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Clay texture determines artisan's next project

Date Posted: 2012-05-25

Paul Lorimer loves making Okinawan pottery, appreciating that “making shisa is a delicate and labor-intensive job, so when I feel tired, I immediately stop making them because it’s not worth making shisa unless you enjoy doing it.”

His philosophy of enjoying himself and appreciating life has driven him from early adulthood, when after growing up on a farm in Auckland, New Zealand, he wanted to study oceanography at a university but quit after a year because “I wanted to have fun instead of studying.” Lorimer quickly became a nomad, visiting Australia, Indonesia and other Asian nations on a yacht, traveling with friends, or alone, until they ran out of money.

To earn a living, Lorimer became a carpenter, a decision that cast his fate with pottery. He’d been commissioned to build a house and workshop for internationally acclaimed potter Barry Brickell, and during the two years he labored to construct the buildings, he studied the art watching Brickell make pottery. Knowing there was no turning back, Lorimer headed to Japan in 1977 to study pottery in Bizen, Okayama Prefecture, but couldn’t cope with the cold weather.

That brought him to Ishigakijima, where he spent 16 years as a professional potter. He learned, though, that it wasn’t a get-rich business, so he worked part-time on construction sites and in sugarcane fields until his first exhibition was a success in 1983. To meet demand for his pottery, he moved to Okinawa, settling in Sashikicho, a seaside town near the capital city of Naha.

Today, Lorimer has several kilns, including one large enough for him to enter and walk out of easily, and big enough to handle firing of large awamori storage jars. Fluent in Japanese, Lorimer loves selling his creations, but says “I want to continue creating creative objects that awaken a spirit of playfulness in people’s minds.”

The texture of clay determines what he’s making. “I decide what to make after feeling the clay, as that’s a natural way of creating works.” He acknowledges that some potters “make plans first, and then buy the clay,” but Lorimer says he’s very particular. He travels the prefecture searching for the right clay, seeking high-quality deposits by looking at bedrock and strata. “In this small island, there are so many different types of clay,” he points out, “but the clay here is very difficult to handle, which makes me more interested in it.”

Lorimer attributes the subtropical environment to Okinawa’s clay frequently containing coral, an element adding yet another challenge in firing it without cracking it in the kiln. Never to be deterred, Lorimer says the challenges have led him to improve his techniques and create works that illustrate his sensitivity to his medium. “I always try to use different types of clay. I’ve made so many mistakes,” he says, “but adds “I can learn something new from mistakes. Making pottery is never routine.”

He loves his works, and has only participated in one art competition, the 1991 Okiten exhibition. Although he won a grand prize in the main section, Lorimer vowed to never again do it. “I don’t care about what judges want,” he explains. “I’m happy only if I can create works that are satisfactory to me.”

Lorimer is currently having an exhibition in Ryubo Art Gallery at Ryubo Dept. Store 7th floor in Naha. The exhibition runs through May 28, and is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. His specialty sake pots and cups of various sizes are on exhibit and sale at the gallery during that time.

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