A few weeks ago, I received a text message from Joey De Castro, a fellow Potter from Manila. He invited me to his studio to see a pottery demo by a Japanese potter. I didn’t ask for the name of the artist and blocked my schedule right away. I’m a big fan of Japanese ceramic artists. I cannot miss this one.
I remember the time when I was about to plan a trip to Japan in 2006. I was looking forward to joining a pottery workshop then. I ended up in New York instead. But that’s another story…
With so much excitement, I arrived an hour and a half early. After waiting patiently for the artist with my fellow potters, we chatted and had some palabok (rice noodles) for our afternoon snack. Tessy Pettyjohn, one of The Philippines’ masters in Ceramics, shares with me, her experience with food. Potters love to eat, but we know how to take good care of our health too. Well, some of us try : )
After a few minutes, a Japanese guy comes in the room wearing a black pair of pants, black shirt, black turban with a large gold pin attached to it and yellow sandals. I made a double glance as soon as I saw him. He looks familiar. Very familiar. He introduced himself to us, and shook our hands, one at a time.
Joey led us to his studio and there it was – written on Joey’s bulletin board. The name of the potter who looks very familiar: RYOTA AOKI. In my mind, I know, I have come across his name on the internet. The turban looks soooo familiar too.
Ryota started off his demo by kneading his clay. We all look in amazement as he kneads his clay spirally. He goes to the Shimpo potter’s wheel and turned the power on. As soon as he stepped on the pedal of the wheel, I knew I was in for a pottery treat! I made sure that I sat close to him. I wanted to see every move and caress that he makes to his clay. His hands move with so much grace. All the control is within the potter’s hands and spirit. And there it was, a lump of clay that is about to be transformed.
He showed us how Japanese potters makes pots traditionally. He creates several pieces from a mound of clay. A technique I love doing when I make tea cups, spouts, lids, small bowls, etc. He throws his clay with less water and makes sure that the earthy material follows the commands of his hands. “I speak to my clay.” Ryota says. “I ask my clay what it wants to become.” As soon as his clay told him how it wants to be formed, we started seeing small and big bowls, a vase, and some pots that are drying from the previous day at the studio. He showed some tricks that were originally done in Japan: throwing off the hump of clay, dry trimming with a wooden turning tool – on a non-moving wheel, etc. He looks at his clay for a few minutes, and figures out, how he would remove the unnecessary weight from the bottom. His eyes start to see where the foot should go and lifts his hand with the wooden tool, and with full confidence, he trims off a small part of the pot. He passes the trimmed bowl around and as soon as I felt his work between my hands, I knew there was something more that I will find out about this man.
After the pottery demo, he showed us some of his works, wrapped in a white cloth. He puts them on the table one by one. There it is! That very familiar white pitcher made from porcelain clay. I knew I’ve seen his works online! I spend lots of time on the internet when I get the chance to do so, viewing websites of other potters from around the world. I am very thankful to travel the world of ceramics this way for now. For free!
One by one, his works appear in my mind. I am a fan of modern ceramics and his works sits on my high list of my favorite works around the globe. I made sure that I wasn’t on panic mode, knowing that one of my favorite potters from Japan is a foot away from me! But I’m sure after he reads this blog, I’m busted. Your works blow me away, Ryota! He brings out his gold cup and I made sure that I feel his work between my hands with composure and grace. Ryota’s works are not the traditional Japanese wood-fired ceramics. He uses two kinds of kilns in his studio: raku and electric. His forms are simple and clean. He experiments with his glazes with an intention to fail and succeed. He keeps the best ones and apply them to his works. It takes a lot of patience to go through all the experimentations with clay and glazes. A trait that potters carry in our hearts for sure.
Raku firing of Ryota’s works is included in the demo using Joey’s raku kiln. We went to the rooftop of Joey’s apartment building and chatted more with the other potters and Ryota’s Japanese classmates. I found out that Ryota is in The Philippines to study English. His classmates are working in different fields in Japan: Physical Therapy, Information Technology, etc. The artist wants to learn English because he wants to be able to converse well with other ceramic artists, gallery owners, and pottery enthusiasts around the world. He has come to the right country in Asia, to learn speaking in English. Learning English: It’s more fun in The Philippines! 🙂
I had a great time getting to know the artist. A very humble soul who is very passionate with what he does. Being the same age at thirty-four years old, we both started working with clay at the age of twenty-two. I wonder what he had in mind when he first felt the spinning clay between his hands. Is it the same emotion that I had when I experienced it around the same time twelve years ago? I wonder. Potters normally feel the same way: “This is what I’ve been looking for in a long time.” But each has its own interpretation. Each has its own story and a stage in one’s life that has brought us to pursuing the field of making pottery. It rained a couple of times while we were in the rooftop. But it didn’t stop Ryota from heating up the kiln with wood.
Ryota lives in Gifu, Japan. His pottery studio is a four-minute drive from his home. Working as a Potter, full time, requires extra help from staff members. He has seven in his crew now. Being a Potter in the city, like me, is never an easy task. But as soon as we feel the spinning clay between our hands, the city noise gets shut off automatically. What is noticeable to us is only the movement of the wheel and what is being transformed right before our very eyes. “Making pottery is not a job. It’s a hobby.” Ryoka says in one of his interviews I saw on You Tube. I totally agree with him.
Bringing life to a lump of clay, and letting the material go through the process of failure and success – are the very things that make Potters continue experiencing joy, satisfaction, excitement, and peace.
The rain started to pour and we all decided to call it a night. After a few glasses of Shoju and a good conversation with Ryota Aoki, I must say that this is one pottery highlight to keep for as long as I live. It is very rare for me, to meet Masters in the making. What a blessing to meet one right in my country!
My plans of going to Japan will come to life someday. I’ve always wanted to go there, to learn more about the craft, meet potters, and take with me – the things that will inspire me. Inspiration for my works and inspiration to share with my students at Clay Ave Pottery Studio in Manila. I told Ryota that I will visit his studio sometime. He was glad to say that he will show me around the pottery villages in Japan. I can’t wait.
You can also view his videos on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHJvQU23QM8&feature=share AND http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHewM4GkSkQ&feature=share
Ryota, Thank You for sharing with the Filipino potters, your passion for Ceramics. You have inspired us to continue doing what we love to do the most: To bring life to a lump of clay. With its many uncertainties, may the work of your hands be blessed even more. May the ups and downs of pursuing a unique passion, strengthen you as an artist , who will walk the ends of the earth with great skill, patience, humility, and burning fire within you. Mabuhay!
Studio Potter, Manila