From landscape paintings to coral reef-inspired textiles, nature is a constant source of inspiration for many contemporary artists. Cleveland-based ceramicist Yumiko Goto (of Echo of Nature) is one of those creatives. She sculpts one-of-a-kind vases, ring dishes, and lidded vessels based on the structures found in nature—including delicate flower petals, seeds, and buds.
Originally from Osaka, Japan, Goto grew up with a grandmother who was a professional kimono maker. This upbringing sparked a creative passion in the artist from an early age. She reveals, “Since when I was a child, I always loved to create, whether I played with a piece of Origami paper or getting making mud sculptures, I just can not stop making things.” Her love of crafting shines through in her work—each delicate ceramic vessel is lovingly handcrafted in the artist's home studuo, from building the form in clay to applying pastel-hued glazes.
At first glance, each piece looks like a conceptual sculpture, but every one of Goto’s ceramics can be used as functional homeware. “My vases don’t look like vases at first,” explains the artist. “But if you look closer, they’re containers to hold water and flowers. My artwork has sculptural elements; I want it to have that dual purpose.”
We recently caught up with Goto to find out more about her inspiration and processes. Read on for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.
When did you first begin working with clay?
I began to work with clay a year after I came to the United States from Osaka, Japan (1999). I took my first ceramics class at a small college in Tennessee. From day one, I just loved the tactile quality of clay and I often found myself just lost in the creative zone for a long period of time.
What do you love most about clay as a medium?
I love making marks and creating patterns on the clay. Clay is a very responsive material. I can preserve what I did to the clay. I puncture, slice, and tear the clay and place it in the order that you see in the patterns in nature.
There are many steps to crafting ceramics (throwing, trimming, glazing, etc). Which phase do you enjoy the most?
It is so hard to point out just one. I love the whole process, the transformation that happens after the firing. It is pretty magical. I love watching something so soft flow into my idea/thought/creativity and become a hard object that lasts for a very long time. That fascinates me. Last but not least, the excitement! I often formulate my own original glazes and seeing my pots completely transformed after the glaze firing is so exciting. Every time I do glaze firing, I rush over to the kiln and check how firing went. The thrill of opening the kiln is still there even after 20 years of clay experience history. I have a studio mate who has been a potter for 40 years and she still gets so excited to open the kiln after each glaze firing. That's comforting to watch and imagine that that's going to be me after 20 more years.
Do you use a pottery wheel or are your pieces hand-built (or both)?
I do both hand building and wheel throwing. I was originally trained as a sculptor and I truly enjoy sculpting and adding texture and layers to the surface. Hand building comes naturally to me. I struggled with wheel throwing at the beginning but lately I have found a meditative quality to the process.
Your work is clearly influenced by nature. What draws you to this theme?
I love gardening, I love to hike in the woods. It seems to make sense that my art is always derive from the natural world. Picking up the twigs and seeds and really taking a close look at the natural object is pretty fun. You can find so many repetitions, patterns, and order in nature's design.
Can you describe your creative process for coming up with a new design?
I play with the textures and form. Sometimes I place them in the random place and meld them together in my head to create a hybrid of plants and minerals.
How would you say your Japanese heritage has influenced your work?
My father was a gardener and I helped with harvesting the fruits in our backyard. Every year, my grandmother and my mother made homemade pickles, jam, and fruit sake out of our harvest. In Japan, a lot of traditional events are strongly associated with agricultural harvest. I had a lot of fond memories celebrating each season with my family. Now, I have 2 small children of my own. I take them to Hanami (Cherry blossom viewing) and eat Bento box under the cherry blossom trees.
Do you have a favorite piece from your collection?
My favorite collection is lidded vessels. I call them “secret vessel.” I design some lidded vessels to be not so obvious that it is lidded at first glance. I love the elements of surprise and mystery about them.
Echo of Nature / Yumiko Goto: Etsy