Page 149 Miranda VI,1990 Ill.
The artist … and teacher’s responses to the questions posed by Henry Halem, the panel’s moderator.
Summary of a Panel Discussion held at the 2001 Glass Art Society Conference…
Artist talks about … work.
“Atop a hill, up a long and windy road in La Habra Heights is the home of glass artist and Cal State Fullerton professor John Leighton.”
“There is the real sense that the artist has toiled through a body of work to its clear and concise conclusion, in John Leighton’s current offering. Though the appropriation of cultures not one’s own can be risky territory in the arts, quick to inspire ire if not handled with kid gloves, Leighton has handled the indigenous imagery and practice of the Japanese population with loving care. Immersing himself in the customs and values of the Japanese people, Mr. Leighton has also paid homage to concerns universal.”
“John Leighton’s works at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery are more than an homage to Japanese aesthetics…in their uniqueness, mystery, and allure, Leighton’s sculptures embody the legacy of the tradition that inspired him. His sculptural works are the innovative result of his study of Japanese culture and the care he took in their making.”
Writer/Critique, Annie Buckley from the feature article “Gazing East” in Glass Quarterly Magazine: No. 121, Winter 2010/2011 issue.
GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet: What are you working on?
John Leighton: My new pieces are about my experience of objects, patterns, and designs that are found in abundance in traditional Asian architecture, textiles, furniture, containers, and the like. They reference my 25-year fascination with the way artisans in Japan and other Asian countries join materials together. They celebrate the spiritual connections that these craftsmen and women make with the mundane, and their ability to infuse useful, commonplace objects with functional beauty and abstract representations of nature.
I was first invited to teach in Japan in 1983 at the Tokyo Glass Art Institute. I returned to Japan several times, and most recently, I taught the spring semester of 2009 at the Osaka University of Arts. OUA is located in a beautiful valley that some refer to as the “Valley of the Kings” of Japan. Each day I rode my bike along the banks of the Ishikawa (Stone River), the birthplace of modern Japanese culture. I studied museum artifacts such as the mysterious ancient copper bells, called Dotaku, and 200-year-old cast iron spades from Hokkaido. I photographed 500-year-old wooden shoji grids in downtown Tondabayashi. My students and I made a mold from a manhole cover with a beautiful landscape image in front of my apartment. I visited Ise Jingu, one of the largest and oldest Shinto Shrines in Japan that has been torn down and rebuilt using thousands of cedar trees, and no nails, every twenty years since 700 AD! These and many more experiences contributed ideas for this work.
Ancient Japanese castles, gardens, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are iconic examples of the culture’s religious reverence for fine craftsmanship. But kimono fabric patterns, wooden sandals, and even some food packaging and manhole covers also intrigue me. I love to visit local hardware stores. Many commonplace Japanese household objects such as gardening and carpentry tools and kitchen utensils seem beautifully foreign to me. Foreign, yet they have a kind of strange familiarity that makes them visually powerful. Perhaps this new work is about my desire to “capture” some of that power?
I use cast and “hot mold blown” glass in this work in order to create distance. I hope this gives viewers the opportunity to disconnect these objects from their utilitarian purpose. A palimpsest refers to a kind of ghost image or hidden meaning, like erased text that is revealed by making a rubbing. In a similar way, cast glass allows me to present (not represent) these patterns and forms as new objects. The translucency of these castings simultaneously denotes their original use and connotes a more transcendent purpose. They don’t exist merely as copied objects; they reference the past like a kind of “visual quotation.” The glass functions as the quotation marks and thereby provides the distance.
GLASS: What artwork have you seen recently that has inspired you and got you thinking about your own work?
John: As I mentioned, much of the inspiration for this work comes from commonplace, functional objects found in traditional Japanese culture. As far as the artists that sit on my shoulder and whisper in my ear, Martin Puryear has been a favorite for many years. My wife and I traveled to San Francisco a couple of years ago to see his big exhibit at SF MOMA. I can’t imagine that my use of wood (mostly bass wood) in this new work wasn’t strongly influenced by that exhibition. I would love an opportunity to meet him.
GLASS: Where is it possible to see your work?
John: I’ll be exhibiting most of the work from this new series in a group (5 artists including myself) sculpture exhibit curated by Scott Canty at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, in Barnsdall Park. The exhibit opens on October 28th and runs through January 9th, 2011, with an artist’s reception on Sunday, November 7th, from 2 to 5 PM.