We had the good fortune of connecting with Linnan Ye and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Linnan, we’d love to hear what makes you happy.
After I started being independent and running my own business, I realized that making other people happy made me happy too. I often think I’m providing “art service” to whoever needs it, from a restaurant to a shop to YOU! Especially when it involves YOUR story or memory: I made a tea set for someone’s wedding tea ceremony; I made an urn for someone’s deceased cat; and so on. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do meaningful work for people.
When I was doing architecture, it easily took a couple years or even longer to get to the satisfying moment when you saw people using it. But right now, the feedback is much faster. I’m always happy to hear people tell me they are enjoying morning coffee in my mug; they love my cups in the restaurant; the cat illustration makes them laugh loudly.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m an architect-turned-ceramist; my clay journey started 3 years ago, right before the pandemic happened. When I was doing architecture, small-scale design always piqued my interest, from a high-rise tower to a multi-lever building to a small pavilion to an installation, and finally, I believe a bowl, cup, or vase is the right scale for me: small enough. All my architecture training and practice definitely shape the way I think in my design/art world, including ceramic. Most of my work was done on the wheel. “Creativity is only impressive when there is restriction.” When I’m on the wheel, centrifugal force is my restriction, which also gives me freedom to create. I always gravitate toward simple shapes, with some variation here and there. Every move I make has a reason; mostly it’s about how it feels in my hand, how other people will hold it, how it looks in space, and so on. Yes, it’s about function, human scale, experience, and relationship with the space. When I hear people tell me they like holding my pieces in their hands, it always makes me so happy. Texture is another element I enjoy experimenting with; it’s not just about how it looks; it’s also about how it feels when you touch it.
Learning how to throw wasn’t easy for me at all. It was hard to listen to my inner rhythm and trust it; I tended to either hesitate or rush all the time, over and over. At the end of the day, it just takes time—a very long time of practice—to accept yourself. Clay, on the other hand, is honest and fair; no matter how much time you put into it, it will eventually show. Making ceramics is a long process with lots of testing and failure; it always reminds me to be patient!
It’s also a process of finding out who I am. I named my brand Neko.Co.Neko, obviously I’m a cat lady—a Gemini cat lady, to be exact—dealing with duality. Nek.Co. is my attempt to be a real business, Co.Neko. Koneko means “kitty cat” in Japanese. Try to have fun while adulting.
My ceramic work is usually soft and quiet, a path seeking the art of “silence” and considered lifestyle, while my cat illustration is loud. I hope you laugh loudly after seeing it. No matter what I am doing, balancing between Neko.Co. and Co.Neko. and bringing you joyful moments is all that matters.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I moved from Shanghai, a big city, to San Francisco. I love SF; it’s small, yet somewhat big. You can go through so many different experiences in a day, including the weather.
I will bring my friend to KUMA for sure, get some sake and sushi, and then walk in the neighborhood to Lombard Street. Of course, it’s San Francisco; you should see it. Also, somewhere in that neighborhood, you can find a great view of the bay, especially at night.
If my friend rides a bicycle like me, it will be perfect; it’s the best way to get around. We will ride through Crissy Field, cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, and get some fresh oysters and seafood at FISH. On the way, I will show them around the new Tunnel Top Park, because it’s super cool.
We need to plan a day trip to Golden Gate Park. There are tons of fun trails in the park, perfect for gravel riding and hiking. I like to check out the Young Museum too; I love the space, the observation tower, and the art collection there. Like some bronze art from the Shang dynasty, that is the only place you can see them in the world. At the end of the day, we can grab some food from Sam’s Chowder Food Truck and chill.
There are so many cool neighborhoods to check out: Hayes Valley, Mission, North Beach, Chinatown, etc.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The first person I’d like to recognize is my husband, Ryo Sakai, who is an amazing chef and the owner of KUMA SUSHI + SAKE in San Francisco. Seeing him and his team make KUMA a favorite neighborhood place inspires me every day to run my practice better and to be a better artist.
The second person I would like to shoutout is Lindsay Langsdale, who is a talented artist and awesome businesswoman. She is the owner of Brick and Mortar Studio, where I rent studio space and do my work. She gives us the most tremendous support an independent artist can ask for. I also admire her efforts to build a community where we feel safe to create and share.
The third person I’d like to recognize is Benjy Ward, who was my boss at Gensler Shanghai and is now a principal at Gensler Chicago. He helped me transfer from Shanghai to the San Francisco office; that just opened a whole new world to me. I feel grateful to have a good boss who is always willing to help a young designer.
Personal photo and 3 work/studio photos credit : Jessica Le, and thanks Brick and Mortar Studio