Artists/Makers : Shoshi Watanabe

Shoshi and I crossed paths inevitably, as these things happen, in the mutual orbit of somewhat Japanese guys working in creative fields in LA. Shoshi is a ceramicist who loves food and I am a cook who loves ceramics, so it was a fast friendship.
We soon discovered that we both went to international school in Japan and that we had friends in common, most notably my fish monger Mark, who I’ve been tight with for years. The common experience of a peripatetic Japanese upbringing means an instant rapport, and this was no exception. A studio visit turned into an ongoing collaboration, and we’ve shown his exquisite pieces in our store and at events all around LA.

Whenever I’m pressed to describe my kind of cooking I would say it combines Japanese techniques with plenty of inspiration from California. The same could be said about Shoshi’s ceramics, a delicate merging of these disparate worlds. The glazes and forms come from years of tradition, but with a sense of freedom and caprice that is rare in the formal world of Japanese pottery.

On a recent studio visit we delved a bit deeper into how he got started in ceramics as well as his influences and inspirations for his work. — Jeffrey



You started doing pottery as a high school student at St. Mary's in Tokyo. What drew you to ceramics?

I started touching clay in elementary school, but I really got into clay when I was in high school. I really liked working in the material, and back then when I really started to get into ceramics, I simply wanted to explore more techniques, shapes, and colors, and just in general get better at the technique. Now looking back, I think what really kept me going at it was the communal environment in the ceramics studio. 

Did you study in any particular style?

No, in fact, I started ceramics in Japan, but my teacher was a New Yorker. But just growing up in Japan, exposure to ceramics there, I see now, has been a big influence in the style of my utilitarian work. Now having been in Los Angeles for 15 years, my work has become a blend of styles between Western and Japanese influence.

One of the reasons why your work really resonates with us is that it combines Japanese techniques and aesthetics with a distinctly Californian vibe. How has your work evolved since moving to the States?

My professional work only started in California, and yes, I get a lot of comments from both Japanese and non-Japanese people I've met saying that they see a balance of Japanese and Western aesthetics. Since moving to LA, I've been really lucky to study and work closely with Adrian Saxe, who has really taught me all the techniques and knowledge that I use.

Definitely, I draw a lot from my experience in LA and the Californian vibe: colors, the Californian sense of utility, the co-existence of different cultures, and the mix of it all. But beyond that, some of my most-used glaze recipes are based off of glazes maybe 40-50 years old (maybe more) from California, given to me by Adrian.

Whenever we visit the studio it always seems like you're up to something new. What are some of the things that inspire you?

Definitely food. But not just the act of eating. Food culture, which I think involves not just the food itself and the plating, but mannerisms, company or who you eat with, and the history of wherever the food/dish comes from—the balance and combination of those elements that go into the act of eating interests me.

And also the friends and people around me. I come from an art background, but I've been lucky to become close with creatives of different fields, and everyone seems to be up to something interesting. Conversations with those around me, including students, are a big stimulation to new thoughts.

I also have this reciprocal inspiration that revolves around my work. I know a lot of ceramic artists showing in contemporary art galleries do not like to show their utilitarian dishware as part of their practice. I consider utilitarian vessels and my contemporary art pieces to be all part of my practice, but there is a difference in how I approach making the different kinds of work. Ideas from making utilitarian vessels for restaurants and my contemporary art practice both feed off of each other.

You collaborate a lot with chefs and restaurants. How do you see the role of the ceramicist in the food world?

Food, and Japanese food in particular, has always been part visual experience. And I think it has become even more so these days. In contemporary cuisine like at Vespertine, some of the vessels were so unique that the word "plating" might not be a suitable word to describe the visual composition of the food on the vessels. The vessels used there do not look like conventional plates at all. I wouldn't consider it a role for all ceramicists, but there is a need for unique vessels for unique ideas, and I enjoy working with chefs in a collaborative process.

Thank you Shoshi!