Welcome to our ‘spiral market selection’ interview series, where we look at living from the viewpoint of artists and creators engaged in craftsmanship for daily life. For this third installment, we interviewed Yuko Ikeda, an artist engaged in pottery.
──An idea for a showroom
When I returned from studying design overseas at school in San Diego, my father had started pottery as a hobby. We had an old electric kiln and a potter’s wheel in our family home. It started as a hobby for me too – I worked on pottery when I had free time in between job hunting. Even after I started working at a design company, I used to spin the potter’s wheel as a stress release.
I worked on pieces studying independently, and then a friend who ran a café started using my pieces and even sold some for me. It just felt right so I quit my job at the design company. Even so, I didn’t have the courage to take my pieces to galleries, and instead decided to open my own studio and showroom in one room of an apartment building. I was fortunate that people found out about me through word of mouth. Then I did some media interviews and some people even contacted galleries on my behalf. That’s how I got my start as a creative artist. I closed the gallery when I had my first baby, but looking back, it was a really good idea.
Later, I came to a point where I had exhausted all I knew about glazes, so for about a year and a half I joined a glaze research group which shared all kinds of information about glazes. My experience there had a major influence on the glazing methods I use now, and it was a great way for me to refresh my studies after having worked in the field for a while. Up to that point I had never been to a single pottery class, so it also gave me quite a psychological boost.
──Daily life and creation in sync
These days my studio is on the first floor of my home and even though the spaces are separate, my days pass in a steady rhythm, whether I am cooking dinner or working on my pottery. Some of my earliest creations are intermingled with my latest pieces on our daily table, as well as pieces I have bought from other artists. I really love tableware, and by using them in daily life, I get hints for what works and what doesn’t.
I used to pay most attention to how useful a dish would be, but now I treat purchasing tableware like buying a painting. Even if its not that easy to use or not versatile with an array of foods, I really want to make pieces that people choose to buy simply because it makes them say “It’s beautiful. I love it.” It’s difficult though. I am trying to walk the fine line between items for daily use and art – functional and non-functional. When I personally find a piece like that, it’s almost like the creator is entrusting me with their work. For myself, I always have a strong concept and message behind my pieces, but because they are intended to be used by someone else, I must remember to not push that too hard. I need to consider that delicate balance.
──Like pieces of a puzzle
The colors of my pieces are the product of scenes in my memory – the ocean, a sunset, the sand on a beach. I recreate them putting my own filter on them. I think if I put this and this together, it should come out looking like that scene I saw once. But the ratios in glazes are so exacting, and even if you make it precisely according to the recipe it comes out differently every time. Sometimes I am amazed by the colors that come out, and then I think, I kind of like that. It feels like I’m doing a solo audition over and over again.
In terms of the forms of my pieces, sometimes I can’t achieve what I want on the potter’s wheel, even if I start out with a clear image. Occasionally they fall into my style. I make my clay quite a lot softer than many other potters and work at the wheel exerting very little force as I shape my clay. I just shave the base a little and I don’t touch the rim. I do have preferred shapes, but there are still times when I just work on a piece with very little thought. I have a strong sense of freedom now that I have experience. I find inspiration in a shape that came about unexpectedly and choose a color that might suit it best – a bit like putting together the pieces of a puzzle.
──A country with a deeply rooted and enriched pottery culture
Several years ago, I decided to readdress the world of pottery. I studied the forms of antique pottery and matcha tea bowls, and even started learning tea ceremony. It made me realize anew what an incredible world I had stepped into. I also think it’s wonderful that in Japan we have a culture, even among young people, of choosing pottery pieces for personal use just like you would a t-shirt. Many people are really getting the most out of the dishes they have, be it for presenting food, displaying flowers, or simply as an ornamental piece. We live in a country with such a rich culture of pottery woven into our daily lives. And because of that, potters like me can continue creating. I think that’s where my idea – that a piece doesn’t necessarily need to be functional – comes from. Because Japanese people have in their minds that a piece of pottery can be a piece of art. That’s the spirit with which I choose to create. It’s hard and I struggle with it sometimes, but my goal is to create “pieces that have sufficient purpose to be bought even if they have no use.”
There have been times when I thought I would simply create objet d’art, but I think the reason I am so drawn to tableware now is because it can be a work of art while also being closely interwoven into, and thereby enriching, our daily lives.
Interview and editing by Spiral