Here it is, another beautiful Japanese object, chosen by our member Menno Fitski, Head of Asian Art at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, enjoy!
It sits on a stand on my desk - a little dish decorated with cherry blossom. I frequently adjust it with tiny tweaks, finding the perfect position for the hanging branch. It was given to me by its maker Sakaida Kakiemon XIV (1934-2013) in 2011, when I met him for the last time. I had gone to the kiln to pay my respects, and we sat down together in the small reception room. I could tell that he would quite like to be going out for a smoke, but he was most generous with his time and talked about the use of white; yohaku, empty space.
Yohaku allows the characteristic fine, milk-white body to take centre stage, which in turn highlights the precise painting in bright enamel colours. I sometimes struggled to follow his rather impressionistic use of Japanese, which just sketched the outlines of what he meant, but luckily I was accompanied by a trusted friend who kindly steered the conversation.
Kakiemon XIV contemplated rather than conversed, and elaborated on yohaku, which he had spent a great deal of time investigating in his long and illustrious career. In his autobiography The Art of Emptiness, he explains that ‘the lines and enamels are simply applied in order to compliment the beauty of the white’. Self-deprecating as these words are, Kakiemon XIV had religiously underpinned his painting skills by sketching from nature, to which the design on this dish testifies. It is remarkable how the bright, hardly naturalistic colours of the Kakiemon palette do not detract from the feeling of observing nature, with every detail of twig, leaf and petal perfectly positioned, as if gently swaying in a soft breeze. I used to see it as an exaggeration, his saying that ‘the white areas are not merely empty space; they contain all the thoughts and emotions of humankind’ – but the longer the dish lives besides me, the more I wonder whether he might not be right.
Dish, Kakiemon porcelain, Sakaida Kakiemon XIV (1934-2013), diam. 12.2 cm, Arita.