Horihata Ran is an up and coming Japanese Kutaniyaki (Kutani ware) potter who is worldly-wise and talented beyond her years.
Born in Kanazawa surrounded by the rich ceramics culture of Kutaniyaki, Ran’s beginning as a potter was earlier than most of her contemporaries. She attended a vocational high school where she started learning pottery and went on to study at the Ishikawa Prefectural Institute for Kutani Pottery for three years. At 25, she already boasts 8 years of experience in working with clay. For the last three years, Ran has been working as a production potter at Kutani Seiyo Kiln, a studio comprised of multiple potters in Nomi City in Ishikawa where she is based.
Ran initially wanted to make sculptures and art objects out of clay. “I thought it would be great to express myself in sculptures in the beginning,” she said. “Then after about four years, I started thinking that I wanted to create something that wasn’t just about me. I became interested in tableware because I was interested in a lot more than just myself. I’m curious about the people who cook food and use my ware, and also about the people who eat from them. Tableware is about relationships and I’m very interested in that.”
Kutaniyaki is colorful painted porcelain ware of underglaze cobalt and overglaze enamel that is made in Ishikawa prefecture. Kutaniyaki’s roots go back 350 years to the very prestigious Ko-Kutani (old Kutani), which are of strong colors and luxurious designs, often seen in museums around the world. There is evidence suggesting that Ko-Kutani may have been made in Arita, in Saga, but Kutaniyaki refers to the painted porcelain ware of Ishikawa where a large kaolin deposit was discovered in the Nomi region around 200 years ago.
Since I visited Ishikawa to follow in the footsteps of the famous Rosanjin in 2014, I have been wanting to bring Kutaniyaki to the US. I think this overlooked region deserves much more attention in the ceramic world because there are some exciting potters coming out of here, due in part to the Ishikawa Prefectural Institute for Kutani Pottery that was established in 1984 to promote Kutaniyaki. Ran is a prime example of the new talent coming out of this investment.
I came across Ran’s beautiful work at a major department store in Tokyo this past spring. Her work immediately caught my attention because it was fresh and bold, unlike many painted Kutaniyaki porcelain that I had seen. Most Kutani is too busy or too traditional looking for my taste but Ran’s brushwork carried a sense of deliverance from convention, and I was curious to find out why.
“I restrain myself from drawing too much because I love drawing and I get carried away easily,” Ran chuckled as she explained her style. “I think that drawing with restraint balances well with food.” She also added that some heavily drawn-in pots work well with food, but they are much more difficult to design and perfect.
I was very impressed to find out that she had spent 4 months in Denmark’s Krogerup Folk High School’s ceramics program after graduating from the Ishikawa Prefectural Institute for Kutani Pottery. Young Japanese of Ran’s generation are very inward looking and happy just to stay at home, and few willingly leave Japan to travel the world. Ran said she worried that she did not speak enough English, but because the students at the Danish school were from all over the world she felt comfortable going there.
“When I went to Denmark, I was surprised that young people were not shy to express their opinions in front of older people,” she said. “And I learned that the Danes put serious effort into creating comfortable space and time for hygge. I thought that was wonderful. I fondly remember building a little movie theatre in the basement with other students so that we could watch DVDs in comfort.”
At first, Ran felt that there were too many breaks during class in Denmark because she tends to get completely absorbed into her work and does not like interruptions. But she later learned the importance of taking breaks and to connect with other students. The softness and freedom in Ran’s work most likely stems from the experience of living with students from different backgrounds and seeing the outside world.
Ran is beginning to establish her own studio in Nomi, and Entoten is delighted to have received the first batch of work that Ran has made in her new workspace. By spring 2020, she is hoping to work independently full-time. “It’s like a dream that someone living in America will be holding my work in their hands and using them. I wish that someday Kutaniyaki will be known around the world as tableware that people use in their daily life, not as pots in museums” she said.