A journey through the air, through fire, to the alchemy of water and earth.
Text and images by Martha Little of Wild Clay Works (GRANADA)
It is said that the human being was created with a ball of mud…
From the mud, the earth has been moving for 300 billion years, forming layers, forming hollows, forming infinitely changing textures and shapes.
From there, the Raku potter goes in search of the transformation of fire, searching for clay with the only tool that matters: hands and imagination.
WHAT IS RAKU?
Raku is one of the most magical types of pottery that have come down to us, born from a technique that originated in Korea, or Japan (depending on which history you follow), in the sixteenth century, to make pottery for the tea ceremony.
The most striking element of raku is the reduction process, which is done by removing the piece from the furnace at a temperature between 750º-980º Celsius, putting the piece in a bucket of sawdust, and covering it to remove the oxygen. An oxidation is produced with the minerals and oxides (iron, cobalt, copper and tin, titanium, etc. are used), and after the oxygen has been reduced, after this magical process, a unique metallic shine appears on the piece.
The pieces were made for the sacred Japanese tea ceremony, a Zen experience, and helpful.
The four fundamental elements of the Japanese tea ceremony are harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.
Four concepts that, in Japanese, are expressed with a single word: Wakeiseijaku (和敬清寂), as each of the characters that form it mean harmony or peace (和), respect (敬), purity or cleanliness (清) and tranquility, stillness or solitude (寂)
We can say that the raku process has the same elements. Using the elements of creation: air, water, fire and earth, the ceramist incorporates harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.
To center the clay, there has to be a perfect balance in the state of the potter so that this is transmitted to the material, otherwise the clay will be unbalanced too, (it can even come off the wheel). There, when the piece is perfectly in place it has to dry for a few days, and put in the kiln at 980ºC. From there, decoration with enamels, oxides, and minerals depends on the mood of the creator, and also depends on the mood of the kiln. The kiln has its own temperament, changes in temperatures, oxygen, the time of melting and fusing, etc.
There is a magic happening inside this being from another planet, Mr. Kiln. If the ceramist is not practicing humility, respect, and surrender, it will go wrong.
Each piece has its moment, its desires, its dreams, and its destiny. With respect, it will come out as it has to come out. And where does the idea for the piece come from? Well, from the same place: the desires, dreams and destiny of its creator.
It is said that ideas exist in the universe, and the artist only has to open himself to find them. So, with this respect for the unseen world, and the relationship of causality between all the possibilities and the reality of the final result, an object emerges that has already made its journey to this planet.
Although it may not seem like it, the last stage of raku is to remove the piece at 980º C and put it in a bucket of sawdust. Without tranquility and serenity, the aggression of this abrupt change of environment will break the dream. That is to say, everything explodes if this balance is not there. There is the Zen relationship, which is the cleaning by fire, which transforms everything, turning chaos into a purity of metallic gleams and a mirror of the human being.
Once the piece is calm, in its bed of sawdust and smoke, it is time to get into water and refresh, the total transformation, the piece is left with a Zen tranquility… union with itself, completely in its place, without doubts of who it is.
In the end, we are left alone. With our desires, dreams, illusions and destinies. But within that loneliness, there is a tremendous responsibility that the raku creator has. To grant a ceremony of transformation to each one of them, with her ceremony inside, meditating on all the elements that are in creation.
About the artist:
Martha Little, a ceramist and psychotherapist, has been working in ceramics for more than 15 years.
Each piece he makes has its own voice… and its own will.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Here are some common questions about this fascinating ceramic technique:
What is the Raku ceramic technique?
It is an artisanal method that creates the pieces by modeling them by hand, then they are placed in the oven at high temperature, and after being fired, they are immediately placed in a container with combustible material (such as leaves, sawdust, straw, etc.). This produces a reducing environment that creates a unique effect on the surface, as well as forming a crackle or small, aesthetic cracks on the surface.
What type of clay is used?
A common clay is used, it can be white, red… Stoneware clay is widely used, sometimes with chamotte. It must be porous and have adequate resistance to sudden changes in temperature, due to the peculiar process of rapid heating and cooling to which it is subjected.
Where does this technique and its name come from?
A large number of historians tend to place the beginning of Raku pottery in Japan.
In the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a feudal lord, commissioned the potter Tanaka Chōjirō (1516-1592) to create tiles for his Jurakudai palace. He gave him a gold seal with the name Raku 楽, meaning “comfort and happiness.”
Chōjirō became famous as a potter, and also created bowls for tea ceremony for the master Sen no Rikyūy. These bowls were of a special simple style and beauty, in keeping with the Japanese wabi-sabi ideal.
Over time Chōjirō’s fame grew more and more. His son Jōkei added the name Raku 楽 to his name as a tribute to his work and thus the ceramic technique of that name was born.
What are the characteristics of Raku ceramics?
This type of ceramic is known for its rough texture, intense and varied colors, and its peculiar firing process.
Each piece is unique and different, thanks to the random nature of the process and the differences in the choice and application of materials.
This technique is also influenced by Zen philosophy and is considered a ritual art in Japan.
The use of a suitable type of clay allows the piece to contract and deform in a controlled manner during temperature changes, producing the contrasting and crackling effects that are so distinctive to this technique.
In short, the Raku technique is an exciting and unique way to create beautiful ceramic pieces, the result of great craftsmanship.