Jun Kaneko: An Artist’s Portrait

Born and raised in Japan, Jun Kaneko moved to the United States to study ceramics. Not able to speak the language, he was forced to focus purely on the visual. His painting background is evident in his work, where his monolithic ceramic “dangos” (the Japanese word for dumpling) become three-dimensional, inflated canvases. Working primarily with graphic, yet painterly, lines and dots, his rhythmic designs are analogous with the Japanese Shinto concept of the “Ma”, which loosely translates into “attachment through space”.   He proceeded to study with Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, and Jerry Rothman in California during the time now defined as The Contemporary Ceramics Movement in America. The following decade, Jun Kaneko taught at some of the nation’s leading art schools, including Scripps College, Rhode Island School of Design and Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Constructing ceramic pieces that weigh as many as 1,000 lbs, Jun Kaneko’s simplified forms and control of the material make the pieces seem effortless. His technical aptitude comes from years of patience and an understanding of the temperamental medium. After construction, his work generally takes four months of drying time and up to a 35-day firing process. In final stage of production, out of a group of 10 pieces, only two to three actually survive.

His artwork appears in numerous international and national solo and group exhibitions annually, and is included in more than seventy museum collections. He has realized over thirty public art commissions in the United States and Japan and is the recipient of national, state and organization fellowships. Jun Kaneko holds honorary doctorates from the University of Nebraska, the Massachusetts College of Art & Design and the Royal College of Art in London.

Based in Omaha since 1986 and in his current studio there since 1990, Jun Kaneko has worked at several experimental studios as well including European Ceramic Work Center in The Netherlands, Otsuka Omi Ceramic Company in Japan, Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bullseye Glass in Portland, Oregon, Acadia Summer Arts Program in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Aguacate in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Independently he pursued industrial collaborations to realize larger-scale hand-built sculptures, the first in 1982-1983 at his Omaha Project, the second in 1992-1994 at his Fremont Project in California and in 2004-2007 at his Pittsburg Project in Kansas, the former with Omaha Brickworks and the latter two with Mission Clay Products.

Recent notable public art projects are the 2008 installation of three Pittsburg Project Heads on Park Avenue in Manhattan by invitation of the NYC Parks and Recreation Program, completion in 2009 of Rhythm at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a composition of 19 large-scale ceramic and bronze sculptures, two 25’ and 15’ tile wall structures on a 22,600 square foot granite paver design, installation in 2008 of a 30’h x 25’w and a dozen 13’5”h x 1”3”w fused glass windows at Temple Har Shalom in Park City, Utah, and a project for the Bartle Hall/Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri, an exterior concrete plaza design with 7 large-scale ceramic sculptures and a 27’7”h x 20’4”w interior painting on canvas, completed in 2007.

In 2012 Jun Kaneko will finalize his production design of Mozart’s Magic Flute for the San Francisco Opera to premier that autumn and tour the following year.  From 2003-2006 Jun designed a new production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which premiered at Opera Omaha in March of 2006 and continues to tours nationally. From 2006-2008 he designed a new production of Beethoven’s sole opera Fidelio that premiered in 2008 at the Opera Company Philadelphia.

In 2000 he and his wife Ree Kaneko formed a non-profit scholarly and presenting organization in Omaha Nebraska called KANEKO dedicated to the exploration of creativity in the arts, sciences and philosophy. For more information please visit www.thekaneko.org

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