NotesShiga Shigeo (1928-2011) was an influential ceramic artist and teacher who spent thirteen years in Australia from 1966 to 1979. In the 1960s studio potters in Australia started to forge their own direct links with Japan after a period of practising in an indirectly influenced Anglo-Oriental tradition. Les Blakebrough, for example, invited Takeichi Kawai (1964) and Shiga Shigeo (1966) to Australia after he had himself spent an inspiring and productive year in Japan in 1963.
Upon arrival in Australia Shigeo envisaged staying a couple of years but instead remained in Australia for thirteen. Shigeo taught at Sturt, Mittagong until 1968, and he then moved to Sydney where to set up a studio in Terrey Hills. He went back to Japan in 1979 only to return to live in Australia again in 2009. During his time in Australia many students and potters including influential people such as Les Blakebrough, Peter Rushforth, Bernard Sahm and Janet Mansfield benefitted from his extraordinary quality and variety of output which was underpinned by an insightful synthesis of Japanese tradition and philosophical response to his new Australian environment. The following personal statement from 1982 shows how acutely aware he was of the impact melding a new environment with Japanese tradition had on his work,
'It is inevitable that in different parts of the world potters should produce different kinds of art because they are influenced by the environment and the weather. But there are other influences that account for the differences in pottery between one country and another. In Japan, people have a strong affinity with nature that is reflected in the artistic tradition, whereas in the West, the philosophic tradition emphasises the self. This means that the objective is to express one's self but to bring out what is best in the clay. The aim is not to learn technique, but to transcend technique, and the effort is not so much to improve your work, as your total self. This is why in Japan so many people practise arts such as brush painting or archery: they are means of self-development. It is important to realise that this development is a continuous process in which nothing lasts; each act and each moment is important in itself. The moment has gone; the development goes on.'
There were other less-joyful stimuli too. In 1975 when Shigeo made this serenely beautiful white spherical vessel now in the Powerhouse collection (A10628) he had suffered the death of a close relative. Of the vessels he made at that time he said in 1979:
'I was creating various pieces with no colour other than white, I was actually going through a very sad part of my life . . . and those sad days made me search, even deeper, for the meaning of what human life is all about. And it was with that feeling of searching that the colour white emerged. That was my expression of the state of life I was experiencing at that time.'
From 1979 Shigeo went back to his earlier influences of tea ceremony and Zen Buddhism, spending the rest of his career making pottery in a Zen temple in Machida city, near Tokyo. However, his experience in Australia and continued contact with his Australian friends enabled him to return to live in Sydney in 2009. Examples of Shiga Shigeo's work are in the collections of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, The Art Gallery of NSW, and the Newcastle Gallery.
Paul Donnelly, Curator design & society
1982. Jutta Malnic, 'Shiga the potter', Sydney, John Ferguson P/L
1992. Grace Cochrane, 'The crafts movement in Australian: a history', Sydney, NSW Press
1979. Pottery in Australia, Oct/Nov 1979, Vol 18 No. 2, pp 3-5
Freeland Gallery website http://www.freelandgallery.com.au/shiga-shigeo.html