta Regal or Akiko Hirai. But this work is different.
Its founding may be in its highly experimental manufactured forms but its refined visual language and its materiality of the visceral kind is a characterization much on to itself. What is significant is its fusion of these materials with gesture and vessel symbolism. His investigation into the nature of the physical object here may incorporate, stones, rocks, coarse sand, and other particulates but its physical materiality emphasizes its physical transformation. This implied supremacy of materials over-representation is an art of alchemy where base materials are transformed into Being. Thus, the transfiguration of the vessel format emphasizing tactility sets him apart from puritanical vessel formalism, striking his own originality and self-sufficiency.
The visceral characterization is also a “visceral” of its own kind. Not to be compared with the visceral approach of an early Peter Voulkos Ab Ex revolutionary style, nor the bombastic visceral of the 1980’s plate paintings of Julian Schnabel. Rather,…these works originate from the flip side of the coin, and possess a “tender visceral”, as symbol of the Spirit. Powerful concoctions as these emblaze a lexical distinction between symbolism and language with “Is it a vessel or is it a sculpture?” Forms are reduced to their simplest graph but then re-loaded again with rocks, stones, and glaze materials, thus stripping it of its parochial character. This aesthetic of form appearing as a hyper-magnification of weathered objects exploits their appeal as a visual novelty but they remain as an intuitive enigma.
These are rudimentary forms; some of which appear to invoke early Cretan or Minoan historic forms. Most all materialize as a new form of Heraclitean magic, incorporating earth in its substance, leading us back to art as a form of magic. In effect, these go back to the origins of the creative process.
This may be conceived as a pleasant antidote to the present, when commodification of ceramics spirals into a broader, global reach from East to West, promoted also thanks to the digitalization of the internet, and the anonymity of multifarious art fairs. But exalting both the sacred and the profane, Yasunaga is endowing his hybrid objects with a tenderness and a spirituality in mighty contrast to those gritty surfaces.
Doug Navarra is a visual artist who has an extensive background in working with clay. He lives in Hudson Valley, New York.
Photo © Masaomi Yasunaga. Courtesy Lisson Gallery