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An Underpriced Art And A Good Buy

In India pottery is still a highly underleveraged art form. Buy a few pieces not only as an investment but something to love and cherish

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The year was 2011. We were on a family holiday in Japan. The highlight of the trip was a two-day visit to Arita, the home of Japanese pottery. Arita is a small town located in Saga Perfecture’s Nishimatsuura District, very close to Kyushu. The visit was highly recommended — to see and appreciate the beauty of pottery from the houses of Kakiemon, Imaemon, Imari, Koransha and more. We were fortunate enough to meet, and sip tea, with the legendary Sakaida Kakiemon XIV, a Living Treasure of Japan. It was, in fact, a rare honour. Sakaida san is the 14th generation of the Kakiemons who have continued the tradition of enameled ceramics in Arita. We bought a small vase, and the Living Treasure was kind enough to sign it for us.

Pottery in Japan is not just appreciated, it is revered; it is venerated. An ordinary small bowl or a plate from Kakiemon can put you back by a few hundred dollars. A 12-inch bowl that we really liked, octagonal with a spartan white base and a vibrant painting of sakura flowers, cost about half a million yen, approximately Rs 3 lakh. And this wasn’t a really expensive piece by Arita standards. Pricey, but not exorbitant. Good pottery in Japan finds ready buyers. And thousands of admirers, and collectors.

Back home in India, pottery is still a highly underleveraged art form. In the art boom of 2004 to 2007 while paintings zoomed up a 1,000 per cent on occasions, and bronzes too jumped 300 per cent to 500 per cent at times, studio ceramics, more commonly referred to as studio pottery remained largely unrecognised. And underleveraged.

Nevertheless, some potters bucked that trend. Amongst Indian potters, some are appreciated reasonably well. If you, for example, had bought one of P.R. Daroz’s ceramic helmets in 2004 for Rs 5,000 (yes, that little), the current price would be Rs 30,000-40,000, that is if you would be lucky to lay hands on one today. One of his Grecian urns, about 3-feet in height and 80-100kgs in weight, with his signature gloss, was priced at Rs 1 lakh in 2004. Today, it would easily fetch Rs 5 lakh. If not more.

If you want to invest in art, pottery is a good starting point even today. Ticket size is still very low. Choice is plentiful. Pottery looks beautiful. It is easy to display. You buy mostly directly from the potter at his/her exhibition (art galleries are still not actively involved with this genre), hence no value loss to middlemen. And once you start collecting, you fall in love with the shapes, the forms, the surfaces and the glaze pretty quickly.

Daroz is to Indian pottery today what M. F. Hussain is to paintings. Daroz, whose 70th birthday was celebrated in 2014 with much pomp and show by the potter fraternity is best known for size and scale. His ceramic installations are massive — large murals for hotels or office lobbies, huge abstracts and massive facades. But Daroz also revels in small pots, vases, bowls, plates and tiles. As an art critic put it, “Daroz’s ceramic images address and dramatise the dilemma of form over function, as he utilises the sheer materiality of clay along with his ease of skill and technique to create works of complete virtuosity.” Daroz’s pieces are virile, muscular and full of spunk. You will like them.

If Daroz is Hussain, Ray Meeker is the S.H. Raza of Indian pottery. Based out of Pondicherry, he along with wife Deborah Smith founded Golden Bridge Pottery in 1971, which transformed the traditional use of clay and pottery into a powerful movement of art. Meeker, an American by birth, is also known for large works. In earth shades as well as a full palette that runs from red to maroon to burgundy to brown to orange to yellow. Warm. Evocative. Friendly. A Ray Meeker plate bought in 2005 for about Rs 10,000 today easily tilts the scales at Rs 75,000-100,000. His show-stopper, from the early 2000s, an 18-inch plate, ‘Anything can Happen’ — a beautiful rendition of activity just below the surface of the ocean with fish, sea horses and more, then priced at Rs 40,000, recently changed hands at Rs 5 lakh. So, do buy yourself a Ray Meeker. Prices start around Rs 5,000 but a decent piece could be yours for Rs 20,000 or so. A nice tea pot? A porridge bowl? A salad plate? Go for it.

Ray Meeker too celebrated his 70th birthday in 2014. His legion of students, including Adil Writer and Ange Peter (both famous potters in their own right), put up a memorable show for him. Ray’s works are not as frequently available today as he gets on in years. So, if you chance upon a Ray Meeker pot, don’t even think twice: just buy it.

Ira Chaudhari, 87, is another doyen of Indian studio pottery. Her work is exquisite — almost like fine embroidery in clay. Ira, through 60 years, has mastered the art of precision in her decorations using slip-trailing, painting and the Italian technique of graffito. Although precision in glaze trailing and resist methods are her forte too, she also enjoys experimenting with the Japanese technique of Nerikomi. Ira’s pots and plates are a visual delight. A must-have in any collection. Her works are highly underpriced. A beautiful 16-inch plate could be in the Rs 10,000 range. That surely is not much of a price to pay for a one-of-its-kind masterpiece?

Jyotsna Bhat’s softly hand-modeled pieces, with strong clean lines, capture the ‘gay-abandon’, the buoyant-airy disposition and the smug expressions of clay in myriad forms. Functionality of these forms is not really essential to Baroda-based Jyotsna, 76. The glazes she chooses are such that they enhance the forms of her delicate works. Sometimes she leaves her works unglazed, so the wood fired ‘open clay body’ can also be enjoyed. Jyotsna’s ‘cats’ are her finest. If you can get to pick one (about Rs 25,000), buy it, fuss over it, hold it, behold it and treasure it !

Padmashri B.R. Pandit is young at 67. Pandit is a man of hues, finesse and creative depths. His works are pure poetry in pottery. Fire, water, air, earth — all mingle in the celestial space of his kilns. The results are magical — blues, greens, coppers, golds, reds: the interplay of colours and the nuances are just exotic. You can own a Pandit masterpiece starting Rs 10,000. Larger pieces climb to Rs 50,000 or more. But it is every rupee well spent.

Buy pottery. You will fall in love. Beyond the masters, there are equally talented younger potters like Vineet Kaicker, Madhur Sen, Rachna Parashar, Leena Batra and more. Works of the deceased Manisha Bhattacharya, and the now ailing Gina Franklin Gupta are today more difficult to come by. But are worth a lifetime of happiness.

With inputs from Carol Goyal, Chaiperson and Trustee, The Kailasham Trust

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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India pottery japan travel Magazine 16 May 2016 mf hussain

Tanya Goyal

The author is chaiperson and trustee of The Kailasham Trust

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