Jun Kaneko was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1942. He studied painting with Satoshi Ogawa during his adolescence. He came to the United States in 1963 to continue his studies at Chouinard Institute of Art when his introduction to Fred Marer drew him to sculptural ceramics. 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, Kaneko taught at some of the nation’s leading art schools, including Scripps College, Rhode Island School of Design and Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Jun Kaneko is one of the most prolific and best-known makers of large-scale ceramic work. This Japanese-born artist works in 3-d media such as glass, and bronze as well as clay, and he also paints and draws. His public art commissions are installed across the country and internationally. The works are recognizable for their geometric shapes with (usually also geometric) patterns or shapes, or heads with patterns,/shapes or possibly “bears” (they actually are Tanuki, which is a japanese racoon dog, but many Americans will see teddy bear when viewing these sculptures) with patterns/shapes…regardless of the subject of the sculpture itself, there is always a very familiar feeling to his pieces, something that unifies them, and it’s not just the surface treatment either, nor is it the monumental size of these pieces. His work is recongizable maybe because of the high level of skill or the elegant contours or perhaps the impeccible design resolving the surface treatment design elements across all three dimensions of the work. Jun also created sets for several Operas and consulted on teh textile designs to further unify the visual design for these productions.
Jun and his wife Ree live just north of us in Omaha, Nebraska, not far from where my dad grew up, so i knew his work from a very early age and I distinctly remember the first time i met him. I was not quite 12 years old but already taller than he. (reference image of Ceramics Monthly cover from 1988…it was around then) As he gave my mom, my dad and me a tour of his studio, I simply could not believe that this man, humble in both stature and ego, had made the enormous pieces I had seen. Years later, when he was working on a massive project at Mission Clay, the pieces were so large that he actually constructed them inside the kiln itself. I believe it was around 1995 when we were prepping for the NCECA conference in Minneapolis. We were putting together a display board of the work of some of our customers and Jun sent in a photo of him on a ladder, inside his pot peeking out of the top with a (somewhat rare) big smile on his face. (I wish like crazy that I could find that photo.)