A flower bud yet to open is more desirable to display in a Japanese tearoom than one already in bloom. When a camellia in a vase opened too quickly during practice, my tea teacher exclaimed, “it was closed half an hour ago but it’s already open!”
I find that it is uniquely Japanese to prefer a bud holding its potential within over the prominent display of a blossom in its prime. Ceramic artist Takahashi Nami’s work is an expression of this distinct Japanese aesthetic.
“I’m strongly attracted to the beautiful lines and forms of seeds, fruits, and flower buds found in nature,” Nami said, when I asked her about what inspires her work. Nami’s work is created using slip molds by casting plaster models in a ceramics technique called slip casting. “The forms and lines are of utmost importance in my work,” Nami continued, “and slip casting is best suited to create the desired forms and lines in porcelain.”
Nami grew up in Tokyo and vaguely wanted to become an artist at a very young age because she loved drawing. In 7th grade, her art teacher introduced her to ceramics when she became infatuated with clay and decided that she wanted to work as a ceramic artist in the future. She chose to attend Musashino Art University Junior College of Art and Design in Tokyo to study ceramics.
After graduating in 1997, Nami continued to study ceramic sculpture at the National School of Ceramic Art (Istituto Statale d’Arte per la Ceramica) in Faenza, Italy, for two years. “In the Japanese university I mostly learned to make tableware, but I was always interested in ceramic sculptures, so I decided to go to Italy,” she said. She made terracotta sculptures because she liked the clay’s texture and tones. “The colorful and unique forms and free expressions of Italian ceramics was so interesting,” she recalls.
Nami was also exposed to exhibits of prominent Japanese contemporary ceramic artists at the International Museum of Ceramics, which was right next door to her school in Faenza. She saw works by Raku Kichizaemon XV (Jikinyu) and Fukami Sueharu. “Seeing the work of Japanese ceramic artists while studying abroad made me realize the exceptional quality of Japanese ceramics,” Nami said. So after finishing her course in Faenza, Nami decided to return to Japan to establish her studio.
In Japan, Nami started working with porcelain because she had a yearning to work with white clay. She initially made sculptural installations for art galleries, but soon began creating tableware at the request of other galleries. “I made sculptures and tableware but avoided making teaware and tea bowls,” Nami recalls, “because I felt they were very noble types of wares, with many rules, and I was very afraid that people would be critical.”
But that all changed when Hayashiya Seizo (1928-2017) –the best description of Hayashiya’s work is to use Google translate on this page–a prominent tea master, ceramics expert, and former curator of Tokyo National Museum, became interested in Nami’s work and encouraged her to make tea bowls. Since then, Nami has been working to develop larger vessels for the tearoom while receiving advice from other tea masters.
This development in Nami’s work led to numerous accolades. In 2016, she was selected as The Best New Artist at the 63rd Japan Kogei Crafts Exhibition, and in 2018 was awarded Grand Prize at the 11th Tea Ceramics Exhibition at the Toki City Cultural Promotion Foundation. “To be encouraged by an expert like Hayashiya Sensei was a huge push forward,” Nami explained about her jump into tea ceramics. Through Hayashiya, Nami had the chance to hold some of the most famous historic tea bowls, including Muichimotsu by Raku Chojiro. Hayashiya encouraged Nami to see and touch teaware, insisting that they can only be understood by holding them by hand.
And the most surprising aspect of Nami’s work is the warmth of the matte porcelain with sculptural and crisp lines. “I borrow the capacity of soft white clay to express beauty found in nature,” Nami explained about the power of her material. Her work opened my eyes to the unexpected ability of porcelain to capture the tenderness of a budding flower. When you hold her work in your hands, I guarantee that you will be filled with anticipation for them to unfold.