By Jesse Mangerson (FA Faculty)
One of the most interesting aspects of our MFA online program, from the instructor’s point of view that is, is learning of the variations on Thesis concepts being completed by our MFA students. The range of subject matter that is being addressed based on culture or location keeps our work as instructors continuously engaging and diverse. Working with students located in Norway, The Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and Japan to name a few, offers amazing insight into the places and the cultures that influence their work.
Tara Sood is one of these students. She is an American living and working in Japan whose work and project epitomize this idea.
I had the opportunity to work with Tara last semester in FA 811: Process and Thesis development. Her Fine art painting MFA Thesis project is based on the work of the Japanese Potter and the firing of the Noborigama kiln. Her work and story are inspiring to say the least. I sat down with her in an asynchronous interview about her project
Structure housing a Noborigama kiln. Okinawa, Japan
J: Will you share your Thesis statement?
T: Japanese pottery is revered and prized in Japan. Unlike the western world where sets of dishes all matching are treasured, a Japanese household will offer their guests each a unique pottery tea cup or plate. Among the most prized types of pottery are the teapot and the bonsai pot. My next three years starting in June 2016 will be spent in Okinawa, Japan. Having access to the Japanese culture I seek to paint the art and process of Japanese potters. There will be at least 15 representational oil paintings of the figure working in their environment – outside or in the studio. The finished sizes will range from 12x16 to 30x40 inches. The information for these studio paintings will be collected through on location oil and pencil sketches and photographs. Further sketches in oil will be made working out color and composition using the references collected prior to completing the final piece. The color palette will be inspired from Japanese culture, art, and life using seasonal colors and colors with specific meaning (i.e. in Japan white indicates death, red equals a wedding or new beginning). A painterly approach will use an expressive brushstroke to explore the elements of atmosphere and light and shadow effects paired with explorations of contrast in value, color, and texture at the area of interest.
J: Where are you located in Japan?
Pathway to the kiln
T: The four 'kojo' - factories that I am working with in Okinawa was stumbled upon on a scouting trip with my translator and friend - Kyan Yuko. She suggested visiting Yomitan village of potters first in my search for a potter to work with. There are 30 plus potters in this village that run studios, factories, and kilns and it took some time to walk through and talk with some of
T: My family and I are living in Okinawa, Japan, a small island part of the Ryukyu Archipelago south of the mainland. We are actually really close to Taiwan.
J: How did you get acquainted with this group of potters?
Making clay. Okinawa, Japan
them. I was looking for a potter that used more traditional Japanese methods in pottery such as the kiln built into the hillside and the overall appearance of a potter's studio close to nature. This large quadrangle was one of the last we visited and there were signs on all the doors of 'Staff Only' and 'Please Private Entrance'. Having Yuko-san there was essential because I would have just walked past all the studios because of the signs. In mainland Japan signs like this are like unspoken rules and if broken it is like a breaking of trust. But as I've found many things are a little friendlier and a little easier here in Okinawa, my translator suggested we go in and talk to the master potter. I was pretty nervous being an American!
We lingered around the entrance to the most direct kojo and a worker happened to emerge with a long board filled with just formed pots and we introduced ourselves and told a little about what we were looking for and who I was. He smiled and went to put his burden down and came back and introduced us to his sensei - the master potter of that studio - Miyagi-san. He was kind enough to listen to my project explanation and direct inquiry of whether I could photograph him working