Raku Ho‘olaule‘a 2019: Making Art from Fire

Photo by Patrick Hascall

In Gallery ‘Iolani’s latest exhibit, which ran Nov. 8 through Dec. 5, three very drunk rats cavorted, making even the most skeptical art critic laugh.

If rats were not your cup of tea, you could take in the kittens tickling their bellies in delight as a lone rabbit gazed up, yearning to join them.

Tigers in samurai costumes squared off on another pedestal while nearby a pig snorted aggressively. An octopus clung to the wall, as if saying, “I’m watching you.”

All these animals were made of clay fired and glazed in the raku way. Raku, a Japanese word meaning “enjoyment,” developed as a pottery style in the 16th century at the request of a tea master who wanted earthy cups for his ceremony.

Tea bowls were placed throughout the exhibit reminding us of the Zen spirit infusing this style.

Raku tends to “push us toward the more spontaneous/adventurous style of making pottery,” noted Bob McWilliams who juried works in the contemporary category.

These works were influenced by American potters of the 20th century who expanded the tradition to include elegant vases and eccentric sculptures.

“Rainbow Man,” a male torso with an iridescent glaze was unforgettable, as was “Impermanence,” a Buddha cracked open by the intense firing and rapid cooling process. 

Results in raku are unpredictable and colors are often surreal. In addition, horsehair can be placed on a pot just taken from the fire and will burn dark, delicate lines.

All the pieces in the show were fired in the annual three-day community workshop at Camp Mokulē‘ia on the North Shore. This event began in 1977.Raku Ho’olaule’a 2019 carried on with robust laughter and joy in the accidents of beauty.

by Leilani Madison, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter