Japanese ceramicist Koji Usaka’s work is instantly recognisable. Telltale signs of an Usaka piece are the whimsical swirling patterns he often uses, plus the fusion of traditional and modern styles and the iconic red Mount Fuji that has become a central theme in his work.
Even in Hong Kong, where his works are now on display for the first time, there’s no mistaking his unique style and technique.
“What’s distinctive about his work is not only the organic shapes but also the swirling red pattern,” says Rachel Kosciuszko of Waka Artisans in Central, where Usaka’s works are being exhibited.
“You could take any one of his pieces and put it anywhere in the world, and someone who knows his work would be able to pick it out,” she says.
The exhibition – running until 12 April – features a large collection of Usaka’s work, including everything from bowls and pouring jugs to ornate plates and sake bottles. As testament to the artist’s popularity, the gallery was packed with visitors on opening day, and many of the artworks were already marked with a ‘reserve’ sticker.
Along with golden moons and birds (symbols of happiness and health), Mount Fuji is one of the main motifs of Usaka’s work.
In Japanese culture, the iconic mountain peak is representative of strength and power, and some artists feel they need to earn their stripes before using such an important symbol in their work.
For his part, the ever-modest Usaka waited until he turned 50 before he started using it.
Everything Usaka makes is entirely crafted by hand, so no two pieces are exactly the same.
Usaka uses two different techniques to mould the clay – oxidation firing and reduction firing – and the level of heat determines its colour. After the clay has been shaped, the details can be added one layer at a time. A simple piece would be fired in an oil kiln three times, while a more complex piece could undergo five firings.
The Waka Artisans gallery has featured many prominent Japanese artists since its inception.
However, in a break from tradition, its next exhibition will feature the works of five young Hong Kong ceramicists. That exhibit will be held from 28 April to 7 May.
Waka Artisans is located at Unit S303, Block A, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street in Central.
The gallery is open from 12pm to 7:30pm.
For more information, visit www.wakaartisans.com.
Text: Emily Petsko