Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Japanese Potter Visits, Shares His Methods and Philosophy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Japanese Potter Visits, Shares His Methods and Philosophy

Article excerpt

The art studios at John Burroughs School usually ring with loud conversation, music from the radio and the steady hum of pottery wheels. But all was quiet recently when visiting Japanese artist Masaya Imanishi shared his reverence for and his unique approach to traditional Japanese pottery.

Imanishi spent two weeks in residence at John Burroughs School at the invitation of his close friend, Richard Wehrs, an art instructor at the school. The two met in 1991, when both were studying ceramics at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.

While at Southern Illinois, Imanishi changed his approach to his artwork. Until then, he had been praised for his precise execution of the traditional cobalt-blue-on-porcelain pottery as practiced in Japan for cent uries. But his studies of art in other cultures at Southern Illinois inspired him to introduce more modern elements into his works. Skyscrapers, cities and planes replaced the flowers and trees that appeared on his earlier works; decorative images gave way to symbolism. "Because we don't have an appreciation for the art form, we can't understand how far he's pushing the limits of the tradition," said Wehrs. "To take something as traditional as blue-on-white pottery and politicize it is unheard of. Some critics are excited; others are skeptical." The art students at John Burroughs were curious. At the beginning of his stay, Imanishi spent days over the pottery wheel; he molded huge blocks of pure white clay into perfect vases, bowls and plates. The stud ents watched him in awe. "The way he does it is incredible," said Victor Essen, a junior. "It's like he arm wrestles the clay." Imanishi worked in silence because of his respect for the art form and its tradition. Whenever he fires his pieces in a kiln, he usually will set up a shrine with salt, sake and rice to invite a blessing upon the firing. "We're exposing these students to cultural differences," said Wehrs. "There's a reverence with which he approaches his craft that we just don't have. After all, they have a tradition thousands of years older than ours." The students were surprised to learn Imanishi had worked for seven years as an apprentice under a sensei, or master, to learn his craft and perfect his skills. …

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