Ceramics graduate student assists porcelain artist Yasuda in China

Patrick Kingshill (right) with Takeshi Yasuda in Jingdezhen, China. Photo courtesy of Patrick Kingshill.
Patrick Kingshill (right) with Takeshi Yasuda in Jingdezhen, China. Photo courtesy of Patrick Kingshill.

Ceramics graduate student assists porcelain artist Yasuda in China

calendar icon28 Sep 2016    

Lincoln, Neb.--“There are lots of times when in ceramics you find somebody’s work that you admire, somebody you’re curious about. But the experience of being able to go and be with them is something, I think, is so rare. I cherish every moment I was able to spend time with Takeshi in that close proximity,” said Patrick Kingshill.


Kingshill, a second-year Master of Fine Arts in ceramics graduate student and Hixson-Lied Fellow in the School of Art, Art History & Design, spent two and a half weeks in Jingdezhen, China, this past June, assisting world-renown porcelain artist Takeshi Yasuda in his Red House Ceramics Design Studio.


Jingdezhen is known as the “Porcelain Capital” because it has been producing pottery for 1,700 years. Kingshill said the large ceramics factories in Jingdezhen were almost like neighborhoods.


“It was amazing to walk around and see the scope and stockpile of work,” he said. “It was beyond anything I had ever seen.”


His trip was made possible with a Warren McKenzie Advancement Award from the Northern Clay Center. Now in its third year, the award provides an opportunity for students and emerging artists to continue their research and education for up to 12 months within the grant year.


Kingshill was the second UNL student to receive the grant. Graduate student Stuart Gair received the research grant last year and used it to tour East Coast museums with historic ceramics collections and compile a catalog of the ceramics he saw on the trip.


“I applied not really thinking I would get it since they just gave it to a UNL person last year,” Kingshill said.


After completing his undergraduate degree at San Jose State University, Kingshill moved to Layton, New Jersey, to work as the studio assistant/technician at Peters Valley School of Craft, where he got to know Bruce Dehnert, who is the ceramics department head there.


“Takeshi and I have a mutual friend in Bruce Dehnert, so I had Bruce write me a letter of recommendation, which I’m extremely thankful for, and I contacted Takeshi before I applied for the grant to set it up,” Kingshill said. “When I got to China, I learned I was the only person who had ever had access to his studio in the capacity that I did, and I was the only apprentice he has ever taken, and he told me it was because of Bruce, so I’m lucky to have that friend.”


Yasuda is a Japanese potter, who trained at the Daisei-Gama Pottery in Mashiko, Japan. He settled in Great Britain in 1973 and taught at various art schools and universities throughout the United Kingdom. From 2005-2010, he served as Director of the Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China, before founding Red House Ceramics Design Studio with Felicity Aylieff and Baixu Xiong in the Jingdezhen Sculpture Factory.


About four years ago, Kingshill did a semester abroad in Sunderland, England, where he came across a book by Edmund De Waal titled “The Design Source Book:  Pottery and Ceramics.”


“I saw Takeshi’s creamware series, and I was really drawn to it, so I decided to further investigate him,” Kingshill said. “I became fascinated in his story and in his journey.”


Yasuda had an exhibition at the Goldmark Gallery in London in 2013.


“Goldmark is a great resource,” Kingshill said. “They have a video series and conduct interviews with the artists, so I got a lot of information there. When I got the job out of Peters Valley in the summer of 2014, Bruce was friends with Takeshi and is currently writing a book about him. I felt like it was meant to be and serendipitous that I would seek him out.”


Kingshill’s project while he was working with Yasuda was to help create 10 slipcast molds for the cups in a new teaware series. He finished nine of them in his 2 ½ weeks there and also learned valuable lessons from the experience.


“One of my undergraduate professors would say there has to be a reason you’re making pots beyond just making pots. If you’re just making pots to make pots, you’re competing with China, and you already lost. I saw that first hand. I was working with the most difficult material in all of ceramics, which is porcelain. It has the consistency of crème cheese, sort of,” he said. “It taught me to really listen to myself, and it forced me to ask myself why is it that I’ve decided to spend my life making pottery? What is the expression that I want to make with my work?”


He found the contrasts in China to be profound.


“The biggest takeaway was just the ultimate culture shock and experiencing life in China and the contrast of China,” Kingshill said. “I found the contrasts were profound. Even in the Sculpture Factory, I could see what I assume are peasant potters making things, and then there would be a Mercedes Benz in the cramped streets of the factory. That had a very deep impact on me.”


He also became more comfortable working with plaster, and Yasuda helped him learn the right consistency of the plaster.


“You put the ingredients into the mixer, and it’s very fluid. It’s like non-fat milk,” Kingshill said. “There’s a moment that you’re churning it, between 4-7 minutes in, where it changes into a heavy whipping crème. Being able to feel that change is not something that you can teach somebody else with words. You have to feel it and go through a series of trials and failures to actually learn that.”


He also learned moldmaking and purchased some tools while he was in China.


“I got some handmade trimming tools, and I got a lot of brushes,” he said.


He learned a lot from Yasuda.


“We had a very Yoda-Luke Skywalker relationship where everything I said had the potential to become a teaching moment,” Kingshill said. “But he taught me to be deliberate in everything I do, including the way that I talk and the way that I go about my life. Takeshi said only do what’s necessary, but do it with intention. He said do it beautifully, but I took that to mean intentional.”


He stayed with Yasuda in his apartment, which was just a couple of blocks from the studio. Yasuda frequently entertained out-of-town guests.


“He would always host these state dinners, it felt like,” Kingshill said. “We would have traditional Peking Duck dinners. I learned how to take the skin with the fat on it and dip it in sugar. I learned how to eat duck tongue and chicken feet and all those fun things.”


His lasting memory of his experience with Yasuda is simply the time he got to spend with his ceramics idol.


“One evening, we drove out into the countryside on a scooter,” Kingshill said. “I’m on the scooter, the sun is setting. We’re going into the countryside of China. I’m looking at the back of Takeshi’s head, and I’m just thinking about here I am from Lincoln, Nebraska, riding through rural China on this electric scooter, looking at my idol right here. I was so lucky.”


It was a rare experience.


“There are lots of time when in ceramics you find somebody’s work that you admire,” he said. “But the experience of actually being able to go and be with them is something, I think, is so rare. I cherish every moment I was able to spend time with Takeshi in that close proximity. Getting a glimpse at the candid life of an artist that I admire is something I’ll cherish forever.”


After Kingshill receives his Master of Fine Arts from UNL, he hopes to teach art.

“I think the teaching process is more of a learning process,” he said. “The ability to have a dialogue with students is something that I think is really valuable. I love the ability to reach out to people like that.”


He is also considering starting a line of designer pottery.


“Stuart Gair and I started a pseudo-company last year called Flatland Design,” he said. “It’s been a really interesting challenge for us to come up with a collaborative set of tableware that has a sleek design that is not necessarily either of our own work, but is this collective Flatland brand. I’ll definitely be playing with that and searching for the potential in that type of thing. We haven’t decided yet if we’re going to continue Flatland after graduating, but it’s an option.”


He continues to stay in touch with Yasuda.


“One way we stay in touch is that he has a weekly movie night, and he makes a poster and a detailed invitation,” Kingshill said. “I continue to get the movie night invitation by e-mail, which is sweet. We stay in touch by e-mail and on Facebook.”


Kingshill would consider returning to China, if the opportunity arose.


“I’d love to go back to China,” he said. “It’s a place that if I had a big project to work on, I’d book a ticket to the Sculpture Factory immediately. It would be worth the cost of shipping and the flight over there. There are so many different ways that you can be in Jingdezhen as an artist.”