Living in a humble Japan town with a heart set on ceramics, we visited the Turkish ceramic artist Cengiz Dikdogmus in Uenohara, a city at a three hour trip to Tokyo. The artist mentions every time about his longing to his country and we talked about his ambition to ceramics and interesting life he settled in Japan.
Mr. Cengiz let’s know more about you? Would you please briefly tell us about your educational background in short?
I was born in Ankara in 1960. I graduated from the Ceramic Department of Anadolu University Kutahya Vocational High School. Here I want to mention also my dear teacher Faruk Sahin. Thanks to him that I realized ceramics is a ‘very versatile and deep’ profession.
While I was going to university between 1983-1986, I also went to the illumination courses held in the Cultural Center of Kutahya General Directorate of Fine Arts. My familiarity to the two dimensional Turkish porcelain patterns and Turkish motifs has augmented my interest on ceramics.
I enrolled in Hacettepe University Fine Arts Faculty Ceramics Department to develop and advance on my ambition for ceramics and graduated in 1990. And with the advice of my teachers in my university years, I continued to get illumination-miniature lessons in the Ankara National Library between 1986-1990 from Bedia Altinbas who’s a student of the Professor in Ordinary and Doctor Suheyl Unver. That year, my works have been exhibited in the mixed exhibitions held in the Sıhhiye Cultural Center of Ministry of Culture. And one of my works has been bought by the National Library.
I owe a lot to my teacher Prof. Dr. Hamiye Colakoglu who has taught me the concept of ceramics in terms of art. With her vision I made cultural and artistic works on ceramics. I met with Japanese ceramic artists during these works and learned some information about Japan.
How did you end up in Japan and how was your life shaped in there?
Before finishing university I have earned a one-year ceramics scholarship in Japan. After finishing the university, right I the middle of the Gulf War, a snowy day in 31st of January 1991, I ended up in Esenboga Airport. I went to Japan leaving my family and my memories behind. When I arrived Narita Airport I have noticed that this journey was the beginning of many things for me. Every day I thought about the day I came to Japan. I worked hard and prayed a lot for this arrival not to come to nothing.
My life in Japan has begun in the Mashiko town of the city of Tochigi. From 1991 to 1998, I gained knowledge, skills and experiences on traditional porcelain production in the Tsukamoto Ceramics Factory. In ferial days back in those years, I helped Japanese artists in their workshops and improved my fund of experience. I went to ceramic production centers to the best of my ability, visited great shops and galleries and improved my visual memory with books, magazines and photographs. I visited big museums. I had the chance to see the works of European, American and China centered museums and the Turkish and Islamic works coming to Japan through Silk Road. This way, I realized how little I know and how little were my experiences. I tried to internalize the beauties of nature, herbs, animals and cultures and take my cue from them.
After my applied education in Mashiko I met and married with my wife. And with her help also I founded my own workshop in 1998. I hired an old village house in the Yuzurihara village of Uenohara state in the city of Yamanashi and settled my workshop there by procuring the required materials. And with this workshop I founded in 1998, I have begun my 22 years journey of ceramics. With my wife, we have entered a world we both don’t know about the journey of my works without any guarantee whether they will be sold or not. Whole 22 years is full of difficult but beautiful memories each worth a lifetime. My wife was one of those who worried the most whether I will be happy or not after founding the workshop. I owe her a great loyalty. As soon as I founded my own workshop exhibition offers and the attention of customers have all come one after another and this cheered us up. Therefore I opened exhibitions in many places and my (handmade) works were sold in porcelain shops.
I attended various ceramic events with several artists. I’m trying to synthesize Japanese and Turkish cultures in my works. I make works, objects, artistic forms especially for daily use. There’s an interest in porcelain in every city of Japan. There are especially many schools, research centers, exhibition halls on ceramics and shops selling ceramic materials. Many men and women are involved in ceramic art and those who are not interested in it and buy to support and help the artists. This is the result of a great fund of culture. Talented people in Japan persistently keep their culture alive. This is actually the element of Japan that makes it Japan.
Have you any memory in Japan which you couldn’t’ forget?
My most beautiful memory is about a kid and his mother who came to the ceramic shop and the kid has chosen the ceramic with the color and form he liked. Of course it seems normal to that point but the ceramic the kid chose was the one which I sold to that shop. This made me so happy.
Instead of a modern life in Japan, I live in a small place, go to different cities, observe and try to use all the opportunities in Japan so everywhere I go is full of memories for me. My wife’s mom and the interest of those around me to the Turkish culture, has cheered me up and supported me for real. It was always interesting and appealing for me that people are preserving their old values with an unconditional respect although the system in Japan is always renewing itself in parallel to technological developments which sustains the culture in Japan.
What do you think about the Ceramic Art education in Japan?
The ceramic art education in Japan has its’ own aspects. These are; patience, respect, simplicity, harmony, grace and craftsmanship. Artist who bear these aspects imbody their life with their art. Ceramic artists who achieve this are able to practice their traditional culture today and build up works which draw people’s attention. I’m not Japanese but I embraced the geographies I lived and now living in and reflect them into my works. I went to schools and opened exhibitions and students who saw my works also bought them. I came across comments like ‘Very Different’, ‘Very Functional’ and ‘very beautiful forms’, ‘how did you make these colors up?’ For me, these questions should be the things that mostly motivates an artists.
Ceramic students in Japan are supported and encouraged by the government; especially materials procurement, workshop environment, exhibition opportunities and library using are easily made available for students. Therefore, the ceramics in Japan is kept traditional and has made it to this day. Significant opportunities are offered to young artists who are very talented in technics so that they are able to collaborate with big brands.
Do you think ceramics education is sufficient in Japan compared to other countries?
When I compared with other countries, the ceramics education in Japan is a traditional way of life. There are many to-be artists who came especially from Europe and America to learn ceramics. Despite this fact, there are also many artists who go to Europe after school. For me, Japan is the most important country in ceramics education after China.
The interesting thing maybe is the great number of artists who had education on different fields and then occupied with ceramics and became successful. This again shows how interesting the ceramics is. Education is very important in ceramics but loving your profession and being patient is also very important wherever you’re.
What’s the color and form you mostly use in the works you make?
I mostly inspired from traditional colors used in porcelain and illumination. I especially use colors such as turquoise, cobalt, reseda green, light blue, the shades of green, canary yellow, cream white etc. But turquoise and reseda green are the ones mostly preferred in Japan which I also like the most.
After focusing on colored glaze in my university years, I made more than 500 colors during my education life in Japan but used 15 of these. Colors are like dresses, an important element which covers a form and gives the ceramic its’ essentiality. I can see the aesthetics, nice feelings and usability created by the colors I apply on my works. I witnessed that when I apply these colors on my works they’re much loved by Japanese people and this has always cheered me up. The forms I make are generally from Turkish traditional forms, handled cups, tea glasses, vases which can be used by Japanese people in their daily life, containers which are the reflection of Anatolian civilizations and forms that are the reflections of the nature.