Toshiaki Noda, TN225, 2017. Glazed ceramic, 15.5 x 10 x 8.5 in. Photo: Patricia Sweetow Gallery, Courtesy Patricia Sweetow Gallery

Toshiaki Noda

San Francisco

Patricia Sweetow Gallery

Toshiaki Noda’s clay sculptures present themselves as decorative yet functional works melded back into, or partially emerged from, their organic state. Smashed cans and vessels, egg cartons, and flattened stubs ooze and bubble, as they fold and collapse into themselves. The sculptures traverse a range of glazes and colors, some matte, others glossy. The impression is both familiar (domestic objects in pleasing hues) and disconcerting (like the remnants of a home pulled from the ashes of a fire). Several of the works incarnate their earthen source, shaped like confused rocks or podgy tree stumps, stilled in their effort to achieve form. It is as if Noda is attempting to capture time, solidified in the act of transformative heat, from past to present and back again.

Born in Arita, Japan, which has been distinguished for its porcelain ware since the 1600s, Noda creates in a manner that at first seems antithetical to a tradition of practical beauty. His disfigured forms break from this past then appear to raze its very foundation. This uncomfortable fissure—a tapping into then distorting of the familiar—makes his work visceral and appealing. The the referential shapes and sheens are all there, but somehow they don’t fit together; though closer consideration reveals more of an allegiance with the past than an abandonment.

A 2008 graduate of CSU, Long Beach with an emphasis on printmaking, Noda turned to ceramics in the hope of energizing his work with greater spontaneity and physicality. After moving to New York, he broadened his earlier Japanese training in ceramics via self-taught experimentation. He notes that “though he always loved ceramics he [felt] too involved with it growing up and wanted to see a different world.” Some of this reckoning with the past is the result of a natural progression in Noda’s work (building, severing, shaping, firing together) as is his overall approach, which respects surprise effects of the kiln as reflecting the less willful aspects of life itself.

Though this may sound more like Existentialism than art to the Western mind, Japanese aesthetics involves a long tradition of weaving art together with its philosophical and spiritual underpinnings. Mono no aware (the pathos of things), wabi-sabi (imperfect beauty), and iki (simplicity, sophistication) are but a few Japanese concepts that engage the world around us with a nuanced approach to form and design. Such ideas find their way into Japanese poetry, traditional painting, ceramics, and the choice of materials and lighting in gardens and homes. By observing nature in its constant state of change, in its full flowering as well as decay, one learns to accept the unfolding of form in all things—plants, rocks, humans, everything alive or inanimate. Noda’s sculptures ultimately incorporate these values, shape-shifting to capture the movement of time, if but temporarily.