READING: Rei Omori, the Kyoto Artist who speaks to Clay
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The Kyoto ceramicist is also a painter, expressing herself with a distinctive monochrome style using black ink.

JAPANESE ARTIST REI OMORI apologises to her pottery. It’s a quirk this artist has, but this quirk also stems from guilt for not being disciplined enough to look after her precious pieces of art.

“I was lazy and selfish to leave them alone. I apologise to the clay, which sounds very weird, but I really do. They had a life and I ruined it,” says Omori, the Hawaii-born artist speaks with gentle conviction in a slight American accent.

“I don’t take time to work on the ceramics which needed to be worked on, when I returned to the studio the next day to find cracks in them.”

The uneven thickness in clay could cause cracks to appear because the thinner sections dry faster. Trimming the thicker parts in a timely fashion helps to prevent cracks.

The emerging ceramicist, who is also a painter, made a conscious decision to pursue her passion as a career three years ago.

Fast forward to today, her masterpieces have been commissioned by the likes of boutique hotel Art Mon Zen Kyoto, and major department store Hankyu Men’s Department. Her distinctive monochromatic works are said to have caught the eye of a major auction house looking to woo her.

The Kyoto-bred artist recently completed paintings dedicated to her parents, which was showcased at the 13th edition of Art Fair Tokyo in March. The large-scale exhibition features a mix of next generation talents like Omori alongside established artists such as leading Japanese sculptor Nobuo Sekine. His works have been shown in major art museums worldwide, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Learning Kindness from Clay

Discipline is not her only take away from the pottery making process.

Clay, her material muse, has taught her much about life. She first touched clay at the tender age of four when her art-loving father taught her to make pottery. Her dad owns the Ri-choh Museum, an art museum nestled next to the famed Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto and is home to his personal collection of Korean and European antiques.

Clay became her medium of choice while studying as a sculptor in university in Kyoto, after trying her hand using various materials such as bronze, wood and rock.

“When I was working with rocks, once you make a mistake, you can never go back. Clay is nicer, I could add a little clay if I break something. Clay has been very kind to me as material. I have pure appreciation for clay because they teach me how I want to be as a human being.”

Working with rocks, once you make a mistake, you can never go back. Clay is nicer; I could add a little clay if I break something.

Rei Omori
The unpredictability of the pottery making process has taught the artist that she cannot control everything in life.

Learning to Let Go

As yielding as clay is as it is moulded into an art piece, she has learnt that the pliable material cannot always be controlled. Fire the clay when it is too wet or too thick, and the pieces could end up exploding in the kiln.

She says: “If I force them to become something, they would be very angry, they would really blow up in the kiln. It is the same with life, if I am dealing with somebody, I have no power over them. I’ve learnt that it is best when I learn to let go (of my expectations).”

Art Made With Love

Going with the flow is also a philosophy she applies to her black ink painting. Sometimes she flicks her ink-dipped hand to create splatters, other times she manoeuvres a brush deftly to create streaks.

The end result, monochromatic abstract shapes, are a manifestation of an intangible thought process she is hard pressed to articulate in words.

The artisan can tell Keyyes that she always has the person she is painting for in mind. “I use most of the time thinking about them. I am in my brain. Thinking what would make them smile, it would be a one and only artwork for them. I use most of my creative time to talk to them, see what they love.”

When commissioned to create artwork for a luxury hotel in Kyoto last year, Omori chatted with the owner for hours before translating it into a dynamic ink painting now gracing its entrance. Art Mon Zen Kyoto is a labour of love for the art dealer owner who personally curated the artworks displayed in all corners of the hotel.

“He shared his concept with me. He was very passionate. I was constantly thinking about him and his passion. Then It came up that the artwork will be an ocean wave, a water splash. My hope was to have beautiful things come to the hotel like never-ending waves.”

Omori was commissioned to create art work for Art Mon Zen Kyoto, a boutique hotel in Kyoto. The dynamic wall mural at the entrance represents the artist’s hopes for “beautiful things to come in as waves” into the hotel.

Her Bathroom, Her Meditation Room

Her artwork might begin with conversations that take hours, but her best inspirations come from quiet time in a hot tub.

“My bathroom is my meditation room. I take a huge notebook while I’m soaking in the bathtub. My sister thinks I am crazy. Sometimes I come out with four pages scribbled with ideas.”


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