Travel helps you to understand and respect different cultures while simultaneously making you better equipped to examine your own culture, your place in it, and how it has helped to shape you. Living in another region or a different country certainly deepens this dual effect.
While I’ve lived in Columbus, Ohio, for 10 years, I am originally from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, region and have lived in Virginia, Colorado, California, and Germany. Through everyday exchanges and routines—like grocery shopping or commuting to the studio or to work—I became acutely aware of the ways that the regional geography, climate, man-made and natural environment, culture, economy, and demographics contributed to shaping the outlook of individuals living in all of these locations. The experiences also made me think about how living in specific places has informed my own development, perspective, and creativity.
Many of the artists in this issue are native to one country, but now live and work in another. Their ways of thinking and aesthetics are an intriguing blend of their observations and experiences in the areas where they live now, with elements of the places where they spent their formative years.
James Simon travelled the world, learning various trades and skills before settling down in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to create a studio and community-arts hub. He pulls inspiration from various aspects of his different careers to make his sculptures, and to be an active member of a creative community.
Elena Renker is a German-born artist who emigrated to New Zealand with her family as a child, and she continues to live and work there today. During her formative years, she spent time learning ceramics in India and Germany. After returning to New Zealand, and later to clay, her studies through university courses, residencies, and workshops led her to a looser, yet still structured, aesthetic and to an in depth study of Japanese shino glazes.
Roger Law, known for illustrations, puppets, and ceramics that are satirical caricatures of the rich, famous, and powerful, hails from (and currently lives in) the UK, but also lived in Australia for a number of years and collaborated with artists extensively in China. He has consistently reflected on the nuances of the places and cultures surrounding him in his work, as well as blending imagery referencing the flora and fauna from one region with ceramic techniques from another.
Akiko Hirai has lived in the UK for 20 years, but is originally from Japan. In addition to making functional tableware as a way to communicate with people, Hirai has created a series of non-traditional moon jars, a form that originated in Korea, that incorporates the Japanese idea of engaging viewers by allowing them to complete and balance an imperfect or broken form in their own mind.
Joe Molinaro is a US-born artist who spent most of his career as an artist living and teaching in Kentucky, while doing research in South America. He recently moved to Mexico, and shares with us the process involved, along with his thinking of how his new surroundings will affect his outlook and his work.
Shoko Aono, originally from Japan, lives in New York, New York, where she owns Ippodo Gallery. In addition to regularly introducing a US audience to Japanese made art, Aono had the opportunity to further cross-cultural exchange by staging a traditional tea ceremony, complete with handmade Japanese ceramics, at the UN General Assembly building in New York.
The Hermannsburg Aranda potters, who are among the indigenous people of Australia, have adapted painting techniques passed down to them by an elder, Albert Namatjira, who learned from a Melbourne-based artist, Rex Battarbee. They now use these adapted techniques to record their own stories, experiences, and environment.
I highly recommend broadening your point of view by immersing yourself in a different culture. It can help you to probe the complex influences that motivate your studio practice, lead to insights, and spark creativity.