JB Blunk

November 18, 2016 – January 21, 2017
Tokyo

Opening reception: Friday, November 18, 6–8pm 

Blum & Poe is pleased to present an exhibition of more than thirty ceramics by legendary Northern California artist, JB Blunk (1926–2002). Covering his production from the 1950s to the 1990s, this is his second solo show with the gallery, and his first presentation in Japan since 1954.

Although Blunk achieved his primary success as a woodworker, he also created an extensive body of work in carved stone, cast bronze, painting, and clay. His work is evocative of archetypal forms such as arches, circles, portals, and phalluses. The composition and scale of his creations rely heavily on the inherent characteristics of the natural material he sourced and with which he worked. Blunk ignored the traditional separation of furniture and sculpture; his attitude towards these classifications is reminiscent of the Japanese indifference towards the distinction between art and craft. 

This is no coincidence, as Blunk’s career began in Japan. After graduating from UCLA where he had studied ceramics with Laura Andreson, he was drafted into the Korean War, which enabled leave visits to Japan. There he hoped to meet the renowned Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada, whose work he had first seen in an exhibit at UCLA. In 1952, he met Isamu Noguchi by chance in a mingei (folk craft) shop. Noguchi introduced him to the famed potter Rosanjin Kitaoji, who took on Blunk as an apprentice for several months. Later, Blunk spent eighteen months working in the ceramics studio of Living National Treasure, Toyo Kaneshige, in Bizen. By the time he returned to California in 1954, he was thoroughly steeped in the Japanese stoneware tradition, his work included in the 1959 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo entitled Contemporary Japanese Ceramic Art.

Blunk’s deep commitment to the physical process of making and to how that process might guide the final outcome is evident in both his large-scale wood sculptures and ceramics. He extracted from the material until a satisfying form was realized. Working primarily with his hands, imperfections found in wood burl or rocks were acknowledged and would often dictate the composition and character of the final piece.

Blunk’s last exhibition in Japan was curated by Noguchi at Chūo Kōron Gallery, Tokyo, in 1954. In his review of the exhibition, art historian Saburo Hasegawa wrote: “Pottery is a craft which has been highly developed in Japan and is noted for its elaborate technical achievements. Yet, the Japanese potters have never forgotten the profound charm of the simple and primitive. Blunk has found [the Bizen ware] an inspiring medium for self-expression … and has gained the power of directness.”

Blunk has exhibited internationally in Japan, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Recent exhibitions include solo shows at the Landing, Los Angeles (2015) and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2010). His work was featured in Crafting Modernism at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York (2011), and is represented in the permanent collections of the Oakland Museum of California; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Arts and Design, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and numerous private collections. 

Selected Works

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