Norman Yap is a ceramicist based in London producing bowls, vases and bottle forms in stoneware or porcelain. Norman will be showing his work at MADE LONDON and at MADE12 in Brighton.
Where did you train? What did training teach you and what do you wish it had taught you?I am self taught but attend masterclasses to ensure I challenge and develop both the design and production aspects of my work. Training accomplishes two vital functions for me, the learning from the teacher and the learning and sharing with the other attendees. Working with clay is rich with possibilities and variations so once the basic technique has been acquired, the artist potter, the path to develop and realise the artistic vision is much aided by the shared experiences and input from others.
Is being a designer / maker your only job, or do you have other employment?As a former management consultant, I try to apply my knowledge and experience of the business world, of working with clients, the launch of products and running and improving businesses to my own situation. I work as a full time studio potter and try to turn my limitations (mainly that I do everything myself) into a strength and my latent skills into desirable pieces.
One favourite living designer?Vivienne Westwood is my top choice for a living designer, she is the epitome of exciting, groundbreaking British design. Her attitude is always one of openness, her bravery is legendary and her work is an inspiring blend of art and craft. She has been a champion of British design and making for much of her long career and has rightly been hailed as Britain’s greatest living treasure. I hope one day to create a range of thrown pieces to be arranged on a wooden framework resembling a long sleeveless evening gown with a naked Westwood behind the framework, dressed only in ceramics.
One favourite historical designer?The furniture of Ray and Charles Eames has always left me with a complex blend of emotions, from happiness to admiration. Their sense of design was realised with innovative techniques, experimentation and a sense of creative integrity. The result is always a piece of furniture or some other domestic functional piece that is quietly elegant, confident but never arrogant and delightful to use. One of my favourite pieces is their LCW (low chair, wooden) with its bent wooden pieces joined to form a chair that is classic to look at and comfortable to sit in.
What is the most interesting / fun job you have had?
I once managed a call centre providing customer service to 45 countries in 14 languages. We employed a wonderful team of multilingual individuals who were intelligent, committed, challenging to work with and to manage (because of their high standards and expectations) and exceptionally fun making coming to work an absolute delight. We still meet up and keep in contact 20 years after we’d first met and usually agree that the period was life changing in many ways. The best times were when they would talk openly about sex in 14 languages simultaneously during office hours, leaving our American bosses in deep admiration of our work ethic and diversity (because they had no idea what was being talked about) and me nearly exploding from the suppressed laughter knowing what was really going on!
What is your most prized item of design / craft?I have a collection of glass vase forms, some modern and some from the ‘50s and ‘60s which together form a group of colours, heights and shapes that I love.
What item of design / craft do you covet most?A bowl by either Lucie Rie or Rupert Spira, both for their aesthetic value but the former for its significant historical contribution and the latter for its innate poetry and deep spirituality.
At age 16 who most influenced your style?
It was the ‘70s and already it was the line in clothing and accessories that I unconsciously was drawn to. Designers like Yves St Laurent and Pierre Cardin made the human body celebrate silhouettes and line but later, it was to be Vivienne Westwood who really taught me to look at deconstruction and reconstruction from a deeper perspective.
Last book / film that blew your mind?The short stories of William Trevor always move me whenever I reread them. They are vignettes of humanity that are short and perfect, simple but intense.
What music are you currently listening to?I’ve eclectic taste in music so it’s simultaneously mad scenes in opera sung by Callas, the two albums by Sky (late’70s) and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.
How many hours do you waste on the internet each day?
I do a lot of work on the computer – email, website management, photos for publicity, online ordering of materials, communications with galleries, customers and suppliers so I don’t really waste time when online. I also constantly have a stream of questions running through my mind and the internet helps me to answer most of them.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?I quite like my current apartment, it’s large and cool in summer and warm in winter. I also like our house in France (in the Haute Savoie) where the smells, air, birds, water and friends constantly remind me of the importance of being grounded and being surrounded by good people. London is a phenomenal city to live in, the buzz and challenge to your creativity is addictive but the Haute Savoie offers respite, rejuvenation and resuscitation when the city seems too much.
Where and what is your studio?After a well known arts organisation offering studio spaces in central London declined my application, I went online and got my current studio – a large, light filled space with a flat roof on which my gas kiln sits, safely out of the way of the public and offering me the ability to continue my reduction firings. It is right across the road from my apartment, another enormous bonus to a potter whose work may entail long hours, either continuously or broken up in segments. The landlord is the epitome of responsibility, reason and friendliness and I cannot believe my luck. So when doors close, do not despair, better things may lie behind other doors.
Do you have a good work/life balance?
I would have a better work/life balance if I earned more money from making. Makers are suffering in these economically-challenged times and as the price of materials soar, current government regulations are also causing galleries to increase their margins, further reducing the final revenue of the makers. I love what I do and how I live but fear that the ability to continuing doing so is dependent on the support of generous collectors and buyers.
What one word would describe your feeling of doing your work?Addiction.