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A Visit Down Under to Kenji Uranishi’s Pottery Studio

Kenji Uranishi left the countryside of Japan in 2004 to set up shop in Brisbane, Australia and be with his Aussie girlfriend (now wife). His studio is small and sometimes it is necessary to spill over into the rest of the house – a challenge with two young boys! But he still manages to make his gorgeous delicate work.


In today’s post, Kenji explains how he makes his small studio work for him.- Jennifer Harnetty, editor.



In the Studio


For a number of years I worked from my home studio in the countryside of Nara, Japan. It was a small rented house and the landlords were a lovely old couple who were supportive of me and became my friends. I had a decent sized room that was my studio and built a kiln room adjacent to the studio that housed a reasonably large kiln. I made work for competitions and exhibitions and taught ceramics classes there every weekend. There was a huge cherry blossom tree at the edge of the property that flowered every spring and the studio lay in the afternoon shadows of the mountains. It was a beautiful area, and I have such fond memories of that time.


In October 2004, I moved to Brisbane, Australia, to join my Aussie girlfriend (now my wife) who I had met in Nara. We lived in an inner city suburb so my first couple of years in Australia were spent mainly working as an artist-in-residence at a range of colleges, a university, and at ceramic and sculpture association spaces. I met some fantastic people—practitioners and educators—and it was a great introduction to my ceramic life in Australia.



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In 2006 we bought our first house and I set up a home studio, where I currently work. My studio is quite tiny; it’s the size of a small bedroom into which I have built shelving and drawers along one side for storage. It has floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors at one end that provide great light, although sometimes I need to work with the external shutter down to keep the heat and wind out, which makes it a very comfortable environment in which to work with porcelain. It’s a functional space, but it is small and seems to get smaller and smaller the more work I have in progress. I also have a small kiln room that I built onto the back patio of our house. The internal measurement of my kiln is about 18 inches (45 cm) square, which means my work has to fit that measurement as well. I make functional pieces for retail sale, public art work, which is usually on a larger scale, and sculptural work that I sell through exhibitions and an art dealer.


While the scale of this work is all very different, my installation work is often comprised of larger collections of small pieces. I like creating impact through patterns and using a collection of the same small objects. There is something oddly comforting about creating the same piece over and over again. I like the interactive nature of installations and that they can be interpreted so many different ways depending on who the viewer is and from which angle or perspective they are viewing the work.


Because I use collections of small objects to create my larger-scale work, I’m able to produce this work out of my home studio and can fire pieces in my kiln over multiple firing sessions. Storage space becomes the biggest challenge. When I am working on a large project that can require hundreds of pieces, I assemble special storage shelves to house the work as I move it through the various phases until completion. This means that we have work in progress all throughout the downstairs area of our house, whether it’s in the studio, drying on shelves, waiting to be glazed or fired, or waiting to be shipped off for sale or an exhibition.


The other challenge is having delicate work all over the house, and two little boys (ages three-and-a-half and one-and-a-half years old) who also seem to be all over the house! Surprisingly, there haven’t been any major disasters so far, but perhaps there is something to be said for familiarizing kids with the making process, and the concept of cause-and-effect, from an early age. (I may eat my words down the track!).


Paying Dues & Bills


I studied ceramics for four years at the Nara College of Fine Arts (Japan), graduating in 1996. I worked a number of jobs after graduating, including digging on an archaeological site in Nara to save enough money to buy a kiln. Once I set up my home studio, I funded my art practice by teaching at home and once a week at a studio in Osaka. I loved running these classes as it was really social and fun and it was great to see my students develop their abilities and techniques and have a great time together. 


Most Valuable Lesson 


The most important lesson I’ve learned as a working artist is not to get upset when I open the kiln and am faced with a disaster. In this line of work, it is inevitable, particularly when you are exploring new techniques and pushing yourself into difficult new territory. While it can be disappointing, I try to find the positive in what’s happened, learn something from it, and move on.


To learn more about Kenji Uranishi or see more images of his work, please visit www.kamenendo.blogspot.com or www.andrew-baker.com



For more great functional insights from contemporary potters, be sure to download your free copy of Contemporary Pottery: Functional and Conceptual Considerations for Handmade Pottery.