Foo For Thought: Talking With Sculptor Anthony Foo

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:

Some pieces reveal a wry, ironic humor:

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

Dave Barton/OC
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

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