Foo For Thought: Talking With Sculptor Anthony Foo

Categories: Art Whore

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Anthony Foo working on his scuplture "Landed".

Ceramics?
Uggh, right?
The domain of maiden aunts with two much time on their hands, who had taken a community college art class after watching the pottery scene in Ghost one too many times. 
Pots for plants, glossy flower vases, ashtrays that nobody would use. Ugly, ungainly things that would be hidden away on a shelf somewhere, certainly nothing you'd stand at stare at for more than a few moments.
Then I discovered the paperclay work of Placentia artist Anthony Foo. Foo's sculptures don't sit and take up space, they live.

Whether it's sea anemones that look like they've vibrating underwater:
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"Earthship"

or sci-fi appendages that look like they may reach out and entwine themselves in your flesh:

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"First Contact"

Some pieces reveal a wry, ironic humor:

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"Made in America"

Others layer its meaning in a deceptively simple, industrial design that will have you sit and stare at the detail, while simultaneously puzzling over what the hell it might mean:

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"The Gate"

Dave Barton/OC Weekly: With so many different mediums to choose from, what attracts you to ceramics?

Anthony Foo: You know, I've always been attracted and fascinated by clay, even as a young boy. To me, feeling the texture of clay is a wonderful and magical experience, a very personal time for me and the clay, literally touching and molding the ground and getting connected ... to the earth, the universe.
It soothes me and settles my spirit.

Why paper clay?

I like making large, tall pieces and traditional clay would slump under its own weight. I could not make it in one sitting; I had to let the clay firm up before continuing. Cracking and the inability to repair such cracks when the piece was dry was another disadvantage of traditional clay.
Paper clay (paper fiber mixed with the clay) solves these problems. I can work and think more as a sculptor rather than trying to be gentle and "babying" my clay so it won't crack on me (like wrapping it in plastic so it dries slowly). I can change my design at any stage, even after the piece is completely dry.  I can add fresh clay to completely dry pieces, making dry to dry connections which was unheard of with regular clay. I can work on my piece on my own time.
I dictate the terms, not the clay.

Talk about your process: Where do your ideas come from, initially, and how do you go taking them from the ephemeral to something more concrete?

I enjoy taking a thought or an idea and translating it into a tangible 3D form. I do a lot of sketches and drawings. I always have a sketch pad near me, even by my bedside. I've woken up at night to jot down sketches and ideas when the thought flashes in my head. I used to say I can remember the idea, but I really can't, so the sketch book comes in handy.
My Chinese heritage and interest in Eastern philosophy gives me lots of food for thought. My martial arts training in traditional Japanese swordsmanship is a strong inspiration. As I grow older, I also realize how fragile and short this life is and how easily it is taken away. When I was young, time seemed to pass so slowly. Now, every year seems to go by faster and faster.
I've never been religious when I was young. As a matter as fact, I very much resented it. Over the years, and on my own, I've come to appreciate and understand the simpler things of life and the teachings of the Buddha, to not take for granted one's body and senses, to value and treasure relationships, to be awed by the wonders of this beautiful world we live in.
From these thoughts, shapes and forms arise. I work and re-work them to see if it's doable in a 3D environment. Sometimes, I make small models to see how it will come together. I can say most of the time, I'm happy with the end result. I've had a some pieces that exceeded expectations and that was a wonderful feeling. I've also had many pieces which did not turn out the way I want them to, so it's back to the drawing board or create it using a different approach. It's all about learning from experiences and moving on, improving a little bit each time.

Talk a little about your experience in martial arts. How do you feel like it influences your sculptures?

I've been training in traditional Japanese swordsmanship since 1991. From the start, it was the beauty of the Japanese sword that attracted me. I started Western fencing when I was in high school and later on in college because I could not find any instruction in the Japanese sword. It was just by happenstance in 1991, visiting a local martial arts supply store, that I saw the business card of a teacher who was teaching in Anaheim. I visited the dojo that Saturday and have been training ever since.
Words of wisdom from my teacher and his attitude towards life, people, relationships and my own struggle to improve myself give me lots of ideas.  As example:  On the surface, training with a sharp Japanese sword seems very violent--the art form was born out of a need to survive--but today, as my teacher puts it, "You have to find your own reason why you train so hard when swords are no longer used for fighting."  Many of my pieces carry the theme of "searching" and that is what my adventure in clay is all about - searching for answers.

I found your blog very informative. I appreciate that you're so generous in helping others get started in the art form.

I created my blog to help my students when I was teaching my paper clay class at the Irvine Fine Arts Center in Irvine.  I also wanted to educate other ceramic artists about the potential of paper clay and share with them what paper clay can do for a ceramic sculptor. I believe we can all benefit from information and education. As artists, most of us work independently and seldom have contact with other artists. The blog and ceramic art forums are a way to be connected.
You can teach technique, but the creativity and inspiration has to come from within. I cannot teach you to be an artist. You have to teach yourself and discover yourself. We all have our own unique inspiration and sources of "brilliance." We just have to tap into it.

I've bought two pieces from you over the years and you always have a fascinating story about each piece that you've made. I personally cherish those stories, because it always builds on the richness of the work for me, adding yet another layer of depth to it, but do you ever feel like it may take away a bit of the mystery?

Sometimes I wonder about that. For me, it is important to share with the viewer my thoughts, inspirations and a little bit of how the piece came about. Some of my pieces have quite poignant backgrounds and I relate to them emotionally. You can say that by providing the "story" behind the piece, I'm guiding the viewer to see what I want them to see. And that is true. I'm also sharing a very intimate and personal perspective. Obviously, a viewer can have their own opinions and draw their own conclusion from my work.

When a piece has been purchased and leaves your studio, what thoughts run through your head?

I'm glad it has found a good home and I'm happy that a piece of me is there. I'm even happier that a patron has found an emotional connection with my piece and wants it bad enough to buy it. It has never been the question of how much money I can get for my work. I create my work because I want to give "birth" to a piece that is aching to come out. I need to communicate, share what it's like from that first spark to the final completion, even if it is just to myself. I have a gallery in my house and I get good feelings when I look at my work. Each of them carry their own memories and stories.

Your partner, Aurelio Locsin, is also an artist; he's a playwright, actor and director, who also works in digital imagery. Do you ever feel any competition or do you feed off of each other's creativity?

We are both creative in different areas.  I always get feedback on the piece I'm working on from my partner. Sometimes, I'm very excited to show him what I've created, and to get his take on it without telling him what is it. That way, I can judge a viewer's response.

If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?

Most of us go about our lives doing the things that are expected, or have a job to put food on the table without regard to "happiness" and "self satisfaction." There were many things I thought I wanted to do when I was growing up and creating art full time was not one of them!
Something that involves working with my hands and being creative. I'm pretty good at cooking, so I would enjoy being a chef or a baker. 

For more information on Anthony Foo and his work, visit http://www.anthonyfoo.com/


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