Perrotin Seoul is pleased to present Otani Workshop’s first solo exhibition in South Korea. The occasion also marks the artist’s first solo show with the gallery. Established in 2005, Otani Workshop is representative of an exciting new wave of ceramic artists from Japan, blending time-honored Japanese artistic techniques with contemporary aesthetics. While it is true that the word workshop invites an assumption that it is a collective of artists, a factory or even an amateur experiment, Otani Workshop is in fact the name of a single artist: Shigeru Otani.
While a student at Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts, Otani became frustrated by the prospect of indigence as an artist. This lead the artist to take a sabbatical from school and embark on a year-long personal expedition, exploring Japan while sleeping in the bed of a pickup truck. What began as a tour of various museums, temples and shrines of his home country, soon became an introspective journey, questioning his identity as an artist. This experience led to the epiphany that he was, after all, on the right path toward a predestined career as a sculptor.
After returning to school and completing his studies, Otani Workshop’s first solo show was held only four years later (Otani Workshop Tenjikaiten, Gallery KARAHASHI, Shiga, Japan, 2008). He soon attracted the attention of Takashi Murakami, who currently acts as both a mentor and curator for the artist.
Until 2017, for nearly a decade Otani worked out of Shigaraki, Japan – the ancient capital of Japanese pottery famous for locally mined clay – inside The Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park, a public facility which allowed the artist access to a shared kiln. Wanting to devote more independent study and time to the development of large-scale works in his own space, the artist first searched the area for a private studio but ultimately ended up purchasing an former ceramic roof tile factory on Awaji Island. Located approximately two hours outside Kobe, Japan, the factory was deserted due to devastation caused from repeated earthquakes, beginning with 1995’s Great Hanshin disaster. As sales of the traditional roof tiles further declined, many of the island’s factories became deserted.
Captivated by the historical ties of the island to ceramics, in this new space Otani began to create a wide range of objects from small clay figures to contorted humanlike ceramic sculptures, often mixing wood, iron, and other materials from Awaji Island into the final piece. The building also came equipped with a large working kiln, allowing Otani Workshop to test the limits of his imagination through sculpture. Full of personality, many of his works maintain the rough texture of the clay – still sourced from Shigaraki - throughout the asymmetrical figures which is indicative of the paradigm shift in Japanese ceramics.
Of note is Otani Workshop’s installation style, which, as a pillar of his practice, elevates the idea of craft to fine art. The artist’s most recent solo exhibition, When I Was Seventeen, I Learned About Giacometti From My Art Teacher and Became Drawn to Sculpture—and So I Make Sculptures Now. (Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Tokyo, 2016), for instance, explored the fluid relationship between ceramics and sculptures with equal parts humor and brutal honesty, inviting the viewer to feel as though they have stepped directly into the physical manifestation of Otani Workshop’s fantasy. Be it a pitcher or a bowel resting in a custom-made cupboard, or a large, fantastical ceramic head seeming growing from a mound of grass, the works are displayed in a way as to question the practicality or decorativeness of each piece. Owing to a profound presence as works of fine art, they showcase the strange reciprocity between traditional and contemporary culture.
Through Otani’s practice, the viewer is presented with narratives vested in the combination of ceramics, sculpture and craft – narratives that, ultimately, lead to new definitions of fine art and, crucially, of ourselves.