Natural talent, Roy Minarai (USA), has only very recently entered the world of bonsai pottery.
Text: Bonsai Focus Studio Photography: Roy Minarai
Can you tell us, Roy, how you got into bonsai pottery?
What got me interested in bonsai to begin with was by visiting two places as a kid — the Morikami Museum and Gardens and the Mounts Botanical Garden. There I saw bonsai trees for the very first time and fell in love. I always thought that at some time in the future I would own some. A few years ago I bought my first trees and began to discover pots. Not many people were making the style of pots that I was drawn to, so I decided to give it a try. The rest is history.
Who was your teacher?
I didn’t have a teacher other than a few YouTube videos and a couple who offered encouragement to try and gave me space at a table. Since that first pot I’ve had much online advice from many potters, especially conversations with Andrew Pearson, who has been a huge help.
What is the most important thing you learned?
That there are no shortcuts to creating a good container. The hours and hours I have spent testing glazes are not in any way glamorous, but the end result always makes it worth it.
“People tell me all the time that they are surprised at how fast I have progressed”
Why ceramic? What’s so fascinating about it?
I think it’s because you can start with a soft lump of clay, some raw elements and metals and, when you are done, you have created something that not only will last, but will captivate the imagination and emotion of people for generations. To create something that is treasured from something so mundane — there’s great pleasure in that!
What is your philosophy on bonsai ceramics?
Be me. What I mean is, never try to be a copy of someone. I don’t want to be the next anyone, I’m happy to be the first me. I try to create what I feel inside at that moment, not what I wanted to yesterday or feel like I should today. Because of this, when I take commissions I always give a large window of time for my creation. The best pot is the one I felt compelled to make when I did, if you see what I mean!
Do you make your own glazes?
Yes! I mix my glazes from raw materials. It is as much a part of the process for me, as making the pots. I am obsessed with creating the next glaze that will make my heart miss a beat when I open the kiln! I think I would have lost interest at this point were it not for that aspect.
Do you use gas, electricity or even wood fired kilns?
I use primarily electric although I own a gas kiln and have even made a few raku pots recently.
What do think of the Japanese glazes, tones and shapes?
I do like many of them, some more than others. I especially like the handmade pots with distinctive glazes. Pots that are mass produced and then merely glazed differently are not my favourite. I am glad that some general ‘rules’ were established long ago, I would hate to have to define shapes and proper usage. I think that Japanese potters have paved the way for western potters — maybe a starting point at which to then explore their own ideas.
In bonsai Japanese pottery is the standard, do you have a wish to go to visit Japan and learn from Japanese pottery?
I would love to go sometime. To spend time at a pottery would be an absolute dream! But right now my wife and I are raising our children, so taking a long time away for a trip like that isn’t possible. But one day . . . isn’t that what everyone says?
Do you think that handmade pots are being appreciated and valued by bonsai enthusiasts?
I do . . . Yeah, I sure hope so! I create
everything by hand with no molds or wheel and, while I try to be as perfect as possible, maybe part of the charm is that it’s handmade, each pot a little different than the other. I think society in general is beginning to value handmade over mass production, so hopefully the trend will continue!
What or who inspires you?
I owe the fact that I am a ceramist to two Japanese potters — Shigeru Fukuda (Bushuan) and Heian Tofukuji. I fell in love with the glazes of Bushuan and then discovered Tofukuji, who has become my (and that of half the world’s) favourite! Also Ryan Bell who is a pottery guru. He and my beautiful wife Patti have always encouraged and believed in me from the very beginning.
What do you like about bonsai and making pots for bonsai?
Two things I like most are diametrically opposed. I like the solitude of being alone making pots. In a world that is fast paced, it forces me to slow down and focus on what I am doing. My hands are full of clay, there’s no iPhone distracting me and the creative process takes over. I also enjoy all the amazing people I have met through bonsai. I have friends all over the world I talk with regularly and occasionally I get to meet them in person. Now that is incredible!
Molds, slipcasts or hand shaped, which one is your preference? What do you think is better?
I make every pot by hand using either slabs or carving from a solid piece. Often I will combine the two techniques and use thicker slabs that I then carve to a final shape. It is time consuming and certainly not the fastest way (especially for round shapes) but it is the way I enjoy.
Can you make a living out of bonsai pottery?
I don’t know. I don’t think so and if I could I don’t know that I would want to. Part of what allows me to take risks with glazes and multiple firings, is that I am not depending on the pot to pay my bills. I have lots of pots break, but for me that is just the cost of the process.
What was your worst mistake?
Trying to make pots that I thought people would like, rather than what I wanted to create. I think the artist’s struggle is wanting your work to be accepted, while maintaining your artistic integrity. I finally decided that I will only make pots I want to make and my art is all the better for it. Create what you love, not what you think others will love.
Do you think the very expressive glazes you are using will work with trees?
They have and they will. Perhaps my favourite example is the root over rock trident that Bjorn Bjorholm put in one of my pots. It has the look of a tree rising above a foaming sea, clinging for life to its fortress. I think that as bonsai progresses a wider spectrum of containers used will develop, and I hope and believe, mine will be included.
Did you have any other hobbies before starting with bonsai or pottery?
I’ve tried many things, but when I tried pottery it was as though I discovered something I was meant to do. It just clicked. People tell me all the time that they are very surprised at how fast I have progressed — I made my first ceramic item less than two years ago — but if they knew about the time I’ve spent thinking, reading, studying and experimenting, they may not be as surprised!
Born in: Lake Worth, Florida, 1978
Married to: Patti
Profession: Self employed
Into bonsai and ceramics since: 2014