You’d be forgiven for walking straight past Gallery Eclectic. With minimal signage on its all-white façade and a sparse window display, the store does little – apart from the occasional bark from Speech, Eclectic’s resident Boston terrier – to grab the attention of shoppers flocking to its Marylebone High Street neighbours. But inside is a collection of Japanese ceramics worth shouting about.
Presided over by Asako Mahara, a Goldsmiths graduate and former editor of bilingual magazine Bambi London-Tokyo, the focus is solely on up-and-coming artists. “It was through my magazine work that I first discovered the ceramic scene in Japan,” says Mahara. “And I thought, why not introduce the artists to London?”
One such ceramicist is the self-taught Shinobu Hashimoto, whose designs she came across during a tea ceremony in Tokyo. “The plates were beautiful – so delicate with gold filtering through tiny craquelures,” she says. “I got the artist’s name and tracked him down at a studio nearby. I was surprised when I met him, though, as he was covered in tattoos and had really long hair – not at all what I had imagined.”
Hashimoto’s cracked-glaze bowls (from £45) and braziers (£220), with iron-glazed inner surfaces, now sit alongside Tomoko Iwata’s cube vases (from £25), and plates with beautifully intricate hand-etched patterns by Makoto Kagoshima (from £30), a designer who worked in the display department of The Conran Shop’s Fukuoka branch for six years before turning his attention to pottery.
The shop attracts an international clientele and has a number of Japanese fans, including composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who always stops by when he’s in town. This is a credit, no doubt, to Mahara’s sharp eye, and she travels at least twice a year to her home country, taking in everywhere from Hokkaido to Okinawa, visiting artists’ studios and sourcing products.
“I just tend to choose pieces that make me happy, and customers seem to respond to those,” she says of the mix on offer, which is – fittingly – eclectic. You’ll find dip-glazed mugs by Katsushi Shimabukuro (from £42) next to classic turquoise-coloured espresso cups and saucers by Makiko Suzuki (£65), while Ayumi Makishima’s stylised polished white mugs with contrasting, chunky, black-spotted handles (from £38) set off Theatre Products’ quirky plates (£215) and flower cups (£145) – made in collaboration with Kyoritsutoki manufacturers. And there’s also a range of larger pieces, such as a striking circular sculpture by Shimabukuro (£770).
Downstairs is a small space used for pop-up events – pet portrait painter Tetsuo Takahara has exhibited there and in January it’s the turn of Eclectic mainstay Hashimoto. “Although we all know who the star of the show is,” Mahara muses, looking at Speech, snoozing in the window.