Artist Statement
Growing up in Minnesota where, via the influences of the many local potters, the climate for making pottery has a distinctly Japanese folk pottery or mingei air to it, I began my work in high school making “Japanese” inspired functional pots. As the years progressed my work turned to non-functional, and then, to purely sculptural concerns until my first trip to Japan in 1987 when the circle began to close. My residency there lasted from 1988 to 1996, and during that time I came to realize how deeply ceramics were imbedded in the culture via the tea ceremony, flower arranging, the various styles of regional cooking, etc. I became drawn to Japanese pottery such as Oribe with its painterly playfulness, to Shino, with its soft, rich textural surfaces, and to Shigaraki/Iga, with their truth to materials/process approach. More recently, via my interest in making wares for the tea ceremony, my attention has turned to Korean influenced work, specifically Hagi as well as Karatsu style ware. In contrast to Mingei style pottery where the artist tends to express himself consciously via decoration such as brushwork, I try to let my work carry more of a truth to materials approach taking the role of the enabler, rather than that of the creator. Coming from more of an abstract-expressionist approach, as well as consciously stepping back to let the materials speak for themselves, I look to find and use materials in a rawer state in hopes of allowing the clay and fire their voice. Although it may sound like an oxymoron, most of my work is completed unfinished, or in a state where hopefully the viewer/participant completes the work via the type of food or drink served or the flower arrangement created. This approach allows more interaction between pot and participant as well as allowing the various aspects of each pieces’ personality to emerge over time and with use.

Materials and Processes
Working alone in my studio, my thrown work is either created on an electric wheel or, in the case of my tea ware, on an old momentum kick wheel. There is a certain pace to throwing on the kick wheel that gives a special quality to the tea bowls as they emerge one by one from the hump of clay before me. Clays I use in my work include a dark brown high iron body, a black body, as well as a buff body which when fired approximates the mogusa clay used for Shino ware in Japan. Local clay which I dig in the area is added in percentages ranging from 10% – 50% depending on the color palette as well as textures that I seek to achieve. Additionally I procure ash for glazes locally as well, using various types of ash including apple wood, black pine, and alder as depending on the type of tree or plant and where it grew, I can achieve differing color and surface quality. The worked is either single or multi-fired fired here at my studio to cone 7-9.

Educational Background
BFA - Summa cum Laude - University of Minnesota
MFA - University of Washington

Selected exhibitions of my work include such venues as the William Traver Gallery - Seattle, the Urasenke Foundation - Seattle, the Parsons School of Design - New York City, The Otis Art Institute – Los Angeles, The Ichikawa Prefectural Musuem of Art – Kanazawa Japan, The International Tableware Festival – Tokyo, The Kintetsu/Matsushita Gallery in Takamatsu Japan, The Art Complex Museum – Boston, The Crocker Museum – Sacramento, and at Daitokuji – Kyoto Japan. Gallery representation includes, Oakwood Ceramics in the UK, Cavin Morris – NY, Utsuwakan – Kyoto Japan, and Sanwado – Tokyo Japan.

I would like to thank the various people who have and continue to support me along my journey including my family, and friends. I also thank my teachers whom have helped and challenged me along the way, Roma Luety, Curtis Hoard, Howard Kottler, Bob Sperry, Tanaka Hideho, as well as Kajita Shigeki. A special indebtedness goes to Katsuo Tsueko who kept me going when times were tough in Japan, as well as to Tominaga Kenji, Hashimoto Eiji and Yoshiko, as well as to all of my many other Japanese friends whom have encouraged and supported me. Oseiwa ni narimashita to Kishino Naohito for his sumie walking man painting which graces this site as well as my chop which he so skillfully created. While being around a potter isn’t the easiest task at times, a special thanks goes out to all those who are gracious in putting up with and help support me in and out of the studio on a daily basis.


works artist statement Events Travel Links contact

© 2010 Robert Fornell Ceramic Arts