Highly regarded within the Japanese art community, Masahiro Maeda is considered informally to be one of Japan’s future possible National Living Treasures. Today his pieces appear in museum collections around the world, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Brooklyn Museum.
While pouring over photos of some of his most recent collections, his talent became obvious. Maeda has loved ceramics and pottery since a young age, and he grew up to graduate from none other than Japan's most prestigious fine arts university, Tokyo University of the Arts.
In Japan, typically, the path to becoming a ceramics professional requires students to choose one of two options. Many choose to become ‘craftsmans’, those who choose to create tools and objects fabricated for a specific purpose, such as the tea ceremony. Others, like Maeda, become professional 'artists', where the design and artistry of their oeuvres are the priority.
“There are generally two ways to learn ceramics: either in art school or as an apprentice. I really loved art so, I went to art school. Still, please understand that artists and artisans exist as two sides of the same coin. Only a generation ago the two paths were quite distinct, but now they overlap more than ever.”
The path from art student to award-winning artists is a notoriously difficult one in any country. Yet he is among a tiny elite group of local potters that are able to make a living out of transforming clay in to works of wonder. Even after attending the best art school in Japan, Maeda continued to teach himself challenging techniques and designs to perfect his skills.
Master Maeda has been fascinated by pottery ever since childhood and his fascination with the evolution of his creations is what keeps him producing.
“I love pottery because there are lots of surprises. Your piece may start off as one color and shape but then once you fire it, it may turn out completely different from what you first imagined. Pottery is also very scientific. Understanding the intellectual aspect of studying the chemical processes of earthenware materials and glaze is very important when imagining or designing your artwork.”
His early designs were inspired predominantly by nature: flora and fauna-like patterns, for example, but have progressively become more and more abstract. The differences between his earlier works and his current Picasso-esque creations are evident.
Master Maeda is well known for his unique, dynamic design style. Due to his classical training, naturally, he cannot help but to produce works that have a distinctly traditional, Japanese character. However, from an early stage in his career, he was determined to branch out and create his own original distinctive style. Most of his pieces are created using the iroe technique, one in which several layers of paint are fired repeatedly at fairly low temperatures.
“I love to experience with different shapes, colors, themes and techniques. In particular, the iroe technique allows me to use a greater variety of colors, bright colors or Western colors, than what are typically used in traditional Japanese ceramics.”
As we poured over his personal collection of amazing pottery, both small and large, we asked him about his sources of inspiration.
He explained that he draws inspiration from a diverse range of subjects, and his aesthetic appreciation extends beyond the world of fine arts and ceramics. In his spare time, he is a frequent visitor of his favorite local bookstore, where he loves to explore and peruse the seemingly endless world of text, images and ideas.
“Everything is related to pottery. When I go to my favorite bookstore, I enjoy exploring fashion magazines, for example, because in an indirect way, they are a wonderful source of inspiration for my pottery. My hobby is my work, so work is never tiring.”
Although he typically doesn’t accommodate visitors to his studio, Master Maeda reserves a private workshop tour and ceramic painting experience specifically for TOKI guests. With a wide grin, he explained that he loves having them come to his studio not only to share his passion for art, design and culture, but also to experience their creative tendencies and skills.
“You should be prepared to just have fun! TOKI guests are a joy to have, because they are so much less inhibited by details and imperfections than Japanese are, I think.” Instead of providing specific guidance about technique and style, Master Maeda finds it most rewarding to sit back and observe his guests discover their own artistic talent while creating their works of art.
Join us for an opportunity to experience the world of ceramic painting in a hidden atelier in the very heart of Tokyo, under the instruction guidance of one of the most prominent figures in the Japanese pottery world. Create your own unique masterpiece and enjoy the interweaving of Japanese modernity and tradition on your next visit to Japan.