Artist Snapshot: Yasumitsu Morito

Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions

Yasumitsu Morito Interview
Yasumitsu Morito standing alongside his piece KOCHI #4, on view in the Instructors’ Exhibition 2019.

At what age did you decide to become an artist?

There was no specific age that I decided. I grew up in a community of craftsmen and artists in the ceramic town of Mashiko, Japan. It is in my genes and a continuation of practice.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?

I don’t recall that I told them. My father was a ceramicist. Since the notion of the artist in my community is different and leans more towards craft related to life, I feel that I have been continuing my practice as my life.

Who are your favorite artists?

Cycladic sculptors, Michelangelo, Bernini, Carpeaux, Archipenko, Noguchi, Albers, Picasso, etc.

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?

Monet, Duchamp, Paul Jenkins, Jesús Rafael Soto, Judd, James Turrell, Theaster Gates, etc.

Art book you cannot live without?

Togei no tame no Kagaku (Science for Ceramics) by Shiraki Youichi.

What is the quality you most admire in an artist?

A belief in art, paired with a continuous search and contribution to art.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

I keep a sketchbook filled with sketches for public sculpture projects, sketches for the layout of an exhibition, sketches of anatomy studies from dissection class, etc.

What’s your favorite museum in all the world?

The Met Museum. And I liked the Met Breuer very much, which is now a temporary home to the Frick Collection. I liked visiting the Chichu Art Museum on the remote island of Naoshima in Japan. This museum is an art project that has changed the ecosystem and reinvigorated the island’s declining population, which hovers around 3,000. Architect Ando buried most of the buildings underground in order to preserve the scenery and nature. The way the light comes through the ceilings into the subterranean rooms displaying artworks by Monet, Turrell, and Walter De Maria is unforgettable. The museum reflects Ando’s philosophy that architecture has to “read” the site (the surrounding environment) and to embrace the people and artworks within it. Ando played a part in its postmodern design, and his other concrete buildings continue to have the austere beauty that Bauhaus Modernism aspired to. It is enjoyable for me to observe a shared Bauhaus influence in the former Met Breuer and decades later in Ando’s museum.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?

The Art Students League’s Instructors’ Exhibition in 2019. It was meaningful to see such a variety of artwork within one exhibition. Of my personal exhibitions, I have two favorites: one I had at Carl Schurz Park and another at the Consulate General of Japan in New York. At my group exhibition with Carole Davenport Japanese Art in 2019, I received good feedback from several Metropolitan Museum curators, and I informed them that the League has offered ceramics classes since 2014.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?

Upon the completion of my teaching ceramics with the Japanese Government’s Volunteer program (JICA) in Central America, I was offered a diplomatic job involving regional development at the Japanese Embassy, but I chose to follow my practice, art.

Did you have an artistic cohort that influenced your early creative development?

At the League, I have studied sculpture with Tony Antonios, Barney Hodes, Greg Wyatt, and Frank Porcu. I’m grateful to have met them at the League.

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?

To have a mindset that opens yourself to new knowledge.

What work of art have you looked at most and why?

I have looked at ceramics and sculptures most because they are in my field. I try to see all art without preconceived ideas and always find something that interests me. The formalistic aspects of a work speak to me first.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?

Nature in space, in different seasons, in a variety of times of day, and in various lighting conditions. For me, I enjoy looking at how the light affects color and form. A breeze that changes how I perceive form is a great pleasure.

Do you listen to music in your studio?

Yes, classical music, from Baroque to contemporary, and jazz, from bebop to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. When I’m working on the wheel, I hear the interesting sounds coming from forming a pot in front of me. This phenomenon is caused by the enclosed space inside the pot: the resonant cavity amplifies the low decibel sound inside and creates interesting music.

What is the last gallery you visited?

Gagosian Gallery, Park & 75, for an exhibition of work by the ceramic sculptor John Mason, before the pandemic. Though his work is in many museum collections, he is lesser known than American ceramic artists such as Peter Volkos, Ken Price, or Toshiko Takaizu.

Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?

Any artist whose practice involves craft. Techniques are devalued for not showing an explicit concept or lacking content. However, a craft can’t be achieved without a concept and training. The theoretician Theodor Adorno expresses it comprehensively: “Because art is what it has become, its concept refers to what it does not contain.”

What art materials can you not live without?

Clay, glaze, and a kiln are essential for ceramics. I think, in an extreme situation, I should able to live without these materials. However, for me, material form is important for the artwork, as it is necessary for visual art to manifest through material reality no matter how abstract or liminal.

Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?

Almost every day. If not, then I’m imagining, writing, exchanging ideas about art.

What is the longest time you went without creating art?

For about a week I was hospitalized due to overwork, the whole time laying in bed, thinking about my next piece.

What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?

It is hard to find such a moment; scheduled future projects are occupying my mind.

What are the questions that drive your work?

Because of my background in Japanese craft, formalistic questions come first. I think ceramics exists not only as a traditional medium but is also now becoming a key material form in contemporary art. It allows me to reconcile the formalist and conceptual aspects of art that fascinate me.

What is the most important quality in an artist?

A constant searching and the ability to articulate content, theme, or interiority. Artists may work toward assigned values, but they may also work toward art itself as an end.

What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?

I haven’t achieved half of my list. I would like to help contribute to my former colleagues in the cooperative ceramic studio for the disabled in Central America. I created an object designed for the disabled, called Universal Design. It was a part of my trajectory to find a meeting point of form and concept. I would commission the studio to produce it. This project hasn’t moved forward for years.

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?

The sources of art are now decentralized. Individuals can exhibit their work and interact and transact with an audience. It’s an alternative art ecosystem.


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