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Raku - Intoduction

RAKU is a japanese glaze firing technique, originating from the 16th century. Originally it was used to create bowls and cups to be used in the traditional tea ceremony, but all of this history, that usually forms the introduction to any publication on raku, is far from the present day meaning of raku. Like with many other foreign century-old traditions, the veni-vidi-vice of american culture not only meant that these concepts were copied, modified and implemented in western culture; americans even became the original inventors. Similar to sushi being a japanese variety on the well-established California roll, raku became a western glazing technique that some nasty japanese tried to monopolize. Despite the fact that these overwhelmed japanese were in their right, what is currently meant with raku is closer related to the western implementation which started in the sixties of the previous century than to the original japanese idea. Still there are some elements inconceivably associated with eastern culture like a delicate balance between control and coincidence, between doing and letting go.

Right now, I'm writing this piece of HTML in Window's notepad and I realize how similar HTML is to raku. Analogies and metaphores can probably be found in numerous places but right now I'm c o d i n g HTML and the following similarity springs to mind which may explain my attraction to raku:
Both HTML and raku allow the creator to steer to a certain product; to drive the result to a certain appearance. The thing YOU are looking at right now, this window's appearance is undetermined; numerous factors are of influence and I've been busy trying to get a grip on most of them, but I'll never be able to control exactly what happens on YOUR screen. Resize your window and see what happens. Make it tall, drag it w i d e, change your font size or color depth. Try a different browser (b.t.w. this page was designed on a system with Internet Explorer 5; still I hope it looks good to you as well.), or turn your monitor upside down. This is a control-freak's worst nightmare!
What would life be like if everything would be controllable?
Things would be limited to peoples imagination. No matter how diverse, this will become boring in the end. Art caught in a dead end street.
Raku forces the artist to drift between control and coincidence without ever reaching one of the two extremes.

Thus the glaze is the part of the work that reflects the raku nature of the process. With other techniques, the firing usually begins when the creative process has been ended. It perpetuates all the efforts that have been put in the design of the pieces and the application of the glaze. In the ideal case the piece comes out of the kiln just as it was 'meant to be'. The situation is completely different in the raku approach. Here the firing and subsequent cooling down of the work largely determine its appearance.

The applied chemistry, the glaze recipe set a predictable and reproducible starting point. The nature of the ceramic surface it is applied on and the process of firing and cooling down introduce a tremendous amount of variables that are controllable to various degrees, but which allow weeks of experimentation with just a single recipe.
At this stage, I have not yet concerned myself very deeply with the ceramic design. I've been working almost exclusively with uniform bowls sofar; just to get a grip on glaze formulation and the firing process. On the next few pages I'll show some characteristic results and i'll give a more detailed description of the process itself. Besides this I'll show you how to make your own kiln.

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© 2002 Hans de Brouwer

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