You will be amazed by the work of Ito Sekisui: Master of Mumyōi

Ito Sekisui V: Master of Ceramics and Living National Treasure

In the depths of Sado, an island with centuries of ceramic history, an artist destined to become a legend was born. Ito Sekisui V, born in 1941 under the name Yoichi Ito, is the fifth generation of a distinguished line of ceramists, bearers of a tradition going back fourteen generations. The first syllable of his birth name, “Yo”, means “kiln” in Japanese, a harbinger of his future intertwined with the art of fire and earth.

From a young age, Sekisui V was immersed in his family’s ancestral craft, mumyoi-yaki, a technique that uses red clay extracted from the Sado mines, unique for its rich iron oxide composition. This clay, known in traditional Chinese medicine for its hemostatic properties, finds in Sado its only deposit in Japan. The young Sekisui, after the untimely death of his father, immersed himself in learning this art under the tutelage of his grandfather, Sekisui III.

His path was not an easy one. Although mumyoi-yaki products enjoyed popularity among Sado tourists, Sekisui V aspired for more. He sought to elevate his art beyond mere craftsmanship, exploring the aesthetic duality of red and black in his works, a characteristic previously considered a flaw. In this play of contrasts, he found his unique voice, employing techniques such as yakishime to create high-temperature unglazed pieces that stood out for their chromatic intensity.

The innovation did not stop there. Sekisui V embraced the neriage technique, mixing clays of different colors to create complex patterns that evoke nature in its essence. His skill earned him the Grand Prize and the Prince Chichibu Cup at the 1985 Japan Ceramic Art Exhibition, cementing his status as an innovator in the field.

In 2003, his expertise was recognized nationally when he was designated a Living National Treasure of Japan, an honor celebrating his unique contribution to ceramics and his commitment to preserving Sado’s rich cultural heritage. But far from settling, Sekisui V continued to explore, incorporating Sado volcanic materials into new series, constantly challenging the boundaries of his medium.

Sekisui V’s work has transcended borders, forming part of prestigious collections in museums such as the Metropolitan in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington DC and the Victoria and Albert in London. Despite the pressure of his legacy, Sekisui V has used this heritage as a springboard for vigorous creativity, maintaining a balance between tradition and innovation, between heritage and personal artistic expression.

In each piece by Sek Ito Sekisui V, his works reflect an ongoing dialogue between form and color, between the past and the present. His legacy is not limited to the pieces he has created, but extends to the inspiration he offers to future generations of ceramists. In every turn of the wheel, in every brushstroke of glaze, Sekisui V shapes not only the clay but also the future of Japanese ceramics, ensuring that the art of Sado and the spirit of mumyoi-yaki will endure through time.

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