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Friday 04.27.12

« Mayoral Candidate's Forum at PNCA | Main | Last Month for 10th NW Biennial at TAM »

Richard Milgrim and Hiroshi Senju at the Portland Japanese Garden

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 of Sen no Rikyu 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 Garden (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. Thus, 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 ceramicist’s 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

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 27, 2012 at 14:40 | Comments (0)


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