— What led you to begin pursuing a career as a ceramicist?
I’d been playing music since my days in high school. Fascinated by R&B, I formed a band, went on tours, and even established an independent record label. I believed that I would continue to play music throughout my life, so the next obvious step for me was to leave Japan and travel to the USA, the mecca of R&B. However, the moment I experienced what authentic R&B truly was, I realized I’d never be able to make it as a top player and decided to give up pursuing a career in music. After giving up on something I was passionate about, I’d begun searching for what I could achieve next. It was around this time a friend of mine, who had a career in the art field, invited me to visit a gallery. This is where I encountered ceramics. I had never previously been interested in arts and crafts, but I guess having abandoned a goal I was passionate about left my radar open to accepting things I had never imagined would be of interest to me. This encounter was completely by chance, but it was enough to nurture my interest in ceramics.
— So, after this encounter, you officially began pursuing a career as a ceramicist?
Well, I believed that if I were to study ceramics, returning to Japan was the obvious choice for me. Once I returned, I began taking ceramic classes. As soon as I started, I realized that this was something that I would start pursuing. However, it was obvious that a mere trainee like myself wouldn’t be capable of immediately starting a career as a ceramicist. Therefore, I reached out to my friend, the one who had invited me to visit the gallery where I had encountered ceramics, for advice, and was fortunate to have this friend introduce me to a sculptor for whom I’d work for as an assistant. So, my career as a ceramicist began while I worked as a sculptor’s assistant as I simultaneously studied ceramics. I had zero knowledge on artistic aesthetics, but I continued to work there.
— Weren’t you ever tempted to become a sculptor yourself while you worked there?
Not at all. I had my mind set and I had been working there solely with an aim to become a ceramicist. However, when I reflect on my experiences there, I’ve found that the skills required for sculpting are also essences that can be utilized in ceramics. For example, even though there are differences in processes, the tasks involved in achieving the final product are the same, and although ceramics involves stacking and hand-kneading processes, the shaving process is applied in both arts. Therefore, when I create my work, I have the essences of both ceramics and sculpting in mind.
— It is interesting to hear that you apply the ideologies used in sculpting when you determine what aspects to add to or subtract from your work.
My method may be unique when you consider my hybridized approach. In terms of what I enjoy most about ceramics, I must say that I enjoy working on the potter’s wheel. Since clay is a natural material, I don’t find it enduring to work on my pieces for long periods of time. When I had been pursuing music, I had been immersed in an environment that was full of noise. Though I had purposefully put myself within that kind of environment to achieve a new style of sound, I had also been longing for tranquil moments in life. The time I spend working on the potter’s wheel naturally provides me with time and space where I am capable of being at peace. I feel it is a precious moment that enables me to be in a quiet Zen mood while I communicate with the materials I’m using.
— The connection between the potter’s wheel and Zen is very interesting. Are there any crucial themes that contribute to your craft?
There are various styles in ceramic arts. Some artists devise their own glazing techniques and some simply exhibit their works raw without applying processing techniques. When I create my work, I focus on form. After I’ve got the basic form completed, I apply other elements as finishing touches. A point that I consider crucial is to avoid applying too much to my work. I try to express my style by applying only minimal touches to the foundational form. I also try to give my work a refined look. During my time in the USA, I realized that the Japanese people tend to excel in applying a sense of refinement to their craft through details and meticulousness in form. I believe applying extraordinary efforts as well as trial and error are key to achieving a truly unique piece of work. It may be because I’m a competitive person, but compared to other artists, that tend to stop adding more to their pieces at a certain stage, I tend to apply additional touches to my pieces. In any case, I am thoroughly committed to achieving a perfect form.
— Do you have any motifs that inspired you to pursue your quest to discover an ideal form?
I am extremely fascinated by ancient objects. For example, I really like Jōmon pottery and ancient Greek pottery. Although technology has advanced, enabling us to create quality items and beautiful objects with relative ease, I believe it takes more than having just the proper techniques to craft rustic items. By rustic, I mean an authentic natural look. Everything I create, including plaster, are hand-crafted, and I aim to create pieces that display a glimpse of craftsmanship. I guess I intend to create pieces that aren’t too flashy. Since art is an extremely delicate discipline, the more an artist creates flashy work with superfluous designs, an aura of cunningness becomes evident. Therefore, I bear in mind never to over-decorate my work, preventing them from having too many design-oriented features.
— All your pieces seem to include circular elements in some way, shape, or form. For example, they typically have a lithe form and are decorated with black circular motifs.
Speaking of Jōmon influences, I’m inspired by the feminine form that is common in Jōmon pottery. I present my pieces with a smooth and curvy expression through the use of form and colors. I had also started applying circular motifs to my work after I was informed several years ago that my pet dog had little time remaining to live. A circle is symbolic in form and sophisticated in design. Owing to its simple characteristic, it is interpreted in various ways around the world. In my case, the circle is a token that I use to communicate my tender affection for my pet dog that had passed away. It is a symbol of reincarnation that represents a cycle that allows my dog and I to be together again each time we are reborn.
— So, it is a message directed at your loved one. We see that you’ve also applied circular motifs on your paintings and writing work.
I basically approach my other material with a different mindset. I feel I generally use the left side of my brain, which has a more craftsman like function, when I create ceramic work and I feel I use the right side of my brain, which has a more abstract artistic function, when I create my paintings. I try to maintain balance throughout all my work by going back and forth between both extremes. When I paint, I’m unable to achieve the results that I intend for. It may be because I’m unable to guide myself properly or simply because I lack the discipline to do so. So instead, I channel this uncontrollability to create pieces impulsively.
— Are there moments that inspire you to create paintings?
I guess when I have exhibitions planned. I always have paintings on display for all my exhibitions. Therefore, when I have one coming up, I motivate myself to paint. However, this motivation isn’t based on my desire to paint. Instead, it is more a sense of responsibility. For example, for my “Hi Fu Mi Yo” series, I consider the canvas as a representation of a being’s lifetime. When I draw circles on the canvas, I subconsciously end up trying to arrange them in an orderly fashion. This, I feel, is similar to one’s life in which a person would generally continue to make the same mistakes out of fear and insecurity. However, life can be changed when any for of action, regardless of its scale, is taken. This, to me, is the same for me when I work on canvases. The painting would become lively with the application of intonations. I am also determined to craft powerful objectives while being confident with my own life.
— You’ve gone from music to ceramic arts and from three-dimensional to two-dimensional. What do you think defines Kansai Noguchi?
I try not to think of this. I feel that if I do, I would only be able to create pieces that are limited to preconditions as well as forms that I believe are ideal. I used to have themes for my pieces when I first started out as a ceramicist, but now, I create my pieces through inner dialogue. I mean, your work is reviewed by other people. If people identify me as a ceramicist, I’m a ceramicist. If they identify me as an artist, I’m an artist. I try to avoid thinking about my identity. However, I intend to keep focusing on maintaining my sincere efforts in establishing the Kansai Noguchi brand. Since “who the artist is” is a crucial point of evaluation in the art field, in addition to developing my techniques as a craftsman, I’d like to continue establishing a unique identity as an artist. I’d like to be capable of producing pieces, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, that collectors expect of the Kansai Noguchi brand.
— We have already charmed by the “artist” Kansai Noguchi.
That is very pleasant to hear. I believe that the identity of any work is mainly established on what the artist appreciates. As I spoke of earlier, since I‘d been able to view the Japanese art of ceramics from a distanced point of view while I was living overseas, I’d been able to contemplate deeply on how I would develop myself as a Japanese artist. For example, the Japanese people are capable of acknowledging beauty through a single pine tree in an empty space. I believe this delicateness and refinedness are essences that are unique to Japan. I then apply what I appreciate to these qualities. I consider my work to have a reimported feel. They’re stylish in form but have both primitive and African influences in their textures. Some even have silly looking circles painted on them. In addition to these features, they also possess modern art like impressions. When I create my work, I collect a massive number of influences from various countries, cultures, and eras, and extract the traits that deem appropriate.
If I infused all the traits I’d collected, the final product would end up a mess in terms of design. On top of that, my intentions would be unclear. Therefore, I believe the selections made and how the work is sublimated depends on each artist’s approach.
— You’ve boldly continued to face challenges while making conscious decisions about your life and work. We were able to acknowledge your strong sense of determination through this interview.
Looking back, I feel my stint as a musician led me to become a ceramicist. Essentially, music and ceramics are poles apart. While a ceramicist creates objects that can be seen and touched, a musician creates compositions that have no form or shape. On the other hand, art is the act of scrutinizing unseeable concepts, and I’ve harnessed the skill to mold the unseeable into shape through my years as a musician. What I aim to surpass is my inner self. I would like to lead a life in which I’d consciously make choices through inner dialogue. So, if I were given the opportunity for another interview 5 years later, I hope to be capable of telling you different stories about my activities.
Kansai Noguchi / 野口 寛斉
2014年 ISAMU NOGUCHIの作品に影響を受け芸術家を目指し帰国。
2016年 東京都多摩市にアトリエ「KANSAI NOGUCHI STUDIO」を構える。
「メヘルガル展」at VOICE （東京）
「KANSAI NOGUCHI展」at CASICA（東京）
「1000Vases」at Galerie Joseph（フランス）
「KANSAI NOGUCHI展」at 六本木ヒルズ（東京）
2022年 「SHIRONAMESHI」JAPAN project 参加
「KANSAI NOGUCHI展」at 会末アートギャラリー（上海）
1982 Born in Fukuoka
2013 Traveled to the USA to train in music
2014 Returned to Japan to pursue a career as an artist after being inspired by the works of ISAMU NOGUCHI
2015 Studies molding as an assistant for a sculptor. Begins activities as a ceramicist at a ceramics workshop.
2016 Established the “KANSAI NOGUCHI STUDIO” in Tama City, Tokyo.
2017 Began producing his “JOMON” series.
2019 Held his first solo exhibition in Tokyo. Relocated his atelier to Hachioji City.
2020 Began creating prints.
“Mehrgarh Exhibition” at VOICE (Tokyo)
“KANSAI NOGUCHI Exhibition” at CASICA (Tokyo)
“1000Vases” at Galerie Joseph (France)
2021 Began creating his drawing series “Reincarnation” which was inspired by the death of his pet dog.
“KANSAI NOGUCHI Exhibition” at Roppongi Hills (Tokyo)
2022 Participated in the “SHIRONAMESHI” Japan project
Provided pottery work for display at Hyatt Place Kyoto
“KANSAI NOGUCHI Exhibition” at Jiemo Art&Craft Gallery (Shanghai)
"Respect and Go Beyond"をミッションに日本の総合芸術である「茶の湯」をテクノロジーやストリートカルチャーなど様々な領域と掛け合わせ“再解釈”することで、茶の湯の持つ精神性や美意識を提起するアートプロデュース事業を展開する。
With the mission of "Respect and Go Beyond," the company is developing an art production business that raises the spirituality and aesthetics of the tea ceremony by "reinterpreting" the comprehensive Japanese art of "chanoyu" by crossing it with various domains such as technology and street culture.