Japanese sculptor Masami Yamamoto uses soft clay to carve stunning garments. From socks to shirts and underwear—her creations appear astonishingly real and are on display in exhibitions. Masami’s creations are often based on intimate clothing as a means of potentially creating portraits of the owners of the said items.
While there is an impressive dedication to realism—Yamamoto is careful to detail each delicate fold of the clothing as she doesn’t use any pre-made molds for her sculptures. Instead, Masami studies each reference making sure to recreate it as closely as possible.
“My works are created by hand sculpting from scratch, this means that I sculpt my works from a mass of soft ceramic clay. Then I place them in an oven for high-temperature cooking.”
We took the chance and asked the artist if she had any major influences in her life that might’ve helped her to develop and refine her style.
“When I was a student in a college of art in Japan, one of the closest people to me got a life-threatening disease. When I went to meet her in a hospital on Christmas Eve, many people were also fighting against a deadly illness to survive while other people were happily going home to celebrate Christmas Eve with their friends, lovers, and family. When I was riding a train back, I felt as if I was in a totally different world from them. On the surface, people on the train on Christmas Eve looked so happy, but then I realized that each person might have a deep story covered in their daily lives, and I couldn’t know about it. Due to this experience, I began to imagine the lives of others. I have come to want to touch the feeling of being alive and I want to convey the existence of human beings living in the present age through my works.”
Art, in any kind of form, takes a lot of time not only to practice but also to produce, therefore we asked Masami how long it takes her to fully finish her artworks.
“Usually, I start by observing old garments and putting them beside me as a reference. The time I take to finish one piece of artwork, of course, depends on the work itself. It changes depending on the size of the garment, and some details on the work have their own wrinkles, folds, and deformations that are left like traces of people’s memory who once wore the garments. It also takes more time if the garments also have some part of embroidery, lace, and any other minor but delicate details.
It’s difficult to tell the exact production period. It can take several days or about two weeks for small pieces. It takes about a month and a half for middle-sized pieces, and several months for bigger pieces or for pieces with finer details. These periods are just for forming and carving. After this process, I have to dry them very slowly and make a firing in a kiln. It also takes up some time.”
Being an artist is not easy, one can easily encounter a lack of inspiration, burnout, etc, so we wanted to ask Yamamoto about her ideas for the series.
“The source of my inspiration for my artwork comes from my daily life. There isn’t any special way to pass my daily life but there are some feelings or emotions that accumulate unconsciously throughout the day as I experience life as it is.
These feelings and emotions help me get a concrete shape when I encounter something that amplifies them. It may be texts or data I find in books, an art exhibition, or simply just an observation of events happening in my daily life. I also tend to write in my notebook—it’s just some words or short phrases that catch something essential and important for each work of mine.”
As we mentioned before, sometimes creative work can cause quite a burnout, therefore we asked the artist how she dealt with that as well.
“In my case, the answer is a definite yes! I often face various difficulties in my artistic activities.
I will tell you an easy story that will help you understand what it’s like to be burned out. As I work mainly with ceramic materials as a contemporary artist, the idea is, of course, important, but there’s also a certain level of technique and knowledge about material and firing that is required. When I challenge myself to start a new series, I’m always subjected to failure. I never know if the piece will be well finished until the moment when I open the door of the kiln to finally get pieces out. When I fail a piece that I took a lot of time to sculpt, or it exploded in the kiln, I take time to recover myself for a while…”
We also asked Masami about how people reacted to her work.
“Most people look at my installations and are surprised that this work is made of ceramic and is also hand-carved. Some people tend to pass by thinking that they are ordinary clothes placed in the art exhibition.
To tell the truth, I’m not interested in hyper-realism and its techniques. I mean, realism is a way of expression and its techniques are just one of the means to get an expression of density in our lives and to reach deep feeling concerning human existence. I’m more interested in the transition of materials, from soft and fragile cloths to solid ceramic. My goal is to change our sensations over time. I hope that this transition makes viewers rediscover fresh and new feelings about our lifetime and memory of being alive.”
The creative process is not easy, but there are some enjoyable parts about it.
“It feels great when I finish setting up my work and I feel that I can offer a good exhibition. It’s one of the few moments when I can feel peace in my heart in an artist’s life. I’m also very excited when I can come up with a good idea. And of course, I also enjoy sculpting before finishing a piece.”
We also asked about the inspiration behind the artist’s Instagram account.
“I’ve started to use Instagram lately. When I returned to my work as an artist after having my first child in 2018, I felt the necessity to have a way to get people to know my artworks more (besides exhibitions) as I have less time to work than before thanks to my new routine as a mother.
Being able to have reactions of people across countries in the world through Instagram also gives me joy and fun.”
Digital art and art, in general, is not easy and requires a lot of patience, time, resources, and in most cases even money, therefore we wanted to know how the talented artist started her own career sculpting.
“I started my ceramic series concerning people’s portraits and memories of their existence around 2011. This series was evaluated and got prizes in a few art competitions in Japan. From around 2014 and until now, I have been able to get new opportunities and exhibitions continuously as an artist mainly in Tokyo, Japan. I’d like to have opportunities to participate in exhibitions and discover people and their daily lives in many other countries in the future! For example, in Lithuania! That would be nice!
The ceramic work series is my most well-known work, but I would like to show my works and ideas from multiple perspectives and in many different ways. Right now, in the last year, I’ve been trying to work on a new series where I’m working with old garments and old clothes directly.”