“I think creating ceramics is similar to the feeling of writing a diary”
Yui Masuda is a ceramic artist based in Tokyo, JAPAN. Let’s take a glimpse into the background of her works.
WHY DID YOU START MAKING CERAMIC PIECES?
I majored in ceramics at Tama Art University's Department of Crafts, where I naturally began making ceramic works. In the first year of college, we had to choose our major after experiencing three different courses: glass, metal, and ceramics. And I chose ceramics because I liked the raw texture which can leave finger marks.
ーーSo it was a good match with the material of clay and how you wanted to express it.
That's right. As I am more of a sense-oriented person, and was working with ceramics, I thought that it would be easier to express my senses than metal or glass. But I really chose it somewhat by accident.
At first, I had no desire to study ceramics at all. It was not something I had desired to do, it was more like something I thought I would give a try, as I entered Tama Art University after failing out of the entrance exam of Tokyo of Arts. I liked painting, but I wanted to experience learning about three-dimensional objects, so I chose the Department of Crafts.
BEGINNING TO WORK AS A CERAMIC ARTIST
ーーWhat were you working on before you became a ceramic artist after graduating from college?
It was very important for me to make something as a part of my life like a routine, so I continued to make ceramics a little bit after graduation. However, there was a period when I stopped making things after I started working for a company, which was quite hard for me. It was like I lost my rhythm. It might be similar to the feeling of a person who likes running every day and suddenly stops it.
So I changed my job as I wanted to continue working for a company while working as a ceramic artist. I started working at a company that offered hands-on manufacturing experience, and re-started my creation at the same time.
ーーHow did you start working as a ceramic artist in earnest after that?
I was approached by Mizuno-san, the owner of a store called "Chisou" in the Shinmachi Building in Tajimi City, Gifu Prefecture. About two or three years later, when he came to see my graduation work, he opened his own store and invited me to hold a solo exhibition there.
ーーWow, it is so cool that you were scouted for your graduation project and made your debut.
Well, I thought that my work was not that good for him as I hadn't heard from him for a while after the graduation project… I was a little bit depressed at that moment. I wonder what would have happened to me now if I had not been approached.
ーーSo, thanks to Mr. Mizuno, your works are now available to us.
Right, I shall never be able to forget his kindness. Until then, I had just been making things steadily and thought it would be nice to have a solo exhibition at least once in my life. As I had been thinking that it would be nice if I could continue to make ceramics as a daily routine, like running.
ABOUT EXPRESSION METHODS
ーーIf you have a particular way of expression methods, please tell us!
I try to put one color or design in my work that I have seen somewhere in the past, rather than a design that creates a brand new impression. I want to express a sense of familiarity like folk art. I am also conscious of keeping some Japanese taste in my work. I am not that particular about the methods, so that's all.
ーーWhy are you conscious of the Japanese taste?
I think it is because I grew up in Japanese culture, the culture which has a sense to find a coolness in something that is considered austere. I want to pursue what I have absorbed in my life through expression. Well, I am often told that my designs look foreign.
ーーYour works have a foreign taste, but I also feel a Japanese element from them, without speaking of it.
I am happy to hear that! I think I am also influenced by the fact that I have been learning Japanese calligraphy for a long time. I also think that the uniquely Japanese colors, such as the traditional vermilion red, are very beautiful and cool.
ーーDo you have a particular approach to your technique?
I am not particular about the technique at all. I choose the technique that comes closest to the image I want to create, so I use various techniques such as the potter's wheel, tatara, and hand building.
Making use of the raw feel of clay is what I want to do now. I think my work, which lies somewhere between art and craft, practical and impractical, expresses my loose and unaffected mind.
ーーSo you are not particular about your technique. How did you come to use the distinctive gold and silver paintings in your work?
It all started with Kutani ware (A style of Japanese porcelain traditionally supposed to be from Kutani, now a part of Ishikawa prefecture, Japan). It all started when I was in college, when I created a piece that paid homage to Kutani ware. Gold and silver painting is a technique called "Kamietsuke," which is a decoration process done after the whole pottery process is done and finished. I felt this process matches my style as I could reconstruct a piece if it was different from what I had imagined when fired.
ーーIt is interesting that you can reconstruct your work. I have to go back a bit, but is there a reason why you decided to pay homage to Kutani ware?
When I was in college, I was working on the theme of "vessels that express anger," and I made cups with a skull motif that reminded us of death, and bowls with weapons attached.
I wanted to incorporate a bit of entertainment value into the expression of that anger, because it can't just be scary. To convey a negative message, I wanted to create a positive impression first. You think it's beautiful, you pick it up, and then you see a skull. (Laughs) When I was looking for a way to express that, I remembered Kutani ware I saw in Kanazawa when I visited there a long time ago. I thought that hyper-decoration is a good way to express anger.
I think at that time I wanted to convey a combination of beautiful things and ugly emotions. I used motifs from Buddhism and old myths. I also used brass knuckles and other things on my vessels. I was in my second year of college, so I was young at heart. (Laughs)
CHANGE IN FEELINGS
ーーWhy did you choose the theme of anger in the first place?
It is because I was still in my adolescence phase when I was in college. (Laughing) I didn't like the college or professors much. I guess I had a personality of not liking to be bound by rules. I tried desperately to maintain my identity by rebelling. As for music, I listened to rock and heavy metal. It was a time when I would listen to such intense music to motivate myself.
ーーSo it was a young and impressionable period. Please tell us about the change of mindset that led you from a period of figurative expression based on the theme of anger to your current milder, more abstract expression.
It is a very difficult question. I guess the biggest reason is that I started to think about reaching customers.
In the past, I had a strong feeling that the way should be seen and used, and I was creating things without interacting with people. Gradually, my feelings changed, and I began to think that I wanted to make something that could embrace feelings of those who use it, such as imagination, feelings of attachment, and compassion. My expression naturally became more abstract. I also began to like to see provoking works.
There is still a sense of my rebellion about the form that is not easy to use, but I think that the desire to have fun and freedom became stronger than anger and hard feelings.
ーーSo there was such a shift in your feelings. Why did you go down the path of creating something between art and craft that reaches many people, rather than the path of mastering artwork that you were creating in college?
I did not want to create something that would only be accessible to a very few people. There are ways to go to a museum to see them displayed, but I myself like best to touch them with my own hands and get some sense of them. I wanted people to take them home and incorporate them into their own lives and stories.
I would like to stay in that kind of loose space. While I want to express myself in a more artistic way, I also want to retain a craft-like vision that can be nurtured in everyday life, and I would like to create something that allows me to move loosely between them.
ーーAre there artists who inspired you?
Taro Okamoto is one of them. When I was in elementary school, I had an extracurricular class in which we went to the Taro Okamoto Museum of ART in Kawasaki City and painted pictures. It was there that I first learned the emotion of being moved by something that is not beautiful. I was struck by a painting called "Wound Arm," in which the skin of a girl's arm has been removed. I remember copying it with colored pencils as hard as I could.
I am also attracted to his use of colors that are both gaudy and Japanese, as well as the "Tower of the Sun," which lies between cute and cool.
ーーIt is also very Japanese in its familiar characterization.
I agree that they have a certain character. I feel that there is a commonality with craft in that it expresses something scary but also lovable, and people love it. I think he was the first influence, or rather the first person who taught me about art.
I would like to express the sense of loving something that is not beautiful and the energy that resides in the object itself, which is also the reason why I pursue a raw texture and make ceramics. The practice of reconstructing clay from nature to make something has been around since long before the Jomon period, and I think it is linked to such primitive human activities.
ーーWhat inspired you?
In terms of sources of inspiration, I would say it is what I feel in my daily life. For example a feeling on a day when I had a delicious meal, or the day a friend came over to my house. I think creating ceramics is similar to the feeling of writing a diary, because I organize what I think and feel under the influence of others into forms and drawings.
ーーSo your creation is an extension of your daily life.
Right, I have been drawing pictures and making things with cardboard and flyers since I was a child, so I guess making something has become a routine for me. Since it has become a routine, my hands are moving before my vision of who I want to be or what I want to create.
ーーI bet you would have been an artist even if someone hadn't scouted you out.
I am not that kind of great artist. (Laugh) Maybe even if I hadn't been discovered, I would have been like a bearded old man who makes Buddha statues and stuff in the woods, who makes something without presenting it. (Laughs). I happened to be given the opportunity to be revealed to the world.
ABOUT THE FUTURE
ーーIs there anything you would like to try in your future?
I want to make something big and unruly. I also want to expand my range of expression. It is because I am currently limited in size because of the studio I use.
I would also like to do an exhibition like an installation in a large space. I would like to create a space where anything and everything is possible, including vessels and objects. I think it would be interesting to sell things on the spot and gradually run out of things.
ーーIf you have any message to users, please!
Please use it freely! I want to leave everything to the user. By placing it in a certain place, the work is completed in harmony with its surroundings, or it is completed when something is served in the bowl. I want the user to complete the piece as if they are creating it together. This is “LOVE AND PEACE”.
Born in Kanagawa, Japan in 1993, she graduated from Tama Art University in 2017 majoring in ceramic arts. After graduation, he resumed making ceramics in Tokyo.