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  • Contemporary art in the Cotswolds

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What is Raku?

Discover the roots of this serendipitous and aesthetically pleasing technique used by the cermacists, including our very own at Park Gallery.

Raku ceramics, a fascinating Japanese pottery technique, has a long history dating back to the 16th century during Japan's Momoyama period. Developed by the Raku family, who served as personal potters to tea masters, Raku pottery became highly valued in the tea ceremony, Chanoyu, for its unique glaze effects.

The process of creating Raku ceramics is a delicate and artistic endeavor. It begins with either handbuilding or wheel throwing techniques to shape the clay into the desired form. Afterward, the pottery piece is dried until it reaches the "leather-hard" stage and is then meticulously trimmed and refined.

The next step involves a bisque firing to remove moisture and harden the clay. Once the bisque firing is complete, Raku glazes, known for their high copper content and ability to produce vibrant colors, are applied to the pottery. These glazes add a distinctive touch to the final piece.

However, the most thrilling and critical part of the Raku process is the actual firing. Traditionally done in small, gas-fired or specially designed outdoor kilns, the temperature rises rapidly, reaching approximately 1,800°F (980°C). This intense heat causes the glaze to melt, setting the stage for the magical transformation that follows.

As the red-hot pottery pieces are removed from the kiln, they are placed into a container filled with combustible materials such as sawdust, leaves, or newspaper. This reduction process is where the true beauty of Raku emerges. The interaction between the glaze, clay, and the reduction atmosphere results in unpredictable and mesmerizing surface patterns.

The cooling phase follows the reduction process, giving the pottery time to settle. Once the pieces are cool enough to handle, they are carefully cleaned to reveal the final results of the Raku firing. Each piece carries its own unique charm, and the artists cherish the serendipity of the glaze patterns and surface effects.

Raku ceramics embrace imperfection and celebrate the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, finding beauty in impermanence and the imperfect nature of things. This distinctive characteristic of Raku adds to its allure, making each piece a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

In modern times, Raku has transcended cultural boundaries and captivated artists worldwide. Contemporary artists embrace the technique as a form of artistic expression, enabling them to experiment and create emotionally evocative works of art that push the boundaries of conventional ceramics.

In conclusion, Raku ceramics continue to captivate artists and enthusiasts, carrying a rich historical significance while remaining relevant in the contemporary art landscape. The combination of spontaneity and controlled chaos in the firing process ensures that Raku will continue to inspire and enchant for generations to come. Its unique allure lies in the harmonious fusion of tradition and innovation, producing mesmerizing pottery pieces that tell stories of ancient craftsmanship and creative exploration.