We note with sadness the passing last week of Shiga Shigeo, a great ceramic artist and teacher whose profound influence will doubtless survive through his students to future generations of Australian potters. In the 1960s studio potters in Australia, while already indirectly influenced in the Anglo-Oriental tradition, started to forge their own direct links with Japan. Les Blakebrough, for example, invited Takeichi Kawai (1964) and Shiga Shigeo (1966) to Australia after experiencing the exhilaration of a year potting in Japan in 1963.
Upon arrival in Australia Shigeo envisaged staying a couple of years but as can happen when things go well, instead remained in Australia for thirteen years. He was teaching and making at Sturt until 1968, and then Sydney from where he returned to Japan in 1979. 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.
There were other less-joyful stimuli too. In 1975 when Shigeo made the serenely beautiful vessel now in the Powerhouse collection 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.
Jutta Malnic, ‘Shiga the potter’, Sydney, John Ferguson P/L, 1982
Grace Cochrane, ‘The crafts movement in Australian: a history’, Sydney, NSW Press, 1992
Pottery in Australia, Oct/Nov 1979, Vol 18 No. 2, pp 3-5
Freeland Gallery website http://www.freelandgallery.com.au/shiga-shigeo.html