Katsufumi Baba was born to be a potter. Katsufumi is an experienced and skillful potter who loves what he does. He has his own pottery studio in Kurume, the town where he was born and raised. He set up his pottery studio in Kurume, Kyushu in 2003.He said that he loved ceramics - especially old Shigarai ware - since he was a student in junior high school. But back then he did not think he would become a potter. So instead he did a law degree at university. During a job seminar in his third year at university, he realized two things. First, that his personality did not suit him to become a "salary man" in a company. And second, that he wanted to become a full time potter.
After finishing his law degree, he went to France for two years, discovering traditional European ceramics. Ultimately, this helped him to reconfirm his original passion for the Japanese style of ceramics - simple and unadorned in comparison to the more ornate European examples.
Where there are many local pottery regions throughout Japan, he loved Shigaraki ware most. However, he traveled to all those other renowned Japanese pottery regions to find out where he really wanted to train. He ended up realizing that Shigaraki was the place to be.
Shigaraki ware has a long history, starting around the 13th century. It is the one of Japan’s six ancient kilns. Is not easy to find an opportunity to train in the Shigaraki region, because places are limited. However, with his passion, he found an opportunity to study pottery, specialising in the potter's wheel, at the Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institute in Shigaraki, Shiga prefecture.
Shigaraki ware has a rugged and simple presence. The rough texture of the finished products is often said to represent Japanese wabi sabi aesthetics. Shigaraki tea ware has been loved by many tea masters throughout history. Katsufumi is also attracted by the beauty of the natural clay in Shigaraki ware.
He said that in Shigaraki, he spent most of his time sitting in a small space (no larger than half a single tatami mat), in front of a pottery wheel, working very hard from morning to night.
Katsufumi initially thought that he would create ceramics in Shigaraki forever, but after spending five years in Shigaraki, he felt the desire to have his own pottery studio in his hometown in Kyushu. While he liked the Shigaraki style, he also wanted to make original ceramics in his own way.
His pottery studio is located in a beautiful area of the countryside in Kurume, Kyushu. We sat down at a gallery room in his studio. The room has a large window which overlooks a peaceful river and water mill. He said that it has been a long time since he sat down in this room. The last time was a few months ago. He continues to work very hard in his studio, rarely taking a day off.
Since the beginning of his adolescence, he has liked ceramics. I asked him what he wants to do in the future. Of course his answer related to pottery. He wants to make ceramics using a natural wood fired kiln in the mountains. Firing ceramics in a wood fired kiln is the oldest way to fire ceramics, but it is a complicated process. It requires two to three hundreds pieces of firewood - especially red pine, which is sun dried for six months. These cannot be merely mill ends, but proper pieces of firewood. It makes a difference whether you choose firewood made of roots or branches, affecting the final result. Firing takes four days to complete. The slow, complex sequence of steps is a challenge in fast paced, modern life.
All this complexity results in a natural process which creates magical beauty, making a beautiful ash cover on ceramic surfaces for example. These outcomes are beyond direct control, yet they are an example of a purely natural beauty.
"Sometime, maybe twenty years from now, I want to build a little hut in the mountains, have a wood fired kiln and put all my energy into making beautiful ceramics," he said. He smiled and continued, "It will be a pleasurable experience."
After I met him in person, I feel that his ceramics express who he is, which is why he wants to make simple ceramics.
Katsufumi makes tableware that people can use in their daily life. Simplicity and the texture of natural clay is central to the appeal of Japanese ceramics.
As tea masters see beauty in Shigaraki tea ware, you will see beauty in the ceramics that Katsufumi creates.