Mark Vassallo - founder & maker of White Beach Pottery

From London to Tokyo to the beach side of the Izu Peninsula, South of Tokyo. From photography to pottery. There is more than one facette to this man. What is clear is that Mark is a man of the world with creativity flowing in his veins, creating modern minimalist, organic art to watch, to use, to indulge. A style that fits so well into our contemporary homes and life.

Always aspiring to do better, a perfectionist by nature, an artist by heart, with great patience and the sweetest smile. No wonder is he a well beloved man among friends with a positive aura surrounding him.

We first met at one of his photographic exhibitions in downtown Tokyo, acquired a copy of his art called Flowers Mark Vassallo. We have been friends ever since.

When I first visited his beach front home, in Shirahama, I was instantly attracted to his kitchen shelf. It was filled the nicest handmade bowls and plates in a palette of white washed tones. In a busy life where advertising posters are in our face, images scroll by, the speed and colours creating headaches, Marks handmade pottery is a bliss to the eye.

Relaxing for mind, and soul. A discovery I’m so happy to bring to you here on my shop, exclusively, before Mark launches his web-shop, the ‘White Beach Pottery‘.

Mark Vassallo on his rooftop overlooking the beachfront bay Shimoda with his wife Kayu.

Mark Vassallo on his rooftop overlooking the beachfront bay Shimoda with his wife Kayu.

 I’m honored to share with you my recent heart-to-heart with Mark, on his art and his conscious choices of lifestyle:

When did you start with photography and when did you know it was your vocation?

I got into photography in my early teens and went on to study it as an A-level at high school. Built my first darkroom around the late 1980’s, then continued throughout art school. I was always into making pictures -painting and drawing from a very young age and when I turned 13 I received my first camera as a gift. 

My high school had a photography course and I was able to take both photography as well as painting as A-levels so I had the opportunity to learn basic dark room techniques of processing film and printing black and white pictures as well as a little about the history of the medium.

My commercial work is mostly focussed around the cosmetics industry so I’ve had the opportunity to work with most of the major brands here, shooting models and celebrities to promote various skincare, make up and hair care products.

Your personal photographic work is black and white, and your pottery is mainly white? I’m intrigued.

Black and white is how I have chosen to express a lot of my fine art work. It’s a natural way of simplifying an image down to form and texture when color isn’t the primary subject.

From photography to pottery. When did that happen?

I’ve always been attracted to and involved in plastic arts, painting etc. The simplicity and naturalness of Japanese pottery appeal to me very deeply especially the use of natural materials and forms. I had tried pottery briefly while on art foundation course at Wimbledon and then about a decade ago I started dabbling with pottery again here in Japan with increasing frequency, I was able to build a permanent space where I could practice and experiment regularly after moving to Shimoda a year or two ago.

Mark’s rooftop atelier in his seaside home Shimoda.

Mark’s rooftop atelier in his seaside home Shimoda.

You are conscious of what you eat and make a lot of things yourself from scratch, including your dishes. Has it always been so?

I’m fascinated by the production process of things and it’s really satisfying to be involved in the making of the things I use and have around me in day to day life. Despite having grown up in the city I am attracted to a rather romantic idea of self-sufficiency and returning to a simpler way of living.

You also grow your own food. What do you grow on your rooftop? Do you have any tips for beginners? For me gardening has become a moment of self care, caring for the plants. Do you feel the same? 

Yes I do grow some foods at both my places in Tokyo and Shimoda; grapes, blackberries, passion fruit, figs, Olives, various herbs, salads, tomatoes etc

The wonderful thing about plants is that they seem to know exactly what they want to do. By paying attention to how they are doing we can determine if they need any help at all with access to more water, sunlight, nutrition etc – then just let them do their thing. 

Every time I see a leaf fully formed unroll itself I’m just blown away – it’s a total mystery to me how that happens. 

I guess my advice would be to pay close attention and just try to help out.

When did you decide to move to Shimoda from Tokyo and what led you to move away from the buzz?

I’ve been visiting Shimoda for some years and have friends with places there. Having roots on the tiny island of Malta I’ve always had an affinity with the sea and beach and the area just seemed to speak to me.

You are now living mostly by the sea and are choosing to live a slow-life. What are your secrets to living mindfully?

Yoga and meditation are activities that I could not imagine excluding from my life, creative output for me is a  part of life that has always been there. There is something very grounding, about the activity of kneading a lump of earth and watching it take on form within ones own hands at a potters wheel – it’s a collaboration between the clay itself and the form it wishes to express – tempered by a sense of inspiration that appears to come from my own hands and mind. The experience on the one hand is that I am just there like some kind of midwife helping to ease these things into the world.

I also love to make bread, some of the furniture around my home and enjoy swimming in the ocean as often as I can.

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What are your favorite spots in Shirahama and in Tokyo we should’t miss?

My favorite place to be might just be be at my potters wheel overlooking Shirahama beach on the one side and mountains on the other, I love to have plants around and there are some great walks along the coast particularly near the emperors palace in Shimoda.

In Tokyo I always visit Pietro’s restaurant ‘Mama Luisa’s Table‘ – it’s a very homely and  authentic eatery and I always run in to friends there. Pietro’s dishes are endlessly creative and delicious.