In Conversation: En Iwamura Ceramics as Universal Language
Japanese artist, En Iwamura, has been steadily taking over the world with his irresistible ceramic creations, from studying in the US to taking up art residencies worldwide. His playful figures are essentially superbly executed Manga-like characters with quirky attributes and features, which places his work at the very point where Japanese love for traditional craft meets its obsession with popular culture.
Although the Kyoto-born artist was originally aiming to follow in his parents' footsteps and become a painter, he ended up studying crafts and became a sculptor. This is probably the direct cause for his unorthodox color choices and innovative ways of playing with the surface. Regularly experimenting with scale and shape, Iwamura is challenging the idea of ceramics as a "serious" medium, enjoying and appreciating every step of the long and unforgiving creative process along the way.
We were intrigued about En's work, which seems to be reinventing the traditional ceramics while keeping the traditionally high standards of the finished product, so we got in touch with him right after his recent residencies with Archie Bray Foundation and Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute International Studio.
Sasha Bogojev: How did you start working with ceramics and what do you like about it?
En Iwamura: It was just an accident. First, I was applying for Painting major, but I failed my application exam and I was rejected from where I wanted to go. Then somehow, I was accepted for Craft major. This is how I started working with clay. I had no idea what ceramic is. I was not excited about craft first. However, after I started working with all different materials, I started to love using my hand to create something in 3D. Especially cause ceramic culture exists everywhere, and I imagined that ”ceramic art could have the potential of being one of the international languages!!?"
How much does traditional Japanese ceramics influence your work?
I admire the ceramics with its values as an important information technology. I do refer to historical Japanese clay objects such as Jomon pots, or Haniwa figures. I am also using coil building techniques in my studio practice, which is one of the most primitive sculpting techniques. I am making future-artifacts to communicate with future people as we lead history from ancient unknown artifacts.
You seem to be focusing a lot on the surface of your pieces, why is that?
This is coming from a lot of different places. My inspiration comes from artifacts such as Japanese Jomon pots, African Masks, Aztec ceramics, metal works, Chinese bronze, etc. I found many different works with lines in different time zones and cultural zones, so I found interest in using the lines from those objects. Also, the process of making line patterns is a kind of meditation. After finishing to fill the surface, line allows me to have some levels of distance between my works and my intention of creating.
How challenging is it to discover new techniques and ways to include in your practice? Do you have one that is particularly exciting?
I am enjoying the process of discovering unexpected forms in my studio. For me, using clay is free drawing into three-dimensional space. I usually do not have any drawings before making sculpture, and just start without an idea. Once I start seeing forms and characters of works, that is the most exciting moment. Linework also as it can totally change the impression of works. It feels as if I'm encountering something I do not know. I'm discovering new techniques and shapes in my process of work.
Your work has this comic/manga feel to it. Would you agree with that and where do you get inspiration for your creations?
Most definitely. I intentionally include the Japanese Manga influences into my work. I grew up in Japan, I studied in Japan first, then moved to USA and stayed and worked over there for 5 years. For me, talking about where I came from and where I am is very important in my work. Again, I am making future artifacts, and want them to indicate my influences. Comics and pop culture are one of the most famous things I grew up with. I would like to talk about cultural diversity, and I keep absorbing a lot of different cultural icons, before processing them.
Do you use any other techniques in your practice and which ones?
I do painting, wood, and paper works. I would like to try new things such as printmaking, bronze casting, as well as large-scale stuff!
Why do you enjoy art residency programs and how was your recent residency in China?
I have been talking about cultural diversity and ceramics as an international language. For me, clay allows me to explore the world, and I would like to see the different parts of the world with my eyes. International residency programs are perfect for my practice. I was at the Jingdezhen ceramic institute for one-month residency and will go to France in early 2019. I would love to go to Africa, South America, Scandinavia, Southwest Asia, if I have the opportunity. I want to do more residency, but at the same time, I face the difficulty of short-term residencies because all the time I have to keep moving.
Any major plans for the nearby future?
It feels that 5 years is the unit in my life schedule. I had lived in the USA 5 years and could experience a lot of things in western culture. Now, I want to go to different areas instead of staying in one country. Next 5 years, however, are gonna be the most challenging term for me. I want to start figuring out where my home is, set up my studio, start my own family, and keep exploring the world. I'll try to do it all!
En Iwamura is currently represented by Ross+Kramer Gallery in NYC.