Interview with Midori Takaki – Unique Ceramics Artisan
By Mike Sullivan
This week we have been very lucky to have been able to interview a very talented artist based in the UK. Originally she came to the UK to study Social Anthropology, however since taking up ceramics in 2008 she has become quite well known for her fascinating work involving animals, masks, doll like sculptures and beautiful bowls and vases. She has just finished one exhibition at the Sydney Cooper Gallery in Canterbury with a second exhibition due to start later this month. Although she was very busy with her exhibitions and her daily work she took some time out to answer our questions.
Please introduce yourself and your background.
I am from Saitama, a Tokyo suburb. I have a BA in sociology, but became an interior designer in Tokyo. I came to Canterbury in 1992 to study Social anthropology in the University of Kent. I met Mike there, and we got married after I finished my MA course. I have been here since then. We live with a large animal family.
I started ceramics with Mike in an evening class in autumn 2008 as a hobby. In autumn 2011 I started making small sculptures in evenings at home. I found my sleeping problem was cured after making ceramic figures. Since then I mainly create figures. I am largely self-taught. Then in 2012 I was recommended to apply for the MA course in Fine and Applied Art (ceramic) at Canterbury Christ Church University. I became a part time student. Fortunately in September 2013 I had a chance to show my works in MA show, which went very successfully. I was then offered a solo exhibition in Sidney Cooper Gallery in Canterbury. I decided to leave the course with a postgraduate certificate, so that I could concentrate on creating new work.
Please tell us about your work.
Creating sculpture is now a part of my life. It makes me feel free. I can stay in a different world while I create. I try to find the spirit in the clay when I start making. Each of my sculptures comes with its own story. Most of the time I can find someone in clay, and build the figures from there. But sometimes I can’t find any. Then I give up.
Once I start, I usually concentrate and carry on creating for several hours. I enjoy experiments; most of my works are experimental. That is the time I feel the most free, and I often get the best results.
After firing clay figures to bisque up to 950 C in an electric kiln, I do the glazing/decorating/finishing. It is not as much fun as creating. But I continue to experiment.
I fire my works up to 1260 C in a kiln until I feel happy with them. Sometimes I have to fire them up to six times to get the finish I want. It is a long process and costly. It can take about four weeks for this stage.
I noticed a lot of masks; do you think you are particularly drawn to masks? Is there any reason why?
I am drawn to faces. I always start from making a face and try to find a spirit in it. I will make full figures if the faces tell me enough about who they are. But at other times they won’t say anything, or they are complete without bodies. Then they become masks.
Another theme in your sculptures, masks, etc, are animals. It feels like you have a deep connection to nature?
Yes, animals are a big part of my life. I don’t think there is strict hierarchy the monotheism tend to have between animals and humans. I feel human is a part of animals and the Nature. I like walking in the woods with one of our dogs for a couple of hours. I listen to trees and feel the woods. It is inspirational and spiritual.
I also make lots of rabbit related figures. White rabbits are symbolic animals in Japan. I was also born in the year of rabbit, so a white rabbit has been engraved in my life.
Having lived for about 20 years abroad, only one thing looks same all over the globe is the moon. The moon is strongly related to the rabbit in Japanese folklore. I often make little rabbits figure on full moon nights.
Please tell us about your Japanese style vases, how is the manufacturing process different to other kinds of vases.
The process itself is not different from Western style vases. The main difference is in the design. I tend to make vases with a human like character. I love adding ears on their sides, as you often see in traditional Japanese vases. Yet I try to make them to play a supporting role when flowers are in.
I love reduction firing which was a lot more labour intensive. Firing a gas kiln requires constant attention compared to firing an electric kiln which is controlled by a small computer. I love the change in colour of the clay achieved with reduction firing. I have always loved Bizen. So when I gained access to the gas kiln in Christ Church University, I wanted to achieve something similar, to start with. But I have mainly been using Shino and pine ash glaze (celadon), which are not really Bizen like.
To what extent do you draw upon your Japanese heritage for your work?
Japanese cultural influences are the greatest in anything I create. I think it is inevitable. Animism in Shinto and Zen aesthetics have influenced how I see the world. Symbolism in Japanese culture has also inspired my work. Myth, folklore, stories and history have been my biggest interest.
I have also tried to see Japan from a global view point. For example, the way Buddhism has been adopted by and adjusted to Japanese culture has fascinated me. I made a mask called ‘The origin of transformation’ based on this.
I also think that the strength of Japanese design is stylizing a motif to almost abstraction. I like traditional Japanese company logos and trademarks, as well as graphic design. They are perfect examples of this. I hope my work has carried some of this tradition.
What do traditional Japanese crafts mean to you?
I love Japanese highly skilled craftworks. They are detailed, precise and beautiful. The effort, love and pride of the craft people could be felt in what they make. I love Japanese ceramics, Japanese lacquer ware and bamboo basketry works. At home, I frequently use a tea caddy decorated with cherry barks, Japanese pottery and lacquer ware. Recently I have used a Furoshiki to deliver a boxful of my work to London. Using the high quality crafts is a joy. I enjoy their tangibility, too.
Do you have any exhibitions or events coming up?
Current exhibition, Clouds part 1 is until 9 November at Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury. Clouds part 2 will start on 22 November, and continue until 21 December.
Finally, any last words for anyone interested in Japanese crafts?
If you look after them, not only will you enjoy them for the rest of your life, but your children and grandchildren would still enjoy using them. Love and care are two keys for using such beautifully made objects.
You can view Midori Takaki’s website here.