Perfection from Imperfection

Yasuhisa Kohyama

July 6 – September 2, 2023

Nendo Galerie is pleased to present the first exhibition in France by Yasuhisa Kohyama (b. 1936, Shigaraki, Japan), featuring a group of works created in 1996 during a residency at the Atelier du CEP in Villenauxe-la-Grande (Aube).

It is nature, and the unfathomable forces that reside in it, to which the artist defers as he makes his ceramic. Such a conception of creation, denying the idea of full control over production, amounts to questioning the notion of perfection, of consummate success, which often spurs on creators desirous of underlining the accomplishment of their labour.

Kohyama relegates the creator to the background by incorporating the fact that the latter, “just” a human being, is incapable of fully imposing his views on nature and, therefore, of deciding by himself all the aspects his work is going to take on. In doing this, he allows the external elements, or surrounding forces, to influence some of his realisations without his seeking to master them.

But make no mistake, Kohyama is most definitely at the helm: he reflects, imagines, takes decisions, works out the shape, sculpts, cuts up, makes incisions in the material… Then comes the crucial moment of the firing, in an anagama kiln where the cycle’s progress, highly complex, requires an ample dose of expertise or indeed, even more so, mastery.

Accepting such a share of external intervention in the making of one’s work thus amounts to defying the very idea of perfection; the idea that might be formulated by the creator of what could be the perfect object or the one which responds to his initial views in every way. From then on, a form of imperfection arising from this voluntary loss of control is implied. But, intended, imagined and incorporated into the creative method in that way, would that not become, in the end, a form of perfection?

With their graphic and formal richness, Kohyama’s pieces do not, however, constitute exercises in style intended to make their author’s creativity shine.

In actual fact, the modelling is not gratuitous, or decided by the mere mood of the moment but by a dialogue with the seasons, the visual aspect of the environment at a precise instance, the changing colours, the cycles and periodicity of the plants, the plasticity and the behaviour of the clay, the weft of the tree-trunks, the abundance or dryness of the foliage, the texture of the soil or the rock…

The work also partly depends on the quality of the wood, on the current weather or temperature, which may provoke different forms of reaction during firing. By stoking the flames more or less vigorously, these contingencies will have an effect on the pieces’ coloration, will make density and textures changing and oscillating, like a challenge to uniformity and standardization.

It is here that we return to the notion of perfection, when ultimately it seems clear that it is definitely a form of voluntary, assumed imperfection that contributes towards shaping the work as it guides the artist. Imperfection is dictated to him by the necessity of deferring to nature and the cosmos as he is led towards a work whose entire characteristics are beyond his control.

In the process, “perfection does not exist”, since creation obligates, here, the incorporation and assumption of the imperfection of human nature and the sometimes unpredictable character of nature herself.


Exhibition organized in collaboration with Galerie Frank Elbaz, Paris.


Born in 1936 in Shigaraki, a historical ceramics production centre in Japan, Yasuhisa Kohyama has played a significant part in reviving the use of the traditional Japanese anagama wood-firing kiln, being the first potter in the area to build such a kiln since the Middle Ages. He is a contemporary master of the ancient practice of Sueki, a method that originated in southern China, which accounts for his unglazed yet glassy surface textures.

Kohyama’s pieces are collected internationally and exhibited widely in Japan and overseas. His work is included in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Art and Design in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art… as well as several museums throughout the Netherlands and Germany.

© Jean-Christophe Lett