REEVES: Could you help those of us without a ceramics background to understand your processes, such as how your construction, glazing, and firing work?
YAMADA: I make sculptural ceramic pieces using a coil-building method. I fire my pieces multiple times using slip, glaze, stain, and oxide to create depth on the surface of the sculpture.
The way I see clay sculpture is, I am building a three-dimensional canvas that I will paint. Each layer of coils and touch is very important to me, to have a strong canvas to paint.
REEVES: Much of your work implies a narrative; it seems like many of your figures are characters, captured mid-story. Is there a narrative, in your mind, that surrounds the Heads in this series?
YAMADA: I always seek for the universal language to engage with people. People play sports, sing songs, dance, read and write to express themselves. I happened to meet art and ceramics, and those became my language to express myself.
Using ceramics and child-like figures as my platform, I express common feelings and emotional stages in everyday life.
REEVES: Your rendering of figures and heads with exaggerated proportions but dainty features makes me think of dolls, and there seem to be some other references to childhood iconography in this work as well. Could you talk about that a bit?
YAMADA: When I came to the states, my English was limited and I had to find different ways to communicate with people. Art was one of the ways I used to communicate with people.
I look for common things that I and you can share. Use of child-like figures and heads are the main objects I use to set common ground with everybody to share feelings and thoughts.
REEVES: Your methods are time-intensive, and yet you are very productive, often showing new work multiple times a year. What are your studio practices or habits that affect such productivity?
YAMADA: Working with clay or making art, I re-think who I am through the process. It is like the way we can identify our own handwriting. I practice the process of making art to learn about the way I process and organize materials; to see who I am.
Material “clay” is a living thing. It will die once when it dries, and I revive it using fire. I am working with clay, not using clay. I go to my studio pretty much everyday.
The more I spend time in my studio, I learn more about who I am through the way I work.
REEVES: I always like to ask: What is your studio quirk?
YAMADA: I have multiple pieces going on in my studio.
I always have pieces be ready for an upcoming deadline. At the same time, I always have an experimental piece I am pushing, to make a change from the current work, on the side.
The studio is very private space to me. For example, people can invite others to their living room to hang out, but we do not invite everybody to hang out in our bedroom. I like my studio to be very private.