By Brynn Tweeddale
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Akio Takamori, a renowned local ceramics artist, completed his final body of work just a day before dying from pancreatic cancer.
His last work, entitled “Apology/Remorse,” weaves complex concepts together, such as the differences between Eastern and Western culture, the conflict of gender in politics, and the way cultures display remorse.
The show runs at the James Harris Gallery in downtown Seattle until April 1.
The recurring theme of Japanese leaders and executives publicly apologizing for their mistakes marks many of Takamori’s last pieces, some shown with the ideal woman’s body to challenge gender roles in powerful positions.
“He thought it was upending this whole dialogue about patriarchal CEOs on a woman’s body exposing themselves and being very vulnerable by showing remorse,” said James Harris, who was Takamori’s friend and owns the gallery where the work will be shown.
Harris explains that Takamori’s body of work came from his ideas about gender issues, the political climate, and the cultural intolerance of today, especially as an immigrant from Japan, who faced discrimination during his lifetime.
“He was concerned with the sta
te of the national climate,” said Jamie Walker, the director of the University of Washington’s School of Art + Art History + Design. Walker worked closely with Takamori and Doug Jeck, a master of figurative ceramics and University of Washington (UW) professor, to build the school’s ceramics program.
“I was looking at Trump and Hillary next to each other on the television, and that intensity, we’re going to carry on that for a while,” Takamori said in an interview with the Stranger in December. “I feel right now that the world is so unknown, and nothing seems predictable, but even though Hillary didn’t become president, we are looking at the Venus now and realizing that was a man’s vision. There’s no return for the old chauvinism way. That’s why male is angry. But you cannot change it.”
Takamori’s largest piece of work in the collection adds historical context by featuring Willy Brandt, a German Chancellor, who kneeled at the German occupation-era Warsaw Ghetto Uprising monument in Poland. It was an act of remorse that was seen as Germany’s first steps to recognizing its past.
Takamori was born in Japan and trained at the Musashino Art College in Tokyo. As an apprentice in Kyushu on the path to becoming an industrial potter, he began to question the constraints of industrial ceramics. He moved to the United States to study at the Kansas City Art Institute.
In the Seattle community, Takamori was an active supporter of local artists and students. He taught at the UW for 21 years. Walker describes him as a person who lived and breathed art.
“It wasn’t just people interested in Akio. Akio was interested in people,” he said. “People felt that they were part of his world through his art.”
Walker saw Takamori’s work as a shared experience. Takamori would invite people to his studio and talk to them as he worked. He liked to engage visitors.
Rachel Dory, a Texas-based artist and former student of Takamori’s, said her most valuable moments with Takamori were observing him create his work.
“He would ask them what it felt like to be human,” she said in a story she wrote about her experiences with Takamori. “The figure that emerged after the last firing was always a surprise, each newborn person stepping out of the kiln telling a uniquely raw, human story that nobody had heard before, including Akio himself.”
Takamori’s ceramic work was known for his painterly use of underglaze, a clay mixture that adds color or texture to ceramics, in a style that helped show human emotion. However, in many of his pieces in “Apology/Remorse,” he abandoned that familiar style, instead using monochromatic glazes in colors like black, white, and yellow without other markings.
“Here is a man that, in the last year of his life, took to doing something new,” said Walker.
Ayumi Horie, a potter who studied with Takamori as a graduate student at the UW, agreed that Takamori’s work was always evolving.
“He was the kind of artist we as students aspired to be,” she said.
When his cancer treatment made him lose feeling in his hands, making it hard for him to use clay as his medium, he began painting in order to continue creating art.
“There is an inherent sadness to it, yet he completed the body of work,” said Walker. “He loaded his last kiln the day before he died.”
Brynn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.