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American master ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu (b. 1922, Pepeekeo, Hawaii - d. 2011, Honolulu, Hawaii) is known for her signature closed forms, inspired by Abstract Expressionism and the traditions of East Asia, including ink painting and the Japanese tea ceremony.  She fused these aesthetic influences in her experimental approach to gestural application of glazes, treating the vessel as a canvas in the round.


Takaezu began working towards the closed form in the 1950s, experimenting with enclosing the interior volume of her vessels and leaving a small opening that allowed for gas to escape during firing. The act of closure rendered the vessels functionless, suggesting that they now inhabited the realm of sculpture. She continued to produce these forms well into the 1990s and 2000s, eventually at monumental scale. In many cases, Takaezu left a paper-wrapped clay bead inside her forms; in the firing, the paper would burn off, leaving behind a hard rattle. This creates an auditory dimension to the work that draws attention to its interior volume. 


Takaezu’s format allowed her to explore a wide range of surface effects: layering, veiling, and expressionist gestures in her application of glazes. She added glaze onto the clay with a brush while also occasionally, in a controlled manner, dipping and pouring glaze to create dynamic surfaces. Her palette often references colors seen in nature – particularly from her native Hawaii – like ochre, black, white, brown, soft grays and varying shades of blue. Applications of yellow, pink, orange and greens were often atmospheric and suggestive of foggy landscapes and ink paintings. Her series Ocean’s Edge recalls the effects of waves crashing into one another through her superimposition of glazes in deep blues and turquoise, rich reds and inky blacks. 


Occasionally, Takeazu veered from the wheel and built up vessels using molds, assembling them with her hands. Beginning in the 70s, Takaezu evolved a discrete series of globular forms that she called Moons, recalling heavenly bodies and planetary forms. She was never particularly concerned with symmetry and the artist embraced irregularity, even accentuated it through her glazing.


Toshiko Takeazu’s sculptures not only demonstrate her masterful capabilities in crafting form through clay, but also manage to surpass classification, hovering between pottery, sculpture and painting; revealing exceptional control of color in a medium that often is at the whim of the kiln.


Born in Pepeekeo, Hawaii in 1922 to Japanese immigrant parents, Takaezu studied ceramics first with Claude Horan, the founder of the ceramics program at the University of Hawaii, and later with the influential Finnish-American ceramicist Maija Grotell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Takaezu was a devoted maker and art educator, teaching first at the Cleveland Institute of Art and then at Princeton University, until her retirement in 1992. She lived and worked on a lush property in rural New Jersey, establishing a steady studio practice and firing her work on site with the aid of apprentices. Takaezu passed away in Honolulu on March 9, 2011.  


Throughout the artist’s lifetime, her work was exhibited widely in the United States and Japan, including a solo exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004) and a retrospective at the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, Japan (1995). Takaezu was the recipient of a McInerny Foundation Grant (1952), Tiffany Foundation Grant (1964), National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1980), among others. Takaezu received honorary doctorate degrees from Lewis and Clark College (1987), Moore College of Art and Design (1992), University of Hawaii (1993), Princeton University (1996), and Skidmore College (2004). Her work is represented in collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, DeYoung/Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Honolulu Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 


Recent exhibitions include the 2022 edition of the Venice Biennale, The Milk of Dreams curated by Cecilia Alemani and Shaping Abstraction, a complementary large-scale installation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on view through September 29, 2024. The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum will host the first touring retrospective of Takaezu’s work in twenty years from March 20, 2024 to July 28, 2024. The exhibition will be accompanied by a new monograph published in association with Yale University Press and will travel to the Cranbrook Art Museum (2024–25), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2025), and the Honolulu Museum of Art (2026).

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