Oriental expression - Takato Sasaki's porcelain and clay sculptures

Clay Technology magazine
14 Aug 2011
Consciousness (2011) High-fired terracotta clay. H 25.0 x W 25.0 x D 25.0cm

Royal College of Art graduate Takato Sasaki hopes to
move clay out of its traditional subtext into a more
expressive material. Ledetta Asfa-Wossen talks to him
about his latest porcelain and clay sculptures.

All images courtesy of Takato Sasaki 

If you’re a man born in Kagawa, it’s
likely you’ll also be pretty proud. The
narrow prefecture located on Japan’s
Shikoku island is home to the historic
naval Battle of Yashima. More recently,
the region has been regarded for their
craftsmen, Isamu Noguchi and George
Nakashima are but two.

‘I always wanted to be an artist’, says
ceramic artist Takato Sasaki. ‘I was born
into a family of artists who specialised in
Japanese lacquer. Growing up in
Kagawa, I was always exposed to a
creative environment.’

On completion of his higher education
in Japan, he left for London, UK, where
he thought materials were being used
in a more unconventional way. In 2005,
he enrolled on a Foundation Studies
in Art & Design course at the University
of the Arts. Here, through his elective
subjects, he worked with fibre, paper,
wire and string. ‘The foundation
course was very much a crossdisciplinary
exercise that made me
look at non-clay materials and helped
me rediscover the importance of
understanding materials’.

On track with a BA course in Ceramics
and Royal College of Art (RCA) masters
degree, he started to produce finished
works, as well as a documentary, Clay
Rocks?, which looks into the evolution
of the material.

‘I wanted to study in the UK as it
seemed important to me to have an
international view as an artist. I was
always familiar with Japanese art and
crafts as a child. On the other hand,
this also drove me outside of the
Japanese art scene. Although Japan has
been a source of my inspiration, it is
not easy for us to see ourselves, art
or culture objectively.


Historically, clay is an important
material for artists and craftsmen in
Japan, mainly in pottery but it’s the
new possibilities clay can offfer that
interest Sasaki. ‘One of the main
reasons I use clay as a medium of
expression is the way clay can reflect
an artist’s sensibility and perception.
Clay is metamorphosed into various
forms in the ceramic process, from
forming, drying, glazing and firing.
Therefore, it was important for me to
define my own principle to interact
with the properties and characteristics
of the material through experience,
tactility and perception. By scratching,
cutting and marking, there is a
communication between the ceramic
artist and the material.’

Anxious to push the material
forward, he notes that while there
are a number of notable old potteries
all over the country, ‘we need
a more phenomenological approach’
to clay.

Sasaki continues, ‘Ceramics are now
seeing notable artists take on an
idiosyncratic view of material practice,
such as Isamu Noguchi, Kazuo Yagi,
Kosho Ito, Satoru Hoshino, Lawson
Oyekan and Simon Carroll. Their
identity, visions and ideas were
constructed from their unique
understanding of ceramic formation. This encouraged me to redefine clay
as a drawing’ medium,’ says Sasaki.

Material awareness

His recent project is based on this idea
of material awareness through ceramic
practice. ‘I realised that the formation
of a material awareness is the only
way to understand the relationship
between myself and my works. I think
this establishment of an original
principle is very important for craft
artists and a fundamental element of
ceramic formation’.

Using reductive and additive practices,
hole-making and chisel carving
techniques, he formed a series of
abstract sculptures from slow-dried clay.
One of his most well received pieces
called Emergence (right), is a
high-fired and unglazed ceramic
sculpture, made entirely of black clay.

Sasaki explains, ‘Black clay is suited to
sculptural works because the plasticity
records marks and traces effectively and
the colour emphasises shape, texture
and structure.’

The sculpture was formed by combining
an additive-reduc tive strategy. Starting
out with the solid material, he carved
and curved the clay, stacking clay
shavings layer by layer to create form.
The modelling process involved
pottery knives and chisels. ‘The clay
properties change while you are
working so you have to constantly
reassess your modelling tools. It was
interesting to see how the clay
metamorphosed into various forms by
just handwork, such as scratching,
cutting and marking’. Another method
he has used to create a more heightened
and dimensional structure is to apply
pipes to the material to create hollow
caves (see main image, top).

However, Sasaki notes that clay forming
can often be arduous. ‘The drying
process is one of the most difficult
stages, as every clay has different
moisture levels, so the drying needs to
be controlled while forming’.

East meets West

As an extension to this ‘communicative
process,’ Sasaki insists on making
his own modelling tools, which are
based on handmade pottery
instruments – the ribbon tool, metal
scraper and wire clay cutter. Each
sculpture takes between one and two
months to complete. His next project
will look at ‘drawing’ clay abstract
forms in 3D. ‘The pieces which
I have exhibited at the RCA graduation
show are only a starting point’, he says.

His next step will be to gain
experience in professional practice
through a residency programme,
work placement or internship. ‘Then,
hopefully a MPhil / PhD – with a
research course, the artist has the
ability to consider the subject from
various viewpoints. They propound
new theory. I hope to work as an
intermediary between European
and Asian ceramic art scenes.’

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