Born in Tokyo, Yoko Ozawa grew up outside the busy metropolis, in a little town surrounded by rice fields and forests where she played outside until it was dark each day. After finishing high school, she studied graphic design, and then a long-held passion to study Japanese painting saw her return to Tokyo.
While in the city, Yoko also undertook a ceramics course, and became totally absorbed, popping into the studio to practice almost every day. ‘I just went there and I threw over and over again,’ she explains. ‘I found the materials of ceramics to be very similar to Japanese painting. They both use natural materials, pigments from nature, such as sands, stones, shells and so on. This material use made me feel ceramics was aligned with my own thoughts and philosophies.’
Yoko reconnected with her love of ceramics after moving to Melbourne 15 years ago. Yet it all happened so organically that even she has trouble pinpointing when it became a career. ‘I didn’t begin with the aim of selling my work. One day a gallery owner contacted me, about seven years ago, she was interested in my teapots; I think this was the time I became a ceramicist,’ she tells.
Today, she works from a hidden garden studio, tucked away in Northcote, though her pieces are often inspired by memories of her childhood in Japan and traditional Japanese paintings, such as Tohaku Hasegawa’s Shōrin-zu byōbu, which embodies the Japanese notion of Yohaku (blank space). ‘I have always been interested in natural phenomena such as fog, wind, light, and shadow, articulating almost invisible forms in my work and praising simple, yet deeply rich ‘in-between’ spaces,’ describes the ceramicist.
Yoko is known for her functional wares, especially teapots and teaware like her Full Teapot, Yakan Kettle Teapot series and triangle cups, and Stumps series of vases/pourers. She has a penchant for natural stoneware clay from South Australia, and uses this as her go-to base. ‘The shapes I create are sometimes almost too sharp, but this clay gives my work a touch of a more raw, organic finish,’ details Yoko. ‘I like navigating the subtle, shifting balance between perfection and imperfection.’
For the ceramicist, pursuing such an intensely focussed approach to making is incredibly enriching, particularly in ‘a society saturated by things and over-consumption’. Though, Yoko has also found her creative practice to be challenging and cites the need to put herself out there most daunting. Three years ago, these insecurities lead her to stop throwing, and instead focus on creating art objects for a little while. ‘Now I have a deep understanding of how our bodies are related to our work. I have followed my body and its condition and ability since then.’
‘I try not to follow the Japanese traditional ceramics; because I live in Australia, I’m free to create anything, and it is not necessary to follow such an admirable tradition. Yet, I have been searching for where my work fits into culture,’ she adds. This quest has lead to forthcoming solo exhibitions in London and Kyoto – historical, old cities where people will be able to experience her striking work in new contexts!
Find out more at Yokoozawa.net or follow on Instagram @yoko_ozawa.