An interview with Atsushi Ogata

Atsushi Ogata is known for his powerful works that are rich in the texture of clay. His recent attempts, such as "Hibi Te" (cracked graze) and "Hibi Kohiki" (cracked white slip ware), show the wildness of the clay in a contemporary atmosphere. We interviewed Ogata, who is currently working in the rich natural environment of Uda City, Nara Prefecture, to hear more about his past.

Ogata was born in Tokyo. He seems to have been a precocious boy with an interest in the adult world. As he entered junior high school, his yearning for adventure grew, and he began traveling around Hokkaido with friends, sleeping in the waiting rooms of train stations and going mountain climbing. In high school, he joined the mountaineering club. Inspired by books written by mountaineers, he began to go into the mountains independently, and dreamed of one day climbing the Himalayas.

'I think the appeal of mountain climbing can be summed up in one word: extraordinary. Especially in the snow mountains, you can experience views that would be impossible in the ordinary world, and that's really impressive.’

Up until then, Ogata had been fascinated by the world of mountains, but when he entered university, he was awakened to the fascination of the human world. He encountered theater and joined a small theater company. He thought he was not suited to be an actor, but the human character he saw there interested him. After graduation, he got a job at a publishing company and became an editor, partly because one of his seniors in theater was in the publishing world. At the time, there was a lot of momentum in underground culture, and working with many creators and expressive people was stimulating and rewarding.

When asked what drew him to the underground world, Ogata replied

'It's the life force, the instinct. When I was an editor, the creators and artists I met were people who were burdened with a karma that they could not live without creating. Many of them had a destructive way of life. I was attracted to the energy of such human instincts, but when I saw them, I began to think that I could never be like them.’

It was around that time that his interest in ceramics began to grow. His wife, Sanae, who has a deep knowledge of art, enrolled in a pottery training school in Seto, Aichi Prefecture to learn how to make ceramics, which led Ogata to come in contact with pottery more often. As a result, Ogata came into contact with pottery more and more. He was strongly attracted to the generosity of pottery, which is an artistic act but also has many elements that are left to nature, such as soil and fire.

'I was fascinated by generosity of pottery. Of course there are rules and regulations when it comes to tableware, but I thought it was great that there were so many different ways to express oneself within those rules and regulations. At that time, I saw a solo exhibition of an American contemporary potter named Peter Voulkos at Parco in Shibuya, which was very interesting. I thought that if there was such a wide range of expression in the same pottery, there must be something I could do as well.’

After 10 years in the publishing world, Ogata made the decision to pursue a new career in ceramics, while others were building their careers and becoming independent. He was opposed to the idea by many of his colleagues, but with the support of Sanae, he resigned his position at the publishing company, left his life in Tokyo, and entered the Ceramic Higher Technical College in Aichi Prefecture. Later, at the age of 38, he started his career as a ceramist in Seto city. 

What kind of works he was making at the time?

'Originally, I started making pottery under the influence of Peter Voulkos and others, so in the beginning, I was thinking about how to bring expression into my vessels. At that time, I sometimes went to see pottery exhibitions that were more like art exhibitions, there I found a lot of things that I thought didn't need to be pottery. Then, when I thought about what I wanted to do with pottery, my answer was to create a simple, primitive and powerful look. That's when I decided to move away from the decorative expression I had been doing, to study more about clay and pottery, and to tackle tableware head-on.’

When he was in the world of mountaineering and publishing, Ogata was attracted to the majestic nature of the extraordinary and the chaotic energy of human beings. He had come to realize that this kind of wild power that has attracted and motivated him is what he is pursuing in ceramics.At the age of 47, Ogata moved his studio to Uda City, Nara Prefecture, to have his own wood-fired kiln.

 Finally, we asked him what he is currently thinking about in his work.

'What I am conscious of is to emphasize that the vessel is made of clay. When I use unrefined clay, there are sometimes pebbles mixed in.  I am very attracted to the its expression of the clay itself. As for firing, I am attracted to the unevenness of the firing rather than the cleanliness. I find it interesting when they are not perfect. I would like to make something that can be used as a vessel, so that the strength of the natural clay can be conveyed straightforwardly.’

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