Perrotin Shanghai is proud to present Like A Talisman, the first solo exhibition of Otani Workshop in China. The exhibition features more than one hundred works, including ceramics, paintings, and FRP (fiber reinforced plastic); 69 pieces are the artist’s most recent creations from the last two years.
Otani Workshop’s ceramic practice focuses on figures both human and animal. Some of his ceramic figurines are reminiscent of Haniwa dolls which are hollow inside, made with earth-colored clay, and consist of simple shapes and few decorative lines to evoke a sense of "cuteness." The figures’ eyes are defined by two holes, hollow sockets that evoke a mystical presence. The animals rendered by Otani's hands, many of them standing or sitting in a state of total relaxation, embody the concise and straightforward features of both anime and totem aesthetics. The figures, whether human or animal, are reticent and lacking any indications of emotion.
I have been influenced a lot from the history of art. At the same time, I have also been inspired by things like pre-art statues of gods. I don't have a specific religious belief, but I have some kind of a faith, a feeling similar to remnants of a religion. I don't intend to make occult goods, but the sense of faith lies at the bottom of my creation.
Talisman is not strictly religious and yet represents faith. I thought it would be nice if such feeling could be conveyed in this word.
Since Otani was a child, he loved to daydream, and he was curious about human faces, animals, and other natural objects such as stones. As he matured, his passion for making art propelled him to enroll in the art department of his high school. This early education introduced the artist to the foundations of classical painting in addition to modern figuration by artists such as Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966); both historical sources of inspiration which motivated Otani towards becoming an artist himself. Continuing his art education, Otani enrolled in the Department of Sculpture at the Okinawa University of Fine Arts and took a year off during college to travel around Japan visiting museums and temples.
Raised in Japan, a country known for self-discipline and a strong sense of civic duty, the young Otani instead pursued his own path, following his inner voice toward exploration of the unknown realm of the mind. His artistic pursuit led him to Shigaraki, one of the six ancient capitals of Japan ceramics, where he acquired the complete skills of this medium. Through examining his works, it is evident that this skillful application provides the strong foundation of his ceramic practice. Transcending mere technical competency, Otani’s objective is to animate the figures with a lifelike energy and spirit.
Treading the boundary of ceramics, sculpture, and craft, he may look like an ambiguous amateur, but to stake out and maintain his place on that boundary requires a certain mental preparation on his part.
The silhouette of Otani's animals and figures are exceptionally gentle and suggest a natural symbiosis among heaven, earth, and nature. The artist’s seemingly carefree and willful approach, similar to a child creating his own rules, results in a calculatedly unpolished finish.
Otani’s sculptures elicit smiles among viewers, an emotional exchange similar to watching anime and evocative of the innocence of childhood that silently resides in our adult bodies. In this fast-paced age of information and production, gazing at Otani’s works provides tranquility and a sense of nostalgia for the simpler days of childhood when imagination remained unbridled.
Otani left Shigaraki in 2017 and moved to Awaji, an island enriched with a long history and mythology known as "a mysterious island inhabited by various gods and goddesses." In his former large and empty warehouse, once a tile factory, Otani shapes his oneiric childhood companions with his fingers to transform them into ceramic works and paints his imaginary people, situations, and objects with his brush strokes. Perhaps the spirits that inhabit Awaji aid the artist’s vision by directing his vision and guiding his hands, thereby animating his sculptures and paintings with their own mystical presence.
Though I may not understand art, I know there is something important in things I see, and I feel the presence of something divine there, too. Perhaps this god of some sort might come down to me when I achieve total harmony between my eyes, hands, and mind.
The artist collected and recycled many discarded materials to fabricate unique pedestals for each work. Some paintings are even created directly on driftwood or discarded factory boards. In his latest paintings, Otani experimented with different panel material to explore the expressivity of the paint on a new rough surface. Otani's appreciation and application of both medium and material is the result of the artist's concerted efforts with each organic or recycled material to embody the essence of life.
This time, I tried a rough base for the painting and changed the layer to which the base was applied, which made it possible to use colors that could not be used before. In particular, the large monkey painting is made by pasting Dongoros on the panel and plastering it. I think I was able to handle more complex colors by putting the paint on top of that rough surface.
"Everything has a spirit," the artist attributes ideas and thoughts to the most primitive materials, allowing each material to reveal its unique life force. The physical unity between the artist's hands and materials enable the work to be born, exhibiting the energy of eternal life that reaches for the viewer's heart.
Extracted from the texts of Ting Ju Shao, Ceramic artist, featured writer on ceramic art, curator of the 2018 Taiwan International Ceramic Biennale
Born in 1980 in Shiga Prefecture, Japan
Lives and works in Awaji Island, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan
Make no mistake: despite the name, Otani Workshop (born in 1980 in Shiga Prefecture, Japan) does not refer to a collective of artists, but to a singular, an eminently singular sculptor who has become the leading representative of Japanese ceramics. Silent and literally bulging heads, figures with their arms raised like praying figures, monumental middle fingers extended upwards, anthropomorphic vases, children, animals, soils, bronzes: Otani Workshop’s bestiary is a world in itself, a world in which dreams and tales converge as well as fantasies and daydreams, a world in which the queenly imagination and the kingly gesture triumph, in which forces and forms meet.
This exhibition marks the artist’s first solo presentation in China, as well as his forth solo exhibition at Perrotin gallery, following exhibitions in Seoul in the summer of 2018, Paris in the spring of 2019 and New York in the Autumn of 2020.
—More about the artist