Please introduce yourself and your background, in particular could you tell us about the differences between studying ceramics in Japan and Hungary?
My name is Tomomi Kitazawa Kennedy. I am originally from Tokyo. I live in the North of England and have a little studio at home where I make abstract ceramic sculptures.
I have really loved art since I was a little child, when I actually wanted to be a painter. I went to art high school and studied oil painting for 3 years, but I struggled to continue paintings, as expressing myself in two dimensions was difficult for me. An opportunity arose to learn sculpting and ceramics, and I felt I had finally found a way to express myself. Since then, I have been making abstract sculptures with clay.
I studied at the Joshibi University of Fine Arts Department of Crafts, Ceramics for four years. My professor Kosho Ito is a great installation artist – not a typical potter at all. So, I could say that in Japan I learned a contemporary sculptural way to express my art.
After graduating, I got an opportunity to work in the Shigaraki Cultural Park in Japan as a studio artist in residence, where I met a wide range of ceramic artists from all over the world, including Hungarian ceramic artist Maria Geszler Garzuly. Maria gave me an in-depth introduction to the world of ceramics in Europe, particularly Hungary.
While I had always wanted to study art in another country, I had never thought about doing it in Hungary. Maria’s works and her information completely changed my interest in studying in the US or Western Europe. I was quite adventurous, I guess, because I knew a lot of Japanese artists who had studied in Western countries, but I didn’t know of any who had studied in Eastern Europe. Then I met renowned Hungarian artist Sándor Kecskeméti, and this encounter was the best thing that ever happened to my ceramic career. His art, and the philosophy behind it, blew me away, and Sándor has been a mentor since my study in Hungary and remains an important mentor-figure in my career and my life.
I was fortunate to win a scholarship for a two-year study programme at the Hungarian University of Arts and Design (now called Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design) between 2000 and 2002. I loved my time in Hungary so much that I looked into ways to stay and study more about the country and the people, which led to me winning another scholarship to study the Hungarian language. Many people have asked me why I chose to study ceramics in Hungary in contrast to Japan, which is better known for its reputation as a world leader in ceramic arts. To be honest, it’s very difficult to summarise what the differences are. I studied in Budapest just eleven years after the end of Communism in Hungary. This meant that my classmates still had memories of being under control, and had direct links via their families to people who had been involved in war. Talking to young people my age about their experiences and the emotional influence of communism on their art practice was fascinating. Also, the state-run Hungarian system was different from Japanese education. For example, many students were given the opportunity to start learning ceramics from secondary school.
Hungarian ceramics students are very well educated. Their skill levels in areas like drawing and ceramics, especially moulding, are of an extremely high standard. My fellow students at the time produced very precise works of an extremely high quality. I guessed that this was due to the strict, career-led education system that used to exist under Communism. One thing I noticed was that all students were very curious about Japan and were very shy around foreigners, as they were not used to meeting people from outside their country. Students were not allowed to learn English under Communist rule.
Hungary has very few art universities, but Budapest itself has one craft and design university and one art university. The result of this is that only the best artists in the country get places in these two institutions. In contrast, Japan has so many universities and colleges, students have a much wider choice of places to study ceramics.
In Japan, there is freedom to study art – we can choose to learn about anything we have an interest in.
In Hungary, freedom is a relatively new concept. I know artists who still face persecution for expressing themselves through art and often struggle to have their work displayed due to old-fashioned, stubborn attitudes that are left over from Communism in Hungary. I also know artists who, when I studied there 15 years ago, embraced the new freedom and made wonderful, hopeful art.
My university in Japan provided a large variety of subjects to study, such as art history, drawing, photography, and teacher training. Ceramics education in Japan covered all aspects, from very traditional techniques all the way up to contemporary techniques and practices, as well as ceramic practices from all over the world. This is a very different approach to Hungary, a country which takes great pride in the techniques it has developed throughout its history, and which tends to concentrate on mastering the basics of their own ceramic methods.
Please tell us about your work.
I make small porcelain sculptures that are inspired by “Ruten”, a word taken from Buddhism, which means “continual change”. For me, it is very important to put my emotion into the clay. This way, all my works take on a form which differs emotionally, day by day, in the same way one person’s everyday life differs from another’s. I’m always searching for a shape or form that is based on my feelings. Not only does my work depend on shapes constructed from my emotional view point, I also believe these “shapes” can produce similar feelings for others, maybe for people at a similar point in their life. I hope that people who have never seen my work can find something that they might recognise in it.
For someone interested in studying ceramics in Japan, what advice would you give them?
I would recommend to find out what you most want to learn and to do what you love to do.
In Japan, you can find a vast majority of different styles of ceramics to learn. For example, do you want to learn traditional ceramics, like pottery, or are you more interested in contemporary ceramics, which tend to be more conceptual? We have many local ceramics – Arita for instance, which is famous for porcelain – as is Kutani, whose porcelain style is known for multiple colours, such as greens, blues, yellows, purples, and reds – all used in very bold designs, covering most of the surface of each piece. Oribe is a type of Japanese Pottery most identifiable for its use of green copper glaze and bold painted design.
If you would really like to learn one particular type of ceramics, I would recommend going to the particular area where it is based and trying to become an apprentice with a master, but if you want to learn about ceramics in general, going to an art university is a wonderful place to start learning. You may be able to find a few Artist in Residence placements for ceramic artists. There are often open calls internationally, so if you have already studied ceramics, then an artist residency might be a good place to become grounded in Japanese ceramics.
Where do your ideas for your work come from? From where do you find inspiration?
As I mentioned earlier, much of my inspiration comes from the concept of ruten. Ruten is a Buddhist word, which is made from the words “ru” and “ten”. Ru means “float” and ten means “rolling”. Combined, the word Ruten speaks of “continual change” or “flux”.
Whenever I create, I work from the viewpoint of ruten. Subject matter, materials and techniques are always changing and I try to include this in my work. I believe that an individual piece of art is as unique as a person.
When a piece of art is created, there is nothing else like it in existence.
It is unique.
This is my inspiration.
Can you tell us about the different stages of making a piece? For example, design, materials, production, etc? How long does it take to complete each stage?
I don’t usually do sketches or designs before making sculptures. Working with my concept of Ruten, I find the best way of working is not to plan anything about each piece, but to allow the sculpture to be shaped by my emotion and experience in that moment. If I had decided on a final piece before making it, I feel that the work would not contain the life I try to put into it.
First I choose and shape solid clay at a rough size, then I use a wire to cut and slice it. I like this stage, as, until you cut the clay, you can never really guess what may happen. My movements are quick and I try not to think too much. I just let my hands move.
This process gives me the initial shape. Then, if I am satisfied with the shape created by this first movement, I keep it and let it dry to the right level of softness to be able to cut and curve it with my knives. When working on this stage, I take my time. This stage can take from 2-3 hours up to a couple of days – it depends on the individual piece. My preference is to use porcelain as I can create very sensitive curving in this medium.
I feel that making ceramics is like life. Even if you make a perfect shape before firing, the kiln can totally change the result. For me life is the same. You can try your best to achieve a good life, but something you cannot control can change your life completely. So, that’s why maybe I like making one-off, unique sculptures. Each sculpture is like each individual person.
To what extent do you draw upon your Japanese heritage for your work?
I think I do draw on my Japanese heritage, although I don’t think I do it consciously. This is a very interesting question and since I left Japan I think about it constantly.
If I show my work in Japan, people say that my works are very European, but if I show my works here in the UK or in Hungary, people say my works are very Japanese.
I express myself in my work, so it is naturally shows my heritage, which is Japanese. Therefore the Japanese influences are there to be seen.
Sometimes I wonder what people would think of my work if I hid my name. Would people spot the Japanese or Hungarian influence on my works without my name on it?
What do Japanese crafts mean to you?
I really love crafts, not only Japanese but also crafts from all over the world.
You can find so many beautiful things and wonderful craftmanship in the Japanese crafts world. The high level of skill and precision, balanced with a sense of warmth shows the beauty of hand-crafted work.Once you have owned it you can never go back to boring mass-produced products.
I find Japanese materials and techniques are fascinating. I admire and appreciate the beauty in Japanese crafts and I consider myself so lucky to have grown up in this fascinating culture. It’s my dream to have all types of craft works around my home, as I feel I will get energy and inspiration from them.
What are your future plans? Do you have any exhibitions planned?
I would love to continue what I do, making ceramic sculptures. Hopefully, I will find more opportunities to exhibit. From the 8th to the 11th October this year, I will be exhibiting at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair at Old Granada Studios in Manchester. If you’re are thinking of coming to this show, please come and see me and say hello!
Also, I usually upload photographs of my new sculptures and any other information on my blog site and my Facebook page, which you can find here:-
Finally any last words for anyone interested in Japanese crafts?
I’m so proud of Japanese crafts and I think they’re fascinating! There’re so many type of crafts to recommend, such as ceramics, textiles, glass, wood and many more. Each region has so many special crafts so you are spoiled for choice. If you have a chance to go to Japan, please try to seek them out.
If you have the opportunity, try to experience making them yourself, or perhaps try to visit craft work shops to see how people create some of the wonderful items available. Maybe you can bring a beautiful piece of art to your home! I guarantee you that you’ll fall in love with them!