Hon'ami Koetsu, Fujisan, 17th century
Source: Wikimedia Commons
In his book Zen Landscapes Allen S. Weiss discusses the way Japanese connoisseurs have seen natural forms in the surfaces of pottery. Two famous examples are Fujisan and Seppo, tea bowls made by the great artistic polymath Hon'ami Koetsu (1558-1637). On Fujisan the white glaze is said to resemble the snow on Mt. Fuji. Seppo ('Snow Peaks') is a renowned example of kin-zukuroi (repairing with gold) in which the filled cracks resemble water flowing through melting snow. Other pots by Koetsu include Amagumo (Rain Cloud) and Shigure (Drizzle). Weiss observes that 'in Fujisan the pottery surface recasts a formed handful of earth as mountain and atmosphere.' He writes about the importance of the foot of a vessel, where the unglazed clay is revealed to the drinker, a trace of the earth from which the bowl came. 'This appreciation of clay flavour is not unlike the sense of terroir in French gastronomy, signifying those site-specific characteristics of taste so often evoked in wine connoisseurship.'
There are other ways in which bowls can become a kind of landscape art. I have mentioned here before for example the music of suikinkutsu, those reverberant vessels placed in Japanese gardens, and made a connection with Wallace Stevens' poem 'Anecdote of the Jar'. Weiss suggests that pottery objects are subject to the same viewing conventions as other art forms in Japan, and therefore it is relevant to consider the the idea familiar from Japanese gardens of the 'borrowed view'. He discusses a contemporary sake bowl (guinomi) by Satoshi Sato which has bamboo forms on the exterior and mountain shapes inside. 'In a greatly reduced sense, the guinomi 'landscape' may exhibit such a borrowed view every time it is examined and drunk from. As the cup is raised, its lip serves as the 'horizon' that links the proximate scene on the front to the 'distant' landscape beyond the lake of sake within, as is the case for the cup by Sato Satoshi, where the bamboo branch forms the proximate field for viewing the distant mountains. That the sake is transformed into a cascade as the elbow is bent and the guinomi is tilted is rarely an unwelcome effect.'