Brisbane-based ceramic artist Kenji Uranishi once had a job on an archaeological site on a Japanese mountainside. Following his studies at the Nara College of Fine Arts, this job enabled him to save and buy his first kiln. While a graduate job in archaeology sounds a little unusual, it felt customary to Kenji! The artist grew up in Sakurai, a small city in Nara Prefecture, a picturesque part of Japan surrounded by mountains, and teeming with rice fields and archaeological sites. Digging allowed Kenji the opportunity to uncover and experience first hand many precious objects from the past, including ceramics.
Kenji has always loved making. ‘As a little boy I was constantly making things for friends: cardboard tanks, paper ships, drawings… I was always busy with something creative’ he says. Interestingly, Kenji didn’t find ceramics until he began university. In his early years he used slab and coil-building techniques to construct things with coarse, stoneware clay that produced earthy looking surfaces. When he’d saved enough from his digging job, Kenji set up a studio in Nara, involved himself in different exhibitions and installations, and ran classes.
Sonia, a young expat from Brisbane, enrolled in one of Kenji’s classes. A friendship formed, the temperature rose, and like clay in a kiln, the pair eventually found themselves glazed and fully fired! They moved to Australia in 2004 and Kenji’s work took a refreshing, new direction. ‘I felt less constrained by cultural expectations, as though I could explore and develop something new that was influenced by, but not only about, my heritage,’ he explains. Kenji started working with porcelain and hasn’t looked back. ‘My latest body of work explores ideas of nature, weather and the built environment, place and belonging, and their interplay. Things I see in everyday life, and the way they constantly change, inspire me.’
Working out of his home-based studio in Brisbane, Kenji juggles his art practice with family life (he and Sonia have two boys, aged 5 and 7). One north-facing studio wall has been fitted with second-hand windows, so Kenji’s modest workspace is bathed in natural light. Equipment, tools, shelving and benches are set up to suit Kenji’s meticulous process. As he sits and works, he is calm and focused, carefully cutting small tiles from a porcelain slab, ready to join into a 3D sculpture. ‘I love working through the process of transforming a material from its raw form into something else’ he says.
Kenji’s ‘Momentary’ exhibition is on at the Museum of Brisbane until May 22nd May. Kenji’s small design range can be purchased from his online shop. Contact Andrew Baker Art Dealer for enquiries about available stockroom pieces, or contact Kenji directly for commissions.