Ceramics, Tori Kudo says, is a “half-guaranteed chance operation.” Kudo, who once described himself as the “king of error,” regards relinquishing all expectations for his work as the foundation of his artistic output. For the past five decades, he has eschewed any pretense of control in his highly-improvisational music—assembling ragtag groups of untrained musicians to perform as his Maher Shalal Hash Baz ensemble, playing in a series of blink-and-you-miss-them psych-punk and noise bands in the ’70s and ’80s, and, he says, borrowing instruments for gigs from anyone who happens to be near the venue. In many ways, Kudo’s improvisations are controlled chaos, and this modus operandi stems, certainly, from his radical anarchist roots. But it is from this chaos that Kudo finds form, in both his sound and ceramics.
Kudo came of age in the ceramics workshop of his father, an art informel painter-turned-working-craftsman who practiced in the Tobe ware manner. Tobe ware, also known as Tobe-yaki, has been produced in Kudo’s native Ehime prefecture since the end of the eighteenth century and is known for its distinctive indigo designs set against brilliant white porcelain. In Kudo’s hand, this tradition is honored, warped, and expanded. His loose and playful forms are decorated with gestural brushstrokes and swirling, organic designs. When asked if, in his experimental style, he still regards his practice as part of the Tobe ware tradition, Kudo responded: “I dare say I am Tobe ware.”