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All of the transitions of life, from the embryonic stage to death and decay, are present in the work of Keisuke Mizuno. The intimate and intricate porcelain pieces often use flowers and fruit as the essential element, a starting point for Mizuno’s reflections on the transience of existence. Themes drawn from the cycles of life have continued in his exhibitions over the past five years. In his most recent work, the element of death has become much more prominent, as he has used both human and animal skulls as a still life element.

It is not surprising to find that this young artist was born in Japan. Nature and all of its cycles have been the source of Japanese art for centuries. The delicacy and intricacy of Mizuno’s ceramic sculpture also speaks of his cultural heritage. However, his path to ceramic art was not direct, and did not come from an education in Japan. As a young student, Mizuno came to the United States to study other subjects, and discovered ceramics in college. Although he completed his Bachelor of Science degree at Indiana University, he chose to continue his studies at Kansas City Art Institute. There, in the famed department headed by Ken Ferguson, Mizuno rapidly developed into a promising young artist. It was Ferguson, the inspirational teacher of generations of American artists such as Richard Notkin, Kurt Weiser, and Akio Takamori that encouraged and challenged Keisuke Mizuno. By the end of his two years (1993 through 1994) in Kansas City, Mizuno was ready to move on to graduate school. In 1997, he completed his graduate studies under Kurt Weiser at Arizona State University.

His professional career began immediately. Selected for several juried shows in the United States and Japan, his work won the Bronze Award at the 5th International Ceramics Competition in Mino, Japan. He had already been included in the Kutani International Decorative Ceramics Fair in 1997 and the NCECA Clay National in Las Vegas. He began to exhibit his work in respected commercial galleries in the United States.

Having caught the eye of jurors, curators and other artists, Mizuno concentrated on developing a refined vocabulary of forms and continued to discuss nature— from birth to death. The earliest mature works were a series of Forbidden Fruit in the years 1997 and 1998. Single and somewhat strange-looking pieces of fruit were fabricated out of porcelain, about the size that the viewer would want to pick up. In other cases, pairs of fruit were placed on veined leaves, the surfaces of which had been painstakingly painted. However, closer inspection would reveal tiny slugs, crawling on the surface or burrowing into crevices. It looked as if the slugs had deposited tiny embryonic skeletons. Mizuno seemed to like to seduce and repel the viewer, alternately attracting attention and evoking repulsion. The technical skills were so strong that a sense of hyperrealism grew quickly. As one observer noted, “The tone changes from a loving whisper to a restless moan as the information at the visual (and conceptual) core, or pith, darkly unfolds. At the centers of the seemingly benign works lurk minuscule death heads.”

When the Forbidden Flowers series appeared in 1998 and 1999, the artist added some intensity. An increase in scale allowed his color sense to expand, and the elements of his botanical subject grew stranger and more surreal. He developed new methods of manipulating the porcelain, creating fine fibrous material and curled edges that seemed to show recent decay and damage. Convincing in their imitation of natural form, the Forbidden Flowers also held a dark and disturbing image of death.Within their pistils and stamens, in the central areas of the flowers, were tiny skulls. As the artist explained in an interview, “That’s what I want to do, draw you into the piece and then I’ve got a surprise for you.”

A larger scale Forbidden Flower from 2000 is an example of the use of fibrous porcelain material. This sunflower image, with a central core of fine yellow fibers in place of the seeds, shows the artist investigating the limits of the material. Broken off at the stalk, the body of the huge flower rests on its edge. Deliberately curling the opening leaves of the sunflower in different directions, Mizuno displays a confidence and cunning ability to mimic nature.It was in this period of his work that he also began to insert other symbols, such as the butterfly. As his repertoire of methods increased, so did his symbology.

The ravages of nature have been the subjects of painting for ages. In his most recent work (from 2001) Mizuno has transformed an idea that has long been a part of Dutch and Flemish still life tradition. Seventeenth century Flemish vanitas still life painting often prominently displayed a skull, surrounded by cut flowers and other objects, symbolizing the passage of time and the brevity of human life. In each of his newest works, Keisuke Mizuno elaborates on this idea, and fabricates grapes, insects and flowers, which rest on the open leaf with a skull in the center. The fragmented or decaying skull may contain flowers. Human remains merge with flora and fauna, while insects devour the vegetation. The cycle of life is complete, the balance of nature revealed.

Mizuno’s focus on the philosophical has not been made at the expense of the physical. All of his work has remarkable intricacy and requires infinite patience and dexterity. His ability to work with porcelain and overglaze enamels has brought praise from fellow artists and curators. Mizuno’s work was selected for inclusion in the Los Angeles county Museum of Art’s exhibition Color and Fire: Defining Moments in Studio Ceramics, 1950-2000, by curator Jo Lauria of the Decorative Arts Department at the museum. A catalogue essayist, Rebecca Niederlander, has written, “This work lures the viewer with jewel-like colors of what proves, upon closer inspection, to be a piece of realistically rendered overripe fruit being munched by alert-looking slugs. Mizuno has said that he is fascinated by the “beauty of the inseparable dependence and visual disparity between life and death.” Humorously impractical, the pot is nestled in a leaf-shaped saucer of impossible fragility. Mizuno is clearly playing with the notion of forbidden fruit, the pomegranate of Hades as well as the apple of Eden.”

Keisuke Mizuno’s work was also included in the traveling exhibition Ceramic National 2000, organized by the Everson Museum Of Art, Syracuse, New York. This show, selected by a distinguished group of United States curators and writers, toured the country for two years, appearing at several major cities.Mizuno’s inclusion in this exhibit was another indication of his emergence as an artist in the world of ceramics.

--Jake Bowen
Mr. Bowen is a frequent visitor to Los Angeles art galleries and a keen observer of the scene.


1994-97     M.F.A. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
1993-94     Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri
1990-93     B.S. Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
1989-90     Community College of Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1988-89     State University of New York at Buffalo

Museum Collections

Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
Long Beach Museum of Art, California
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Mint Museum of Craft and Design, Charlotte, North Carolina
The Museum of Arts and Design, New York
The Museum of Contemporary Ceramic Art, The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural
     Park, Shigaraki, Japan
Renwick Gallery of The National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian
     Institution, Washington, DC
Shepparton Art Gallery, Shepparton, Australia

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2004     Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica
2003     David Zapf Gallery, San Diego, California
2002     Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California
            Jan Weiner Gallery, Kansas City, Missouri
            John Elder Gallery, New York
2001     Works Gallery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
            Paramount Art Center, St. Cloud, Minnesota
2000     Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California  
            Dorothy  Weiss Gallery, San Francisco, California
1999     Pewabic Pottery, Pontiac, Michigan
            Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California
1998     ShawGuido Gallery, Pontiac, Michigan
1997     Joanne Rapp Gallery/The Hand and The Spirit, Scottsdale, Arizona
1996     Art One, Scottsdale, Arizona