Artists We Love: Meet Momoko Usami

Posted by Brian Malnassy on


Each month, we welcome a new artist into the spotlight at Lillstreet Gallery. The Featured Ceramic Artists collection represents a range of styles - from thoughtfully-illustrated and narrative, to rustic surfaces, inventive forms, adventurous and highly utilitarian. Collectively, these artists offer a glimpse into the indefinite possibilities within contemporary functional ceramics. We are proud to present February's Featured Ceramic Artist: Momoko Usami. 

View our special collection of Momoko's work in our Gallery and online through the month of February. Read on for 10 questions with her in her studio, and take a peek into the imaginative world of Momoko Usami. 


Lillstreet Gallery Momoko Usami


What was the impetus for becoming a ceramic artist?

I wanted to be an artist since I was a kid. By the time when I was in college I wanted to make something that you can touch, feel in 3D. I liked the way I can make shapes in clay. Learned that there is so much I need to actually study in ceramics from glaze chemicals to firing to etc. There are lots of limitations and un-expected accidents. That challenge made me want to try. And since I can make not just purely sculptural work, but also functional ceramics, I can bring art more easily to people’s daily lives. And that’s what I think art is for. Not just for rich people or for special occasion, but to enrich anybody’s everyday life by being able to touch and feel it, and by discovering fresh views through it.

Momoko Usami Lillstreet Gallery mug

What inspires your forms and surfaces?

Walking in nature (I live in the countryside), walking in town, games, movie, dreams, “mitate” theme old Japanese painting, magazine, something you find on the ground, people’s everyday movement like opening a drawer, stacking cups, turning the light on, jumping in a puddle, opening a jar, trying to look back of my head, etc.


Who are your favorite artists?

James Turrell, Alexander Calder, Ernest Neto & Marion Fayolle


Momoko Usami Lillstreet Gallery


How did your current aesthetic style come to be?

When I was making sculptural work only with clay as a material, I loved the way I can build. But struggle with the feeling of the frozen moment in completed work. Firing in high temperature doesn’t even give it an opportunity to go back to dirt anymore. But I saw a niche when I recognized that functional ceramics start the time from when you complete the firing. Owner’s every touch make the pot alive. Even if we break it, we fix with Kintsugi and add special personal memory and history to it. I started somehow making functional work with sculptural mind. People’s movement will give my work an action. This time as featured artist at Lillstreet, I wanted to make a collection of objects that interact with each other and make stories together.


What is your favorite form to make?

Boxes. Somebody needs to open to see what’s inside, to see what is hidden. It starts the second stage by opening it.


What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

This was what one of my teacher told me. No matter how hard it is, just keep making till you are 40 years old. Then you’ll have a chance. I’m not there yet, but getting closer. And started to feel like I’m seeing the tip of what she told me. There are so many reasons to quit, but only one reason to continue.


Momoko Usami Ceramics Lillstreet Gallery


Do you have other creative outlets/practices?

I like to draw. Recently started to make my drawing into animation.


If you weren’t an artist, what would your dream job be?

Archeologist, brain scientist would be fun.


Any favorite meal/food?

Noodle, curry


What has been your most memorable trip/vacation/residency?

A one-month workshop I did in Hawaii on 2004. It was my first time working abroad. It was great just working on your art all day every day not worry about food and money and place to sleep. The challenge I get from language barrier, and technical difference was fun. I wanted to do it again, and here I am in the U.S. now. I stayed there another month just to explore. Landscape, weather, people, and language, everything was beautiful and mysterious. 


About Momoko

Momoko Usami received a BFA and an MFA from Kyoto City University of Art in Kyoto, Japan. She was an Artist-in-Residence at Lillstreet Art Center from 2009-2010. She established her personal studio in the countryside near Kansas City, MO. Momoko draws from inspiration from many things, including Japanese painting from the Edo Period, dreams and daily encounters on the street. Her playful and often interactive ceramic works have been shown in the United States, Canada and Japan.

Find Momoko on Instagram and Facebook


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