In writing about the history of Japanese Raku, it is with respect for their culture and for the origin of Raku that I offer but a brief reference to the historical aspects along with encouragement for readers with interest to pursue the wealth of information available on the internet which covers dates, persons and events. Here, I wish to touch on major points of Japanese Raku History that have influenced my life as an artist who specializes in what is called “American Raku”.
Raku has its roots in the Japanese Tea Ceremony where hand made tea bowls had been created, fired, & removed when hot and allowed to cool in the air. The Tea Ceremony itself has a rich history and is full of deep meaning; far more than sipping tea with a few friends such as we here in the Western part of the world might envision. The Tea Ceremony is a ritual that involves respect, harmony, purity and tranquility and is very spiritual in nature. For a more complete explanation of the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the aesthetics surrounding it, I recommend two excellent books: The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura and Wabi-Sabi by Leonard Koren.
Early tea bowls created for the Tea Ceremony were beautiful in their imperfection and their asymmetry which is an aesthetic generally in opposition to most Western thinking.
Raku is said to mean ‘enjoyment’, ‘comfort’ or ‘ease’. These are feelings and/or emotions. Here, in the West, we may think of/and/or explain Raku as being a process, a glaze or an object (among other things). How do these two ways of looking at things ‘interface’? While I don’t even pretend to know the fullness of the Japanese aesthetic, my studies have given me a knowledge and appreciation for what I call the ‘serendipity’ of Raku. I don’t seek to control the aspects of Raku; I just work with them and have respect for the organic nature of it. What might be perceived by the Western mind as ‘accidents’ or ‘imperfections’ in Raku ware are appreciated, welcomed and honored as part of the aesthetics embraced by the Japanese.