Connections | In Conversation with Ikuko Iwamoto, Hiro Takahashi, Kaori Tatebayashi, Yo Thom and Motoko Wakana

Connections | 27th June - 20th July 2019

Our current exhibition Connections brings together five Japanese makers; Ikuko Iwamoto, Hiro Takahashi, Kaori Tatebayashi, Yo Thom and Motoko Wakana.

Clay can be seen as a connecting material, although to talk about 'clay' as a unifying medium ignores the sheer range of clays available to work with, and does not take into account firing temperatures and the many different ways to approach surface. Each of these artists works within their own visual language, exploring personal ways to communicate ideas and sources of inspiration.  Fundamental processes may overlap on occasions; throwing, hand-building, slabbing... but all five of these makers have made these their own.

Their conversations are interesting.  The drive and passion to work with clay are key, but their individual voices share stories of personal journeys.

Ikuko Iwamoto

Ikuko Iwamoto

Contemporary Ceramics: Why do you do what you do?

Ikuko Iwamoto: Because that’s what I want to do.

CC: How did you first get involved in working with clay?

II: When I was a student back in Japan, my teacher in the art class told me that I had no talent with drawings and I was so shocked that I gave up working on 2D and… moved on to 3D...

CC: What themes or techniques will you be exploring through the show? 

II:Outline Sculpture’ is sort-of my comeback work for creating freestanding sculpture. My focus has been wall pieces for the last 6-7 years, and I have not created freestanding pieces for ages.

‘Architecture’ or ‘structure’ will be the theme for my ‘Outline Sculpture’ because the work is created by the assembly of more than two parts.

Regarding the techniques, in order for the work to have natural/organic vibes, lots of holes are created on these assembled pipe-looking parts which form the structure of the work.

Ikuko Iwamoto | Internal Spiky Thorn
CC: What is your process for making these pieces? What parts of the process do you particularly embrace?

II: I do very rough sketches and create a simple maquette beforehand, and once I am happy with these, I apply my usual slip-casting technique which involves plaster model-making and mould-making.

All the time you create your artwork with clay, you are going to have to go through the process of firing. This is the point I enjoy, and also need to consider with careful calculation in order to maintain the form of the structure, to endure against the heat of high-temperature firing.

CC: What is the relationship between decoration and form?

II: I don’t know the relationship between them,  but I think the form comes first, and the decoration comes next?

Ikuko Iwamoto | Outline 002
CC: What inspires your recent works?

II: Anything that gives me a hint for the structure. This can vary from the creases of a broken cardboard box to images of bacterial threads.

CC:  What is your relationship with colour?

II: Colour is, to me, like music. If there is too much going on, it becomes annoying. It has to be simple and cheering.
CC: What images keep you company in the space where you work?

II: There are Paul Klee’s portrait and a copy of his work on the back door of my studio, as well as some crazy drawings by my kids.
CC: How do you hope people experience your ceramics?

II: I want my work to break through the stereotype which people generally have about the ceramics such as ‘ceramics = pottery’ or ‘ceramicist = artisan rather than artist’. I would like to bring more fine art elements into the current ceramics scene.

Ikuko Iwamoto | Beaker
CC: Tell us about your process

II: I create a model or mould for the entire sculpture including the head part. This is a separate section and the model for this is created without the spiked elements. After the top-section is slipcast, the spikes are carefully attached, and the head is attached to the top of the pipe.

The holes are created manually with a very thin drill. Any holes around the tricky areas, mainly the connecting areas, are made before assembly is carried out. The clay pieces removed by the process of drilling remain inside the hollow pipe, and these are removed after the bisque firing, by cleaning each hole with a metal wire.

The working process... Model-making, and then cleaning the table and floor. Mould-making, and then cleaning the table and the floor. Slip-casting, and then cleaning the table and the floor. Decoration, and then cleaning the table and the floor. Glazing, and then cleaning the table and the floor, and endless cleaning to get rid of the clay and plaster dust!
Ikuko Iwamoto | Spiky Beaker
CC: Tell us about your firing

II: The factors I consider in order for the form to withstand the firing are as follows;
1) The angle of the pipes as a complete form of the sculpture, and also the angles where joints occur. How best to divide the form into sections.
2) The angle of the joint section between the bottom of the head and top of the pipe.
3) The thickness of the pipes.

CC: What has been a seminal/inspirational moment?

II: Whenever I have spotted a great structure of something or some patterns in nature.

CC: How has your practice changed over time?

II: Throwing - hand building - slip casting - mixed media

CC: How does working with clay influence your life beyond the workshop?

II: It has made me a good baker. (according to my family)

Hiro Takahashi

Hiro Takahashi
Contemporary Ceramics:.Why do you do what you do?

Hiro Takahashi: I found it to be comforting and nourishing to create things from my memory with clay. Soul House, for instance, was inspired by a model of Japanese Kura, a storage building. I have seen many of this traditional architecture, stood solitude while my grandmother took me around for a walk. The sad thing was, over the years those old buildings were knocked down to be replaced by car parks and for other purposes. Perhaps I have a feeling for re-visiting these fond places, the atmosphere and people in the past, such as my grandmother. My other themes; Tree of life, Allegorical Boat, Tower of myth, Message box and Wabi-sabi bowl share similar motivations and inspiration. They came from my inner world.

CC: How did you first get involved in working clay?

HT: I thought it was a good idea to make my own noodle bowl, as commercial soup bowls in the 1980s were not deep enough to hold all the contents of instant noodle.
Hiro Takahashi | Allegorical Boat

CC: What themes or techniques will you be exploring through the show? 

HT: Nature and the natural environment of my home countryside in Somerset. I am fascinated by textures, the subtly different colours and shapes seen in wild plants, shrubs and trees when they tangle, knot and twist. Even shadows make an interesting effect. I also think about the ground underneath where fossils and organic matter that was once part of living things lie hidden. It is satisfying to create a link between the present and the past.

I observe all seasonal changes in nature: Every single plant, including the leaves and flowers of weeds and bushes; the woods sparkling with morning sunlight, brushing, tossing and turning against gusty winds and sometimes with hard frost framing them like jewellery. I would like to get closer to this beauty.

CC: What is your process for making these pieces?

HT: I hand build most of my work these days. Like birds making their nests, I weave clay as a different style of coiling. The clays I use vary. Sometimes I would like to fire pieces in an oxidised firing or reduction or perhaps raku or smoked. It all depends on how I would like to express the individual atmosphere of the piece.

Hiro Takahashi | Journey (detail)
CC: What is your relationship with form and colour?

HT: I invent and discover alternative ways to make shapes. Soul House developed into various Japanese architectural forms with my knowledge and study of the buildings and their history. The same for Allegorical Boat. Tower of Myth is based on the ruins around where I now live, Somerset to the South West. Message Box is entirely my invention, yet inspired by a Japanese sense of posting a secret and a special letter using a different form of an envelope. 

My favourite colours are green and blue because they remind me of trees, plants and sky. Even with one glaze, I try to create a subtle colour difference on the surface, hence textures and slips help. I would like to use glazes to add narrative elements like an oil painting.

CC: How do you work?

HT: I tend to hand build sculptural work. My method is like weaving and embroidery. After biscuit firing, the individual work would decide which method of firing would be best to create the atmosphere and mood. So it could be stoneware oxidisation, reduction, raku firing, smoked firing or earthenware firingA big challenge always lies with making the shape, because of gravity. My current passion is shaping the Allegorical Boat. These curled-up autumn leaf or crescent moon shapes require a very intricate balance between left to right, particularly during the drying stage and at the time of both bisque and glaze firing. When all has gone well and the work sits in front of me, I feel I want to celebrate my achievement.

CC: How has your practice changed over time?

Hiro Takahashi | Rustic Tree of Life
HT: To begin with, I made many items on the potter's wheel, often altering shapes after throwing, sometimes combined with slab building. Then I discovered hand building method with textures which became the main process for my present method. A few years back, I also invented a different way to pinch and shape. This is how Wabi-Sabi bowls came about.

CC: What images keep you company in the space where you work?

HT: I minimise pictures and posters in my workshop, although I have plenty of wildlife magazines, bird books, books of both Japanese and Chinese art and culture around me. Sketches of the next project and things that interest me are always in my sketchbooks and I rely on them entirely. But the important part of the process is looking out at views through my windows. I have four different views to observe and enjoy nature.

CC: What has been a seminal/inspirational moment?

HT: I think it was Angus Suttie, who told me there is another way to make shapes rather than only using the wheel or a plaster mould. Then in one evening class of his, I was too tired to work on the wheel and I started to play with clay. I discovered how it would create lovely textures which I can manipulate.

Hiro Takahashi | Wabi-sabi bowl

CC: How do you hope people experience your ceramics?

HT: When my customers come back and tell me they place my work where they meditate, or that they keep looking at it and discover a spiritual feeling, that makes me happy.

I like to create a narrative in my ceramics. I would like to invite people to look at my inner world. It would be rewarding if people can see this and relate to their own experience and feeling through my ceramics.

CC: How does working clay influence your life beyond the workshop?

HT: Thinking of this, the encounter with clay has led me to where I would like to be. It has opened up a new door to meet different people when I go to ceramics fairs and exhibition and also has helped me to became more observant towards the environment around me.

Kaori Tatebayashi

Kaori Tatebayashi
Contemporary Ceramics: What themes or techniques will you be exploring through the show? 

Kaori Tatebayashi: I will be developing new teaware for the Oriental tea ceremony.

CC: What is your process for making these pieces? What parts of the process do you particularly embrace or enjoy?

KT: I have had a series of tea ceremony sessions with various tea experts to explore the Chinese teas and its rituals, which I wasn't very familiar with. It's different from the Japanese tea ceremony.

I am currently practising making and serving this style of tea and figuring out what forms, sizes and items it requires. I am hoping to develop my own form and style, aligning with tradition but seeing how much space there is to play with.

CC: What inspires your recent work?

KT: This new Oriental tea movement, if you like. I started seeing it happening in Japan and in this country.
Kaori Tatebayashi | Cup and Saucer

CC: How do you hope people experience your ceramics?

KT: Through direct use in everyday life.

CC: What characterises the Oriental tea ceremony? How is it different from the Japanese tea ceremony?

KT: With Gongfu style, ( Chinese and Taiwanese ) tea is brewed in a tiny tea pot ( often earthenware clay pots ) or Gaiwan ( informal glazed teapot formed of cup, saucer and lid ) poured into tiny cups. The cups usually come in two different shapes, one is tall and straight called sniff cup for smelling tea, the other is round and open for drinking. Although my two cups are both for drinking.

Not always but saucers can be used, too. 

Kaori Tatebayashi | Teaset
The tea is usually brewed 4-5 times and the flavour develops and changes throughout the ceremony.

Other items used are a tea caddy, tea strainer, fair cup, tray or bowl, and small tools made in wood or bamboo.

The Japanese tea ceremony is altogether different but I can not tell you in a few lines and so I will leave it for another occasion. 

CC: Are your pieces thrown or hand-built (or both)?

KT: I threw the teapots and the rest is made with my own technique using hump mould.

CC: What types of glazes and clay do you use?

KT: A heavily grogged red stoneware clay body and my usual kohiki (clear glaze over white slip), sand (semi-matt glaze) and kuro (black glaze) finishes.

Yo Thom

Yo Thom
Contemporary Ceramics: Why do you do what you do?

Yo Thom: I do pottery because I love the pure alchemy, diversity, tactility and the element of chance.
I also love the serenity and simple concentration in throwing, hand building, and decorating process.
I also love the fact that it is such an ancient and fundamental skill that the humankind has developed and nurtured throughout human history. When I use clay, I feel that I am a part of this history.

CC: How did you first get involved in working with clay?

YT:  My mother has been doing pottery as a hobby ever since I can remember, and I had a number of opportunities to make things with clay with her, which probably planted a seed in me. But it wasn’t until I came to UK and started a 3D design course that I was fascinated by the whole process in the ceramic studio. The first major ceramic exhibition that I visited as a student was the Lucie Rie and Hans Coper exhibition at Barbican in 1997. This exhibition also destined my ceramic path.

Yo Thom | Rectangular Plate

CC: What themes or techniques will you be exploring through the show?

YT:  I have been working on the idea of combining inspirations from the Japanese craft tradition and the Dorset rural landscape.

Particularly the ‘boro’ patchwork (old Japanese farm workers’ patched indigo clothes) and the patchwork of fields in rural Dorset are my latest inspirations, and overlapping the two to create a scenery that is my own.

I use various techniques to form the pieces – throwing, coil-building, slab-building, pinching, etc. – and finish the form by hand rather than turning on the wheel to create a more individual finish. I decorate the surfaces using sgraffito technique with indigo slip and apply a tin-based white glaze over the top.

I like the forming of the shapes and finishing them off by hand, which is a quieter and slower process than turning on a wheel. It allows me to build a more individual relationship with each piece.

This process then helps me to design the surface decoration spontaneously according to the individual piece.

I work in between the chores and tasks a mother of three has to do!! My time in my pottery is very limited, but I love the tranquillity and slow speed of time in the pottery, especially when I’m decorating and throwing.

Yo Thom | Vase
CC: Please tell us about the relationship between decoration and form?

YT: My work has slowly evolved by playing with the visual balance of the glaze surface, texture, and form as well as ideas. It is so intertwined that I don’t have a straight forward explanation…

The colour of the glaze inspired me to explore the idea of indigo textiles, and most recently the Japanese “Boro” patchwork, which can sympathetically relate to the landscape of Dorset countryside.

But the form comes from rather aesthetic decision… my slip picks up details of the clay surface very well and it made sense to create form that is not smooth with slightly grogged clay…

CC: Can you tell us more about your new ‘Patchwork’ pieces.

YT: I love many traditional Japanese potteries, Shino, Bizen, Oribe, Karatsu…but I wanted to create something that is coming out of “me” and “my life”.

When I discovered my indigo-shade glaze (layer of oxides and glaze), I immediately imagined the traditional indigo fabrics, then the idea of combining the Japanese fabric patterns and the beautiful nature that surrounds me in my Dorset studio naturally developed.

The views of the English landscape from the sky is like a beautiful patchwork. Patchworks are like “Life”…You patch and patch with what you can get and before you know it, you create an utterly unique and original piece of work…which is your life itself…

Since becoming a mother of three children, life has been chaotic. At times, I feel that my life is all fragmented, interrupted and disordered… and I feel that the daily chore is never-ending… but when I look back and see what I have achieved, I realise that I have managed to create an amazingly colourful and wonderful life with my family…

Yo Thom | Vase
CC: What images keep you company in the space where you work?

YT: Outside my studio, I can see a nicely rounded hill (Fontmell Down) and a group of trees standing slightly off-centred on top of the hill. That’s always my inspiration for my large Tsubo pieces.

I also have a few books on traditional “Boro” patchworks from the northern part of Japan, and Sashiko (Japanese stitching technique accompanied with patchworks), and local lino/woodcut printmakers art books and postcards that inspires me on English landscapes.

CC:  Tell us about any seminal or inspirational moments?

YT: One major seminal moment was the time I worked for Lisa Hammond. Lisa was inspirational in many aspects…as a potter, a working woman, a mother, and a friend. I learned not only the pottery skills but also to believe in one’s ability and to persevere…

Lisa was very generous in giving me opportunities to improve my skills and experiences, which can be risky for her business, but certainly boosted my confidence as a potter.

CC: How has your practice changed over time?

YT:  As Lisa’s apprentice, I was more familiar with reduction firings and all my previous work was fired in either a gas or wood-fire kilns with traditional glazes. But the change of circumstances forced me to work with electric kilns, which resulted with the development of my current glaze.

It was a rather drastic transformation and I was apprehensive about the response, but I was very pleasantly surprised with the positive response and the rest is history…

Yo Thom | Oval Plate
CC: How do you hope people experience your ceramics?

YT: In this modern age, I appreciate even more the power of human hands. The beauty of boro patchwork is a creation of simple life and hardships…simply, the human life itself.

I love any traditional artefacts and handcrafts that mirror the people’s life and their history. I hope people would see in my work the admiration for the human ability to create such simple but beautiful objects with their own hands.

CC: How does working with clay influence your life beyond the workshop?

YT: To have a skill in my hand definitely gave me more confidence as a person. Working with clay teaches you many things…be patient, organised, brave, flexible, free, adventurous, optimistic, creative, precise, sensitive…

Motoko Wakana

Motoko Wakana
Contemporary Ceramics: Why do you do what you do?

Motoko Wakana: It's my life.

CC: How did you first get involved in working with clay?

MW: I wanted to make something by hand. Various tableware was close by me.        

CC: What (new) themes or techniques will you be exploring through the show?

Motoko Wakana: I usually make functional pieces. I made the platters (this is new) for serving but I thought it could be possible to hang them on the wall as well.

I tried to make an oval vase. I thought doing joint slab and wheel pieces would make more variation.

CC: What is your process for making these pieces? What parts of the process do you particularly embrace or enjoy?

MW: I make the form by throwing or slab-building with dark clay, decorate with white slip, apply ash glaze, and then reduction-fire with charcoal.

I most enjoy the decorating process.

Motoko Wakana | Teabowl
CC:  What is the relationship between decoration and form?

MW: Almost, the form is for the decoration. The form is simple then I put white parts on dark making a good contrast.

CC: What inspires your recent work?

MW: Culture and nature in Japan.

CC: What images keep you company in the space where you work?

MW: Natural creation such as shells, stones, seeds, leaves, and so on.

CC: How do you work?

MW: Teaching and making

CC: What has been a seminal/inspirational moment?

Experiencing the changes in the season, such as the smells from flowers, the colour of the sky, clouds, plant buds, vegetables or the taste of fruits...

Motoko Wakana | Shallow Bowl
CC: How has your practice changed over time?

MW: I am more interested in food and meals.

CC: How do you hope people experience your ceramics?

MW: Through my work I would like to help people to feel the seasons, like as they change their clothes every season. It's a bit difficult to explain in my vocabulary. My inspiration is from finding little differences (e.g., a plant bud or the taste of vegetables, etc.) in everyday life or typical scenery in every season. Maybe it’s better if I say, ‘My work is inspired by feeling the seasons in everyday life?’

CC:  How does working with clay influence your life beyond the workshop?

MW: Working with clay is a part of my life.  I wouldn't feel satisfied without clay.

Motoko Wakana | Oval Vase

The clay is a part of nature. It’s changed to pottery by the water, the air and the fire. The moisture is helpful to make the form, then the slip that is runny clay can express the surface, soft, active, in contrast, and more.


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