In November, on my way to China I was included in an exhibiton with my pottery teacher, Shigeyoshi Morioka, and ten of his apprentices. The show was at Moon Gallery, up in the mountains near Nara.
My teacher’s blog, Shigeyoshi Morioka : http://www.shige-yuri.com
One of the wonderful things about traveling or being in another culture is you can expect the unexpected. In our days at work, there are often surprising things happening or showing up, usually much to our delight!
One time Tanya and I went back to our rooms after work and noticed that in all the other bedrooms, all the furniture pieces were wrapped in bubble wrap! We never figured that one out.
One day we noticed the cooks were all wearing big white aprons and dressed in white, kind of like pharmacists. They were spraying and wiping everything with what seemed to be bleach. We asked what was going on and it turned out there had been a report in the news about one case of someone dying from SAARS in Shanghai (city of 23 million)! (It seemed a little over reactive to me but what do I know!) After a day or so, the cooks were back in their usual clothes and no more bleach.
For days I heard this singing coming from around the corner of the workshop building. I thought it was the neighbors over the wall. But when I followed the sound it led me to this plastic flower in the bushes playing this song. A little bit like the first bars of “old man river…” over and over again, day in and day out! They told me it is a recording from a temple. Kind of soothing actually, all day long.
There is a lot of loud banging, grinding, welding, and dusty fumey HOT air in this workshop as there are a number of other projects going on along with my big ladies. They are building a 25 foot tall metal structure sculpture by a Belgium artist, by bending huge pieces of I beams and rods…not quiet! I am out there often in all that with my earplugs, though I’ve done most of my work on my pieces in the early morning or during their 2 hour siesta time.
Gratefully, there is a quiet small back room that is kept air-conditioned where a young newly hired art student, Xiao Wuu, is working on some projects in clay! We came to liking each other immediately and it has been my refuge to play with clay here. He teaches me Chinese words and I teach him English, all with a lot of laughs. Many of the guys, one by one, come back in here to cool off and joke around for a few minutes. Even the old guy who is doing the landscaping came in to sit down for awhile.
I’ve been making more pods, pods, pods. Woa xi huan niiba! (I love clay!)
Finding the eyes and mouth on a figure is one of my favorite parts of the whole process. It calls for a lot of concentration so I go to the workshop very early before anyone is there (they start at 7am), but after sunrise when the light is good and it’s still quiet and cool.
I cut black paper to a little smaller than the size of hole I think is right for the eyes. Then tape the paper eyes in place, moving them a millimeter this way or that. Getting them to look about right can take quite a while, even over a day or two, doing something else, coming back to look.
Once they’re in place, I trace the paper eyes and mouth onto the metal, remove the paper, then draw an inside line a couple of cm in. Then Pan Qiang drills a hole in the center of the eye shape and grinds out to the inside line. Then I erase the outside line and start to drill and file out the hole myself, taking my time, millimeter by millimeter, up and down the ladder a thousand times to look at the face from every angle, near and far.
The expression changes as I open up the hole, sometimes angry, goofy, alien, cross-eyed, sad… I talk to her, telling her it’s going to be all right. When it’s right the figure pops alive and she’s looking right at me from many angles.
When we were here in April after lunch many of the workers would come outside the kitchen and hang out in the warm sun on my big bronze reclining figure that was stored there under the eaves. There couldn’t be a bigger compliment! It made me realize how important it is to the piece for it to be placed where people can touch and sit on it.
Tanya took these great photos, sneaking around unbeknowst to the folks there.
This is Tanya.
To back up a little, I was here in April this year with Tanya Kukucka who is my dear friend and wonderful assistant. We built another big reclining lady in plaster. This big lady turned out larger than I had planned (I made a mistake in figuring the size!) which ended up being a great thing. She’s lovely.
Thanks to Richard Wanderman (http://www.richardsnotes.org) for putting this online journal up for me. It’s a huge help and I’m not sure it would come together without him!