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Facing the National Self-Portrait Prize

Kenji Uranishi, 'Danpen (Fragments)' 2017, glazed porcelain Image: Carl Warner

Kenji Uranishi, 'Danpen (Fragments)' 2017, glazed porcelain Image: Carl Warner

When I was invited by The Curators' Department to be one of 28 artists to participate in The University of Queensland National Self-Portrait Prize — a biennial, $50,000 acquisitive prize — my natural reflex was to say no. I couldn't imagine how I could possibly respond to the brief, given the focus of my ceramic practice. But I mulled it over, and with the encouragement of my wife, allowed my mind to investigate the possibilities...and very soon, I felt excited! 

I considered a number of paths — a drawing, a painting, porcelain body armour? But in the end, I returned to what really is a true extension and reflection of me and who I am. I created a five-piece installation of porcelain objects entitled 'Danpen (Fragments)'. My artist statement follows: 

For 31 years, I lived in Japan, shaped and influenced by the language, culture, food and seasons of my birthplace. I am, at my very core, Japanese. My passport is red, not navy blue. 
 
Life in Australia has provided its challenges, yet I feel at ease here; I feel free. There’s something wonderful about being released from cultural expectations, while still having that culture at the core of your being.
 
When you look at me, I’m Japanese. But I see in myself fragments of two histories, two lives, two cultures – maybe even two personalities, with two styles of communication and humour. I’ve spent more years of my life in Japan than I have in Australia, but it won’t be long before the balance tips in the other direction. 
 
'Danpen (Fragments)' is a reflection of me, and my practice, right now. In creating my self-portrait, I have hand-carved two distinct shapes for every piece and brought them together into one, abstracted whole, reflecting the coming together of my two identities.
Kenji Uranishi, 'Danpen (Fragments)' 2017, glazed porcelain Image: Carl Warner

Kenji Uranishi, 'Danpen (Fragments)' 2017, glazed porcelain Image: Carl Warner

When blending two different elements, I felt they had to communicate, not fight against each other. My Japanese and Australian selves are no different – both must have a place – and ideally, co-exist peacefully and beautifully. To live and thrive in a society where you didn’t grow up demands this.

But these finished forms are imperfect. They don't provide the satisfaction that comes from looking at something symmetrical. They are a little lopsided, a little unbalanced, but in the randomness of these pairings, they are also curious and intriguing.

The five sculptures are varied in form and contain differing quantities of each of the two elements. My approach to their construction was a bit like dropping a stone into a vessel containing two coloured liquids; you cannot anticipate the result. There is no perfect or predetermined way to combine the colours. The shape of the splash will also be different each time.

But perhaps it is the unexpected nature of this blending process that makes ‘it’ more interesting? ... Or strange!

The National Self-Portrait Prize is on show at UQ Art Museum until 18 February. I hope you get a chance to 'Look at me looking at you' if you're in the neighbourhood! 

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'Danpen (Fragments)' with Dale Harding's 'White ground'

'Danpen (Fragments)' with Dale Harding's 'White ground'

Learning from a master

This is Yamaguchi san. While I was working in Arita in Kyushu in 2014 as an Asialink Artist in Residence I met Yamaguchi san - a master mould maker. Over a number of weeks, he generously opened his studio to me and shared with me his techniques and skills in mould making. I feel very lucky to have learned from such a skilled craftsman. When I returned to Australia, I continued to work on this technique of hand-carving moulds in a single shape that I could use to slip cast to construct and expand modular forms. Having focussed for quite some time on slab-built sculpture, I was excited to explore a new direction.

The image below is an outcome of this process. This piece will feature as part of a small installation of work at the Clay Intersections group exhibition at the Australian Design Centre in Sydney (28 July - 21 September 2016).

I look forward to using this technique to explore more interesting shapes and forms...and I'm forever grateful to Yamaguchi san for his generosity and to Asialink and Arts Queensland who funded my residency. 

'Dome' 2016, Kenji Uranishi, slip-cast porcelain 

'Clay Intersections' at Australian Design Centre, Sydney

I feel very happy to be in the great company of Bridget Bodenham, Cone 11's Colin Hopkins and Ilona Topolcsanyi, Helen Earl, Tania Rollond, Natalie Rosin and Ulrica Trulsson as part of an exhibition curated by Cath Fogarty opening at the Australian Design Centre in Sydney this week. According to Cath: 

'Clay Intersections' presents the work of eight contemporary makers who take a range of innovative approaches to making and working with clay, exploring the different intersections of its sculptural and functional qualities.

Opening night is this Thursday 28 July 2016 (RSVP here) and runs until 21 September. I'll look forward to getting down to the exhibition on 2 September to do a master class alongside the talented Tania Rollond. Check out the profiles of the exhibiting artists here - I'm blown away by the beautiful work being produced in Australia! 

People watching

I dropped by the Museum of Brisbane on the weekend to visit 'Momentary' with family. Each time I go into the exhibition space, I find it really interesting to see how people look at the work and interact with it in different ways. Some people stand back and take it in from a distance, some inspect it really closely, others make their way around and around the space, and I've heard a number of people discussing which is their favourite. That's one of the wonderful things about the opportunity to exhibit an installation...everyone will approach the space differently and will bring their own histories and experiences to what they see...I really like watching that process unfold. 

'Momentary' is open!

What a whirlwind time it's been. My exhibition 'Momentary' which is showing alongside 'Living in the City' at the Museum of Brisbane has been open now for a month, with two months to go. If you're visiting Brisbane City, I hope you can drop by this beautiful gallery space in City Hall. We had a wonderful night at the opening - what a celebration! Heartfelt thanks Peter Denham and the wonderful Museum of Brisbane team for this opportunity (as well as to my longtime supporter and art dealer, Andrew Baker, below with my wife Sonia, my other longtime supporter!). 

Some lovely pictures from the opening night by Joanne Thies for The Weekend Edition! http://theweekendedition.com.au/captured/living-city-opening-night/

Behind the scenes

Late last year I spent a great day with the very talented film maker Simon Woods and the wonderful Museum of Brisbane team, creating a video of my making process. A shorter version of the video was released last week ahead of the opening of 'Momentary' at Museum of Brisbane with an extended version coming soon.  I hope you enjoy it! 


Brisbane News

Working with porcelain, I spend a lot of time in my own little world making, with Radio National keeping me company throughout the day. So it's been a very new experience for me lately to step away from the clay to be interviewed and photographed and filmed in the lead up to the opening of 'Momentary' at Museum of Brisbane. I'm not sure that it's my natural habitat, but it's wonderful to be able to share the news about the exhibition...it's getting exciting! Thank you 'Brisbane News'!

Brisbane News, Issue 1064


Happy New Year!

What a busy end to 2015 it was! After six solid months of making, I was so happy to see the truck roll up in December to transport my work into the Museum of Brisbane ready for my exhibition in February. 

In between the making, there was writing, film and photo shoots, planning and meeting - all with the support of the wonderful Museum of Brisbane team. 

I look forward to sharing more with you over the coming weeks as the exhibition draws near. But for now, you might like to check out some more details and images of the work on the 'Momentary' exhibition page over on the Museum of Brisbane Website.

Museum of Brisbane in 2016

I'm excited to share that I'll be showing an installation of ceramic sculptures at the Museum of Brisbane in February 2016! My show coincides with Living in the City: New Architecture from Brisbane and the Asia Pacific which showcases some of the exciting architectural projects in Brisbane and our nine sister cities. The exhibition is part of the inaugural Asia Pacific Architecture Forum, also happening in February in Brisbane. Needless to say, I have been VERY busy making, making, making in my studio for the last few months. I look forward to sharing more with you about the exhibition as it comes together! 

'Stepping Up' in Canberra

Image credit: Art Atelier, Canberra

Image credit: Art Atelier, Canberra

In July I attended the 2015 Australian Ceramics Triennale in Canberra, Stepping Up. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces and to get back to Canberra for the first time since completing a residency at the ANU soon after I came to Australia. This time around I was demonstrating my slab building technique alongside a number of others artists, and was part of a panel discussion with my friends Kirsten Coelho and Vipoo Srivilasa talking about our experiences working in Arita, Japan with local kilns as artists in residence. It was a great conference, and was so nice to see snow on the mountains in Australia - I think it was my first time - but it was also nice to get back to sunny Queensland! 

Little South Australian Residency

In May I had a wonderful trip to Adelaide to do a short residency with the University of South Australia and TAFE South Australia. It's always great to work with students studying ceramics - they're full of good ideas and enthusiasm and as much as I hope they learn something from me in our sessions, I always learn something from them too. In addition to the workshops with students, I got to catch up with my great friend and colleague Kirsten Coelho to give a talk about our experiences in Arita, Japan where we both visited last year for residencies. I rounded off the weekend with a community masterclass which was also lots of fun. A big thank you to Julie Bartholomew at University of South Australia and to Peter Johnson and Bruce Nuske from TAFE South Australia for coordinating the residency and to the JamFactory for hosting me...and to everyone who came out for the sessions. It was my first time to Adelaide, but it won't be my last! 

Olsen Irwin

Very exciting exhibition opening is on tonight in Sydney. 

Olsen Irwin

Contemporary Clay - Featuring Prue Venables, Stephen Bird, Kenji Uranishi, Titania Henderson, Neville French, Gwyn Hassen Pigott, Milton Moon, Dan Elborne.

April 1, 2015

Material Evidence

Ceramics featuring Sandy Lockwood and Yasuhisa Kohyama

Back from Arita & excited about 2015!

Happy New Year! I'm back in Brisbane and part two of my arts residency is complete. I would like to thank Asialink and Arts Queensland for giving me the special opportunity to spend time in Arita in Saga Prefecture, Japan. The residency was a very meaningful time, full of learning and discovering and finding new friends. This opportunity gave me the basis of a long-term relationship and ongoing collaboration with Arita manufacturers and local artists.  

The first two images below are the very first results of my collaboration with Kourakugama, my host for the residency. I used vintage decals of plants including pine, bamboo and plum and designed clouds, rain, flags and cranes with them. Getting through the process of making decals is very hard and I have a huge respect for people who are working in this area in the kiln. I've also included a number of images of people I met, things I made and places I visited during part two of the residency - I hope you enjoy them and if you're going to be at the Stepping Up conference in Canberra in July, I'll look forward to sharing with you about my experiences along with fellow Arita-lovers Shin KoyamaVipoo Srivilasa and Kirsten Coelho in a panel moderated by Cory Taylor.  

This Asialink Arts Residency Project was supported by Arts Queensland.

Arita 2014 No. 10

I drafted this post just before I left Japan in May when part one of my Asialink residency in Arita was coming to an end...but I was so busy that I didn't get around to posting it. Looking over it again brought back some beautiful memories so I thought...better late than never! 

My friends and I went to Onta recently. Onta is a beautiful little traditional potters village in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu, and the people who live there are very impressive. They make clay and pots and wood fire them and maintain the distinct Onta style throughout the whole village. It felt like they were actually making pots "for" their village. On the bottom of the pots it only says "Onta" - no other personal maker's mark. Beautiful. I became a fan of this place.   

My Asialink Arts Residency Project is supported by Arts Queensland.

Exhibition!

A selection of works, some that I made in Arita, Japan as part of my Asialink Residency, will be on the show at Andrew Baker Art Dealer. The opening is on 5 December so please drop by if you are around.

My Asialink Arts Residency Project is supported by Arts Queensland. 

Arita 2014 No.9

I had a special day today outside of the studio, because the very talented Kirsten Coelho from South Australia is now visiting in Arita. We went to Tatuya Tutui's studio with Tsuru-san - she is an amazing person to show you around Arita - she knows so much about the town! Tatuya kindly showedus how to do wheel throwing Arita style and also he let us have a go too. Amakusa clay was very nice clay to work with and we had a lovely chat with him. It was so special!      

Arita 2014 No. 8

I recently went by bike to Jinroku Mountain in the early morning by myself - it so cold and windy! But I was really pleased that I went there and was impressed by how beautiful it was to look down at Arita from the mountains.

Arita 2014 No.7

I went to Fukuoka on the weekend and had a nice walk around the Asian Art Museum. There was a beautiful sandy river nearby (it was low tide I think) along with so many curious buildings and shops. I'd love to come back and check this city out some more when I have the chance.