Meditative Moments at the Portland Japanese Garden (all photos Jeff Jahn)
Currently, the Portland
Japanese Garden is hosting a fantastic dual exhibition, Meditative Moments
consisting of noted Chado (Japanese tea ceremony) ceramicist Richard Milgrim's
works along with paintings by waterfall artist Hiroshi Senju. It
is an inspired pairing. Milgrim is in fact the first and only non Japanese Master
Chado ceramicist and though this practice is by definition traditional
(often a pejorative in the West not so in the East) this is indeed a working
and evolving tradition of which Milgrim is one of its chief innovators. Because
Chado ceramics are an inherently Zen practice, his unique East meets West approach
(with studios in Kyoto and Concord Massachusetts) suffuses everything from his
penchant for dark brown (traditional Japanese) and creamy white glazes (his
primary glaze in the USA). Both glazes being very similar to his dark hair and
light skin to the way his name Richard translates to with a pictogram
the founder figure of Chado. Similarly Zen in coincidence, I was
honored to be given a chance personal tour, concluding with sharing tea with
Milgrim (prepared by his wife).
Richard Milgrim in Portland
First, it must be noted that a Japanese
(of which Portland's is considered perhaps the finest outside of
its country of origin) isn't the kind of private backyard playground like European
style formal gardens. Instead, it is perhaps best described as space for contemplation,
personal cultivation and culture of which the Chado is a very important part.
Chado is convivial, where connection between host and guest(s) is catalyzed
through the ceremony where each moment is unique or Ichigo-ichie
it is especially wonderful that you too can have a bowl of Matcha (tea) in one
of Richard's works at the exhibition. Holding one of his tea ash glazed works
in your hand you feel the irregularities of the surface and as you turn it the
ergonomics shift subtly as one of the best kinesthetic art experiences ever
devised by man. The intense green of the Matcha or tea with its bamboo whisked
bubbles is just as meditative and sublime as the visual and material aspects.
Tea Ash Glaze Tea Bowl with Matcha
As Milgrim pointed out, All of these are meant to be used in contrast
to ceramics by modernist western masters like Getrude
and Otto Natzler
. In fact, I found Milgrim's ease of discussing the volcanic
glazes of Otto Natzler to his own new innovation of tea ash glaze refreshing
and unguarded. Clearly, Milgrim is part of a living tradition that will be passed
down to others, whereas the Natzler's have a proprietary position in mid 20th
century cultural history... being of a certain historic period, whereas Milgrim
is part of a continuum and as such his works will likely be used for thousands
of years... bringing the works to life again and again through use rather than
artifact. Both approaches bring out the extremely fine qualities of the work
in different ways. Milgrim and I discussed the work, various collections and
homes of Donald Judd who was very influenced by Zen structures.
Canyon, Konko-Gama (2004)
Of the works on display the chawan or tea bowl titled Canyon by Gensitsu Sen
was among the most stunning with it's oblated square form and dramatic light
and dark glazes (not unlike sumi ink drawings or James Lavadour's paintings).
It turns out this piece occupies a particularly important place in Milgrim's
practice and his chief patron since it was fired in his Concord kiln with a view of canyons (which Gensitsu Sen must have intuited when he named it).
Of pivotal importance is how Milgrim was taken under the wing of Gensitsu Sen,
the 14th Urasenke grand master who became his patron and greatest advocate.
Often referred to as Daisosho or Great Grand Master he has been the greatest
advocate of sharing Chado internationally, which he prefers to describe as,
The Way Of Tea, as a way to promote worldwide harmony and understanding.
He gave Milgrim's Kyoto kiln the name of Richado-Gama (Nearly the same as his
name Richard) and made it possible for him to learn all of the various styles
of Chado ceramics, Raku with its irregularities being the one most familiar
to westerners. Traditionally a Chado ceramicist chooses just one style to practice
but Milgrim being a kind of bridge between worlds spans them all. I particularly
like the Daisosho translates Ichigo-ichie
as one time, one chance.
There is a certain immediate intensity to that translation that fits so well
with Migrim or any ceramicists practice.
Faceted Water Container (2011)
I was also particularly taken with the various faceted ceramics on display.
There is something about the faceting that reminds me both of weaving and bamboo.
Hiroshi Senju, Kakejiku Sky #3 (2010)
Richard Milgram, Sun Rays(2002)
Although all of Hiroshi Senju's works on display work well with the ceramics
I was most struck with the way Kakejiku Sky #3 (2010) related visually to Milgrim's
Sun Rays (2002). Shenju's work calls to mind a meteor shower or a rainstorm
but I like how it relates to the streaming sunlight of Milgrim's bowl. Once
again very Zen.
Still, it was the handling of the juicy looking tea tree ash in a shallow bowl
(for warmer days) that was a highlight. Looking for all the world like the sap
from plants... the fact that Milgrim developed this innovative new glaze from
the ash of the highest grade tea plants is incredibly poetic... almost as if
he's fossilizing tea plants and by fusing it with the clay, much the same way
that drinking Matcha fuses the tea with the drinker. At Milgrim's request I
turned it in my hand and felt its weight shifting. If there was ever an very
visual art form that could be translated into braille... this would be it.
I left this experience feeling calm, reflective and intensely attuned the way
art affirms life by separating itself from the daily grind by savoring the moment.
Similarly because the exhibition ends this Sunday. I suggest you experience it.
Portland Japanese Garden
Through April 29th 2012