"I listen to the voice of the soil, how they want to be."
Mai Tagawa creates ceramic works for daily use.
I visited and interviewed her in her studio in Oyama City, Tochigi Prefecture. Her works are quite unique as they have the scarlet color change of the clay. You will never forget once you see her vases with a mysterious appearance. Let's take a glimpse into the background behind her creation.
WHY DID YOU START MAKING CERAMICS?
I had always dreamed of making metal accessories, so I chose to go to an art college to study metal works. When I was in the 1st grade at the art college I learned all about metal, glass, and ceramics, but I didn't get into metal at all at that time. (Laughs) So I decided to major in ceramics. I felt that it was easier for me to create the shapes I wanted.
Well, my motivation is very simple and not something I am proud of. I was very comfortable with being able to promptly create the shape I wanted.
DID YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TO EXPRESS YOUR IDEA OF FORM WITH METAL?
Yes. When you first make a mold and pour metal in it, and if it doesn't work, you have to start over again. Or you can't put it back to the original form when you once scrape a piece of metal. I got a little frustrated with this process.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR YOU WHEN CREATING?
For example, when making tablewares, I prioritize the silhouette I want to create and match it.
For vases, I'm conscious of my reaction with the clay when I'm making them. Even if I design the shape of a vase, I rarely make it exactly as the first sketch. If I find a better way while I'm making it, I just follow it. I think that if I try to force the shape of the vase to trace the sketch, it will inevitably end up looking unnatural.
When I was a student, I made a sculpture as a part of the curriculum. I created it by following the sketch, and felt very uncomfortable, like this is not what I really want to make..." Since then, I've been conscious of following my own sense.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR APPROACH TO TECHNIQUES AND MATERIALS.
I use the clay from Shigaraki. (Shigaraki is one of the oldest pottery producing places in Japan.) My mother loves Shigaraki ware, and most of the mugs in my parents' house are from Shigaraki. Maybe I use this clay because I was familiar and thought it was nice as a child. This clay tends to turn a scarlet color, and I really like the gradation. I am fascinated with the characteristic that you can't know the color change until taking it out from the kiln, and I want to enhance it.
The soil has a delicious color like baked cookies. Shea calls this color “scarlet”.
DO OTHER CLAYS SHOW THIS KIND OF COLORATION?
I don't think so. Maybe I just don't know yet. I have been using this soil since I was a student as it is very easy to express what I want.
Making a flower vase by hand-building technique.
For glazes, I am particular about using them which react with the clay and enhance scarlet color strongly on the surface. I use an electric kiln because I think it brings out the most beautiful scarlet color. I once tried firing in a gas kiln, but the color flew out and it was not that beautiful.
WHAT IS YOUR UNIQUE APPROACH SHAPE?
I make the rims of my tableware very thin. I think that the thin rims make the dishes look beautiful when served. People tend to think that dishes with thin rims are not suitable for daily use as they need to be handled with care. But I think it's good if people think like that, so that they will take good care of them.
Beautiful bowls with stunning rims!
DO YOU USE A POTTER'S WHEEL TO MAKE VASES?
Well, I basically don't. Sometimes I make some vases with an electric potter's wheel when I'm in the mood, but basically I make them by hand-building.I prefer hand-building as it is easy to trace my hand, and looks organic. I also like the fact that I can directly put my feelings into the vase, and express my personality.
She likes to listen to comedy radio when working.
WHEN DO YOU FEEL HAPPINESS OR JOY WHEN CREATING?
For tableware, I feel happy and that I have done a great job, when I attach the handle on a mug and the shape is completed. I also love the moment when I finally encounter my work when opening the kiln.
For vases, I always make slits (surface scratches), but to be honest, I don't really enjoy this process. (Laughs) It is a bit like training. But at the end of the day, when the work is completed, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Those moments make me happy.
The unique fur-like patterns are carved by hand one by one. It is a mind-boggling process.
The tools used to make the slit have been used for a long time since college.
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU REFER TO CREATE YOUR WORK?
For vases, I refer to nothing. I make them freely.
For tableware, I was influenced by Lucie Rie's works. When I was a student, I used to see her books in the library. I was amazed by the beauty of silhouettes. Well, I can't completely become Lucy Lee, so I'm working on my own interpretation.
She likes the aroma of basil and is growing it in her work space to smell it nearby.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY IN THE FUTURE?
I would like to try different firing methods. I'm currently firing glazed works, but I would like to try carbonized firing, which is firing with rice husks or charcoal, without glaze.
IF YOU HAVE ANY MESSAGES FOR USERS, PLEASE!
I hope that your daily life will be enriched a little by using my works !
Her works are used for cats' food bowls. Even the meals for cats look delicious...!
ORIFT OWNER'S COMMENT
I was fascinated by the way the soil piled up and undulated into a shape, like a growing creature.We currently only sell her vases, but her tableware is also full of charm, so please check out her Instagram! How lucky her cats are as they can daily use her tablewares filled with her passion.
Profile photo by Mai Tagawa
Graduated from Tama Art University. While a student at the university, she studied ceramic art. Currently based in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. She creates tablewares and vases characterized by the unique scarlet coloration of clay.