Ken Nagakui: “Where Imagination Meets Reality”

Artist name: Ken Nagakui

Featured Work 1: Flower Vase

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Ken Nagakui’s pottery is quiet and strong.  It has a skillfully hand crafted feel and also has an organic life of it’s own, and seems to have grown right out of the earth.  Each piece mimics the beautiful lines, colors, and textures of nature and also has it’s own unique personality.

Featured Works Slideshow:

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5 Questions for the Artist:

1. What is art to you?

Art for me is a way of communicating with the unknown space where imagination meets reality (I have a theory that imagination and reality should be one for artists). The unknown space means the space that extends not only beyond my own mind to some unconscious level, but also to the same area in other people’s  minds; the real meaning of common ground lies there. Art ought to be a way of enabling that level of communication.

The question, ‘What is art to you?’ to an artist might be as hard as, ‘What is water to you?’ to a fish. The answer might also be different from time to time. That doesn’t mean what I’m saying here will be untrue later on; it merely means that my focus on the same question might come from other angles at different times.

2. What did you make in the past, and why?

I had been painting before I started ceramics.

When I was 19, I was depressed, for I couldn’t fit into engineering college. I wanted to pursue the way of some creative expression. However, when I finally recognized that painting was the best media for me, I needed to find a way of expression by myself instead of relying on art schools. After I had made progress through intense self-study (50 different idea sketches a day, for example), I started to have inner visual images of my own: rock-like crystal structures with tremendous energy floating in space. Also, that development gave me a more classic view in my visual sense. Abstract line compositions and very realistic images can co-exist in that space. That connects to one of the bases of my beliefs: imagination and reality are one.

3. What are you making now, and why?

My focus for the last eleven years has been more on ceramics. I liked pottery, but I’d never thought I should be a potter myself. One encounter, however, impacted me enough to change my mind. A picture of an English ceramist Jennifer Lee’s hand-built pot was in an art book. I never thought a pottery piece can have that level of focus and integration. I took a ceramic class in Alexandria, Northern Virginia. Then, five years later I build a wood-kiln.

I find working on clay and firing it are more of a way of connecting to the earth and my surroundings, while painting involves a more mental process, although the two forms of expression cannot be clearly separated.

The particular hand-built piece by Jennifer Lee that impacted me to lead to pottery.

4. What are your hopes for the future?

My hope for the future is that one day I can attain a simple life in which I can fully devote myself to painting and ceramics. However, one concern has persisted in my mind for a long time. It can be said to be a ‘cultural issue,’ or more precisely, an issue of priorities in our culture. Since I haven’t been living by the common notion of ‘building your career first’ (in other words, ‘money first’), but have pursued what weighs the most in my mind from the beginning, I find my position odd, or rather, the whole orientation and attitude of our culture absurd. I’m more attuned to ancient culture somehow: I visited one archaeological site in Japan (not too far from where I was born) a year and a half ago, and saw 9,500 years old earthenware. This cannot be my realistic hope, but I wished I had been a potter at that age on that place.

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9,500 years old earthenware. (Uenohara Jomon-no Mori archaeological site.)

5. Do you want to add anything?

I believe that most artists see the huge gap between what our society can be and what it is now. But, I don’t see many artists who can really articulate the issue. There must be many reasons for that. I read one article in an art magazine in Japan 1976 or so. It was an interview of George Mathieu, a French abstract painter known for his quick improvised compositions on large scale canvases. He said something like:’In today’s society in the world we prioritize economy  first, politics second and culture  last. It’s scandalous,’ he said,(rough translation from my old memory, which I originally read in Japanese) and he wanted to order this the opposite way: culture first, politics second, and economy third (my thoughts are unfinished, but I will post further discussions on my blog in the future soon, hopefully).

Artist Supplied Background:

“I was born in Japan. I am mostly self-taught in painting and ceramics. My painting is in both abstract (line composition) and representational styles. My ceramics are wood fired, hand-built and throwing with stoneware, using local clay and with themes of earthiness and nature. If I have to identify myself to be one category of artist, I would say I am a painter. Even when I’m doing pottery, I’m thinking about color, texture and composition. My ceramics is a three dimensional extension of painting. I don’t think pottery is less valuable, but I often think that the two-dimensional expression (painting) truly is the window from this side to the ambiguous space of art for me. The space of art itself may not be ambiguous, but my mind is so dull, that makes it ‘ambiguous,’ for me, I think.”

Visit Ken Nagakui’s website.

Ken Nagakui has a show at the Freeman-Victorius Frame Shop in Charlottesville, VA, in March 2016. The opening will be March 4th (First Friday) from 5 to 8 PM.

Read more about Ken Nagakui in this Daily Press article, in which he says,

“Your expectations and the result are very different. But that makes you appreciate the process…I want to make it the way I can express as much as possible, then put it into the kiln. Then I can’t control. You have to appreciate the result. It’s a conversation.”

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5 Questions for the Artist, © Julia Travers
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