An interview with Kodo Kiyooka

An interview with Kodo Kiyooka

Kodo Kiyooka was born in Tokyo in 1969. His father was a newspaper reporter, and he spent his childhood moving from place to place in Hokkaido, but the time in the suburbs of Asahikawa, where he lived during his early elementary school years, left the strongest impression on him.

’It was the place where we could see the horizon from our house. My memory of those days is that I used to walk toward the horizon with some friends and come back. That's all there was to it, but for some reason, playing like that left a lasting impression on me.’

He then moved to Yokohama, where he spent his junior and senior high school years playing rugby. He had no interest in going to college, but when a childhood friend told him about the joys of college life at Osaka University of Arts, he was moved to attend the same university. He chose the ceramics department, which seemed to interest him. However, he said he could not have an interest in ceramics as an object, which was taught there. After graduation, he got a job at a ceramics manufacturer in Shigaraki that made ceramic items such as umbrella stands.

While working, he was sometimes invited to join a group of  local artists to create works, but at that time he had no intention of becoming a potter. The turning point came a few years after he had lived in Shigaraki. The owner of a bar he was frequenting at the time asked him if he would make vessels for his restaurant.

I was told that I could make whatever I wanted, but I didn't know much about vessels at the time, so I made it while researching. What I made was something that looked a little like modeling. It was better received than I had expected. I had never been praised for my pottery before, and I had never had someone use something I made for cooking. It was a feeling I had never experienced before, and I had never been so happy.

When the desire to make vessels came to him, Mr. Kiyooka changed jobs at a pottery that made tableware. During the day, he made many of the same vessels at the company, and after work, he continued to make vessels for himself in his workshop.

He worked at the pottery for 10 years, but gradually began to feel a sense of discomfort.

He says, "There was a growing difference between what was expected of me at work and what I thought was good. The pieces I was making there were mass-produced vessels, so of course they were expected to have the same finish, but I thought I would prefer pieces with a different glaze flow or scenery, which were rejected as B-grade pieces.''

Such a sense of discomfort led him to become aware of his own preferences. He is often interested in things that other people do not try and things that he has never seen before. This, says Kiyooka, may have been a sense of adventure that he had had since childhood. Later, Kiyooka chose to become an independent potter, but at first it was difficult for people to understand his works because of the unique scenery and colors. So he brought his works to other places, such as Tajimi, to have people look at them, and gradually the number of people who understood his work began to increase. One day, he participated in the Matsumoto Craft Fair for the first time, which was recommended to him by others, and his work sold out on the first day. He said he was surprised to find that there were so many people who accepted his style. After that, he began participating in other craft fairs, and more and more galleries began to carry his work.

When asked how he developed his unique style, he replied.

When I was young, I loved the world of designer Christopher Nemeth's store in Uraharajuku, Jim Jarmusch's movies, and the music of Piazzolla and Tom Waits, but I found it difficult to find a vessel that fit my sense of style. In my mind, fashion, movies, music, and containers were all connected, but at that time, I don't think there were many people who thought about containers in that way. So I started making what I wanted to make. For example, I vaguely remember a mug from a movie I used to watch, and I thought it would be cool to change it into something like this, so I started making them. I think our generation probably made things like that.

Since the day he was a boy walking toward the horizon, Kiyooka has had a longing for landscapes that have yet to be seen. Even after becoming a potter, he has continued to seek for a view that no one has ever seen in the expressions woven by clay and glaze. Finally, we asked him about his current thoughts.

I think the sense of what is just right for me is changing little by little. I used to like the strong expression of glazing, but recently I have come to feel that I like a slightly more subdued expression. When I serve food on them, I want dishes that complement each other without being too assertive. Even in my solo exhibitions, I would prefer to have a sense of harmony rather than a few pieces that stand out from the rest.

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