AKO DOMAE, a ceramic artist based in Hokkaido, Japan. We visited her atelier near the harbor in Hakodate, Hokkaido. Let's take a glimpse into the background of her creation!
You can see her works here
UNTIL STARTING TO WORK AS A CERAMIC ARTIST
CHILDHOOD AND COLLEGE YEARS SPENT IN THE NORTH
ーーYOU HAVE LIVED IN HAKODATE, AKITA, SETO IN JAPAN AND SYDNEY BEFORE STARTING YOUR CAREER AS A CERAMIC ARTIST. PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF EACH PLACE AND ANY INFLUENCES ON YOUR WORK.
Hakodate is my hometown, and I had seen my father, a ceramist, at work since I was a child, but I had no idea at the time that I would actually make a career out of it. I just thought of a ceramist as one kind of job. Still, I decided to go to an art-related university and went to a junior college of fine arts in Akita.
Her atelier is located behind the “Hakodate Kogeisya”, a craft gallery run by AKO's father and mother.
The cafe space in the gallery. Quiet and beautiful space facing the courtyard.
I majored in a crafts course there, but instead of choosing ceramics, I chose metal art. I somehow had a fascination with making accessories. Metal art is fun, but you have to touch the material through some tool, and you can't directly touch it with your hands to change its shape.
Comparing clay and metal, one of the materials I have been familiar with since childhood, I felt that I would be better at creating shapes by touching them directly with my hands.
A small table made by her father. It is decorated with tiles depicting architecture in Hakodate city. So lovely.
STUDENT LIFE AGAIN IN SETO CITY
I was born in Seto City in Aichi Prefecture, so I thought it would be a good idea to return there. My father recommended that I go to a pottery school in that city.
It had been a long time since I had been to school itself, and I really enjoyed it. The age range of the students was very wide, from young people who had just graduated from junior high school, to people in their 30s who had quit their jobs and joined the school, to retired old men in their 60s, all of whom wanted to try pottery. Of course, there were some tough times. I wasn't used to that hot weather, as I came from the north area, Hokkaido. (Laughs)
Ceramic pieces made by her father.
Ceramic pieces made by her mother.
MOVING TO AUSTRALIA
Later, I was asked by a senior student at school who was working for a ceramist in Australia at the time, if I would like to take over his position when he returned to Japan. I replied, "I will go immediately! I rushed to get my passport and other required travel documents ready, took a few English classes, and then went to Australia.
The atelier used by her father, AKO, and sometimes her mother.
So I went to Sydney to work as an assistant for an artist named Malcolm Greenwood. He is an artist who creates wabi-sabi themed pieces. He makes dishes that enhance the food and sells them wholesale to cafes, upscale wine diners, and starred restaurants in Sydney. My experience in Seto was very useful there.
I felt a sense of richness from the way pictures and art objects are displayed in the home in Australia including Malcolm's home. I think it is partly because of the culture of casually inviting people to their home.
I think the objects and candle stands I am making now are influenced by my life in Australia.
WORKING AT AN ART GALLERY IN TOKYO
After working as an assistant in Sydney for about a year, I returned to Japan and stayed in Tokyo for a while. Tokyo was a place I always dreamed of visiting, and I wanted to live there someday as I was from a small city in Hokkaido. In Tokyo, I worked at a contemporary art gallery, as I had always liked art and had a fascination for this job.
Creating the shape of the object by feeling the repulsion of air in the soil with her hands.
RETURNED TO HAKODATE AGAIN AND STARTED CREATION
I had the environment for creating in Hakodate, so I went back to my hometown and started creating ceramic works like I was ready to do it.
I returned in January or February of 2020, just when I could not go out due to the pandemic, so I was able to stay home and concentrate on my creation. If I had had other fun things to do, I might not have been able to concentrate so hard.
A pile of clam shells. They are used to prevent the glaze from sticking to the board by placing them under pieces without a foot ring.
When I came back to my hometown to start creating, I had a hard time coming up with what to create at first. I liked collecting artists' pieces, but I was just on the buying side.
But one day, when I was walking behind a Starbucks near the port, I saw a fish jumping around. I thought it was a flying fish. It jumped and went back to the sea, creating ripples, and it was a day when the moon was out.
I also like karesansui (dry landscape garden), and this led me to create works with ripple motifs.
I followed that up by making fluffy shapes, like waves. That was the initial inspiration.
I have lived in Hakodate since I was a child, but I had never noticed the flying fish scenery until now. My mother seemed to have always loved that, so I must have seen it with her, but I guess it didn't appeal to me at the time. (Laughs)
After coming back from Tokyo, I once again came to think that Hakodate is a very unique and nice city because of its sea and mountain.
Stones and sea flotsam collected by her and her family.
I also like to pick up stones. Since I was a child, I have often gone to nature, and I like to pick up not only oddly shaped stones, but also shells, squid bones, and other things in curious shapes.
I think that most of the things I find interesting are natural formations. Recently, I am also fascinated by vegetables. I am amazed at the shapes of bell peppers and onions. The same goes for the succulents I grow.
Artificial objects are also interesting. For example, when I saw the Kagamimochi* decorated for New Year's and thought the stepped shape was cute, I made an incense holder with the motif of a rice cake.
*Kagamimochi is a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It usually consists of two round mochi (rice cakes), the smaller placed atop the larger, and a Japanese bitter orange.
ーIt's nice to find hints in your daily life.
I think it is because I came back to Hakodate as an adult that I was able to rediscover the good things that I could not notice before.
ENJOYMENT AND DIFFICULTY OF CREATION
I really enjoy working with my hands, but I still have a hard time dealing with the emotional ups and downs that come before an exhibition. I had thought that I basically had no emotional ups and downs, but since I started ceramics in earnest, I have been surprised at how my emotions move.
I think I am a positive type of person who can think what I make is cute while I am creating it. But when the time comes to show them in front of others, I am very worried if they will be okay... That is the hard part.
Not having much experience in devoting myself seriously to one thing, I was puzzled by my new emotional dynamic.
WHAT SHE VALUES WHEN CREATING
I would like to create clay with the softness it has. Clay is basically soft until it is fired, and then it becomes hard. I want to preserve the free softness of clay before firing, and my works basically do not have many sharp edges. The foot ring for example, I am conscious of leaving a gentle shape without creating that edgy area.
When I was studying ceramics at a school in Seto City, I had a feeling. As Seto has a strong image of mass-produced products, we had an assignment to make 100 teacups in the exact same shape.
It was a great learning experience to improve my skills, but I felt like I was a machine, and I realized that I didn't really like to keep making the same shape. It helped me realize that I like to create freely.
Everyone's hands are different in size and the way they feel when they hold it is different, so I think it is fine if they are not exactly the same shape.
The beautiful tableware handmade by her father and the delicious cakes made by her mother. If you are ever in Hakodate, be sure to visit the cafe at Hakodate Kogeisya.
Profile photo credit 2023, AKO DOMAE
Born in Seto, Aichi. Raised in Hakodate, Hokkaido. Used to play with clay in her childhood influenced by her father who is a ceramist. Graduated from Akita Municipal Junior College of Arts and Crafts. Graduated from Aichi Ceramic School. Worked at Malcolm Greenwood ceramic studio in Sydney, Australia. Currently living in Hakodate, Hokkaido.
You can see her works here