Mitsuo Shoji

Mitsuo Shoji

Mitsuo Shoji undertook nine years of undergraduate and post-graduate training, first at the Art Institute of Osaka City Museum and Nakanoshima School of Arts in Osaka, then at the prestigious Kyoto City University of Fine Arts.

Living in Australia since 1973, Mitsuo taught first in Melbourne and recently retired after 30 years at the Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney, where he inspired a generation of ceramic artists through his traditional and contemporary approaches to the medium. Mitsuo’s work covers a broad spectrum of ceramic expression from functional designware to sculptural objects. He is a fine exponent of tableware, which he exhibits regularly. His pieces reflect the Japanese regard for the appearance of the dish being equal to the taste. He makes platters and bowls for his friend, celebrated Sydney chef Tetsuya Wakuda of ‘Tetsuya’s Restaurant’. In fact, Mitsuo’s are extensively featured in a recently published book celebrating the renowned restaurant’s first decade, and in which Tetsuya extols the virtues of ceramics in food service.

Mitsuo’s work is held in public collections in Italy, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Finland, Switzerland, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. A major work was also acquired by the National Gallery of Australia in 2000.

Mitsuo also makes small objects and large-scale sculptural vessels that are abstract and colourful and give voice to an inner questioning and doubt about the self and life’s directions through inlaid coloured clay symbols.

“In my early days I produced installation work, often using wet clay slip and simple shapes such as boxes or cubes. More recently, I am challenging myself with three dimensional hand-built vessel forms that have great structural strength and will last for many generations. They are entitled ‘Universal Thought’, based upon the fundamental philosophy of the square, circle and triangle, to which all shapes in nature can be reduced according to Eastern or Zen thinking. The tattooing pattern is produced by carefully incising the paddled, leather-hard piece, inlaying coloured slip, which is then scraped back so that only the fine lines are left behind. This time-consuming, laborious process is meditative. I listen to Buddhist chants whilst I work so that the Zen world enters my mind and manifests itself in my work, often sub-consciously”.

In 2000, Robert Bell, Curator of Decorative Arts from the National Gallery of Australia, acquired my piece ‘Gaman 1 – tattoo’, a tall, incised vessel for the gallery. He wrote: “Using the square, the circle and the triangle, the design of this large vessel is a synthesis of Shoji’s investigations into the relationship between volume and surface. It reveals his interest in human intervention in the landscape, scarification and the traditions of the Japanese tattoo. Like tattoos which envelop the body but cannot be fully revealed at any one time, the totality of Shoji’s web-like decoration on a three-dimensional form can only be sensed and partially glimpsed. Its lustred triangular sections shift in and out of reflectiveness as one handles or moves around the object, engendering a sense of close involvement with the object and its structure, function and materiality.”