Jun Kaneko was born in 1942 in Nagoya, Japan. By his teen years, he was making pencil sketches, by the hundreds, which were soon discovered by his mother. Shortly after, Kaneko began studying drawing and painting with a private teacher, by day, and attending high school at night. “‘After a year of painting in his studio, I knew that’s what I wanted to do’,” Kaneko said.*
In his early 20s, his work in painting had changed dramatically and his subject matter had become more abstract. At the suggestion of his teacher, Kaneko went to America to study art. Serendipitously, he stayed with a couple—the Marers—that collected clay work from artists such as Peter Voulkos and Ken Price. Fred Marer documented the work of Voulkos and acted as a sort of PR agent for the artist. In the early 1960s in California, clay was becoming an art medium with seemingly limitless possibilities. This transformative time period—in combination with Kaneko’s living situation and his peer artist-group—ultimately inspired him to pursue ceramics and shaped his approach to the material.
In 1964, Kaneko studied painting and ceramics at the Chouinard Art Institute, in Los Angeles, which later became partof the California Institute of the Arts. He then assisted artist Jerry Rothman in his studio and worked to create a portfolio for entry to the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied with Peter Voulkos. He spent a summer at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in 1967, the first year the Bray held its annual residency competition. Kaneko applied to the MFA program at Claremont Graduate School in California, which was under the direction of Paul Soldner at that time, and was later accepted in 1969. He returned to Japan in 1971 to gain more knowledge about historical and contemporary Japanese ceramics.
When he returned to the states many months later, Kaneko taught at several academic institutions, including the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, and at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, Michigan. He has been a two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a recipient of Honorary Doctorates from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the Royal College of Art in London.
In the past 30+ years, Kaneko has exhibited his artwork internationally . His work is included in many public collections, including the Aichi Prefectural Ceramic Museum in Nagoya, Japan; the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York; the European Ceramic Work Center in s’Hertogenbosch, Netherlands; and at the Icheon World Ceramic Center in Seoul, South Korea.
Kaneko has maintained a studio in Omaha, Nebraska, since 1986, where he continues to produce both intimate and large-scale ceramic and bronze sculptures, tiles, drawings, paintings, glass, and textiles. His repertoire of artistic contributions also includes a variety of public art pieces, as well as designs for three operatic productions, one of which is Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which premiered at the San Francisco Opera in summer of 2012.
In the clay world, Kaneko is most noted for his large-scale platters, wall tiles, monolithic heads, and dangos (the Japanese word for “rounded form”), which are closed organic forms, more than seven feet high. His ceramic working process suggests a continual dialogue between himself, the clay, and the painting. Kaneko has referenced his own tendency to sit and listen to the piece-in-progress, waiting to hear what the form is saying, which ultimately guides his hand in the painting. He and the admirers of his work are continually fascinated by mark-making’s possibilities.
*As quoted in Susan Peterson, Jun Kaneko (Laurence King Publishing, London, 2001), 17.