An interview with Akihiro Nikaido
-How did you become a potter ?
When I was a high school student in 90’s, the Japanese economic bubble burst. I witnessed the collapse of the values that had been believed in common in our society, and I thought it would not be good to follow what other people say. Then, I asked myself what I wanted to do. I remembered a good impression when I visited the atelier of a potter whom my parents knew, and I realized that I liked both earthenware and touching soil. So I decided to become a potter. But it was too late to prepare for entering the University of Arts because I found my path when I was in the 2nd grade of high school, it means less than 1 year left for me. I failed and went to Tokyo to enter an Art college that has a department of ceramics. I learned basic skills there from working clay to firing. After graduating, I got a job at a pottery class in Izu (Shizuoka pref.). I made my own works while teaching pottery in the class there. Two years later, I held my first solo exhibition at a gallery in Keio Department store in Shinjuku, then I moved to Mashiko.
-The style of your works at that time, was it different from the current one?
I think they were similar in some parts. From the beginning, I wanted to make unglazed pottery with clay, not stoneware or porcelain. It’s always the same now as formerly.
-Why did you chose Mashiko to move?
Because there were few young potters in Izu, and the connection among potters was not so strong. Not any good rival for me to compete or compare. I didn’t have my own standard, and no idea what I needed to do. But one day, I heard an acquaintance who was also a potter said ‘’I would never go to such a place like Mashiko which has a high competition rate among potters.’’ Then, on the contrary, I thought ‘’ why don’t I go to Mashiko?’’ I had some choices ; Mashiko or Kasama, where many potters were based in. Kasama is a town, I prefer a smaller place like village where we could feel closer from the soil. So I decided to move to Mashiko.
-How was your life after moving to Mashiko?
It was hard. When I was 23 or 24 years old then, the situation in pottery was quite different from now. It was too early to have his or her own kiln at that time for a young potter like me. I suffered under difficult conditions without any friend to ask for help. What I did there in answer to demands was something like making 50 pieces for about 1,000 yen each. I struggled with the gap between what I wanted to do and actual demands.
-When did the situation change?
It’s when I was about 30 years old. At that time, people said there was no chance to be an artist without getting a prize of pottery exhibitions or in authoritative groups, so I made flower vases for it at first, but I felt uncomfortable. Then I realized that I didn’t enter this world for it, I just wanted to make tableware for daily use. And I wondered who decided, in the first place, tableware were not art. When people use the word ‘art’, it generally means fine art. It’s a logic that pottery are not art in comparison with paintings or sculptures. It may not be called art in that sense, but I think pottery is not completed by itself, but it is with us as beings. It can be an art in the sense of a setting for arranging flowers every season or putting food on it at every meal. And the surface of vessels changes by using, and it reflects how he or she has lived. Some say pottery is not a piece of art by itself, but they connect things around us. In that sense, pottery can be art. My works are not art that moves big money like pieces of contemporary art. But who valued that piece of contemporary art? I think we don’t always need to believe others’ criteria. Our values can vary, It’s my own standard of value that counts for me. Until then, many people had said pottery were not art, but I do believe they are.
-Have your works changed due to the change in your thought of pottery?
It has been simpler. I tried to make beautiful shapes in essence to me. Besides this, I started using clay of Mashiko. I never thought I would use clay in Mashiko before because it’s not flexible. But when thinking about what pottery is, the reason why a certain place characterized its pottery is because there is clay there, and people tried to make shapes they can do with that clay. It became the originality of its pottery. When I thought like this, I decided to use the clay under my feet. Although we say the clay of Mashiko is difficult to make thin, I made vessels thiner and thiner, simpler and more beautiful. At last this black bowl (rusting glazed bowl ) came out.
-How did your style build up?
I originally like clay and want to make pieces with the texture of clay, and the shape came out later. Current shapes of my works resulted from the possibility of clay I use. I always try to approach the most beautiful shape in my mind. I guess it’s often old works and vessels of ancient times that inspire me; such as earthenware or ironware, or shape of bowls that monks used for begging. The source of my inspiration is the beautiful shapes created by people in the past. It is not just one, but it comes out from many.
-I just remembered that you said before, ‘’ To make vessel has continued like a chain since ancient times, and I want to value myself in the chain called now.’’
Yes. Because of that intention, I organize Tou-ISM now. I started it for younger potters, and it has become an event that I feel good to work for it.
-You have exhibitions in many foreign countries too. Do you feel some differences of reaction in each place?
In other countries, I receive totally different reactions from ones in Japan. In China, for example, people don’t like black color, so black vessels are not popular. But before we had the same inclination in Japan too, so I suppose the preference of Chinese people would change. It’s interesting for me that the tastes of colors are different, the uses are different, and the ways of thinking about vessels are different. I sometimes have difficulties to go along with them, but that is the most interesting point of solo exhibitions overseas.
*This article is a compilation of an interview in Izu on December 8, 2019.
*Tou-ISM is an event in order to expand the opportunities for young potters, directed by Mr.Nikaido and it has been held since 2010.