Born and raised in Japan, Jun Kaneko moved to the United States to study ceramics. Not able to speak the language, he was forced to focus purely on the visual. His painting background is evident in his work, where his monolithic ceramic “dangos” (the Japanese word for dumpling) become three-dimensional, inflated canvases. Working primarily with graphic, yet painterly, lines and dots, his rhythmic designs are analogous with the Japanese Shinto concept of the “Ma”, which loosely translates into “attachment through space”.
Constructing pieces that weigh as many as 1,000 lbs, Kaneko’s simplified forms and control of the material make the pieces seem effortless. His technical aptitude comes from years of patience and an understanding of the temperamental medium. After construction, his work generally takes four months of drying time and up to a 35-day firing process. In final stage of production, out of a group of 10 pieces, only two to three actually survive.
Peter Voulkos, Kaneko’s professor at the University of California at Berkley and an influential artist in his own right, described Kaneko’s work: “His accomplishments are unrivaled in the field of ceramic art. His technical achievements alone have redefined the possibilities the medium has to offer.” He then goes on to say, “Kaneko’s ceramic works are an amazing synthesis of painting and sculpture. His works are enigmatic and elusive, simultaneously restrained and powerful, Eastern and Western, static and alive, intellectual and playful, technical and innovative”
One of Kanekos’ most impressive pieces in this exhibition departs from his “dango” studies. A figurative head sculpture measuring over 8 feet tall engages in a silent conversation. Venerated on a pedestal, it recalls, yet abstracts Buddhist iconography.
Kaneko’s exhibition history spans over 40 years. He is included in public collection at Cranbrook Academy of Art, De Young Museum, Detroit Institute of Art, European Ceramic Work Centre, Fine Art Museum of San Francisco, Oakland Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, and Japan’s Wakayama Museum of Modern Art.
Bentley Projects will host an opening reception for the artist on Friday, January 7 from 6 to 9 pm.
Article and images courtesy Jessica Eckert, Bentley Gallery/Bentley Projects. Images © Jun Kaneko.