Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Echoes from Manzanar ... If Walls Could Talk"

Arthur Towata has spent fifty years mastering skills in pottery, painting, printmaking and sculpture. His current show at the Jacoby Arts Center in Alton, Illinois, is based on a life changing event of his youth. An American born of Japanese dissent during the unsettling time of Pearl Harbor, circumstances incarcerated him at the Manzanar War Relocation Center at the young age of 8. He spent the next three and a half years in confinement with his mother and 2-year-old brother. His father, by United States edict, was detained separately and Arthur never saw him again. The work is comprised of large acrylic paintings and pottery. During the opening of the show last week, Arthur spoke of the paintings and symbols incorporated which told the story of this time in his youth. Though a sad time, his tales still reflected the joy of his youth, putting melancholy to this work. For example, the painting in the image above, recalls his first view of the Milky Way, something blocked from him in LA. Another painting represents the clever tricks and creative avenues a child employs for amusement when left with limited resources.

Some of the credit for this show goes to Arthur's fellow artist and companion, Kate Morgan, who encouraged him to return to Manzanar in 2006. "While visiting Manzanar, Kate placed one of Arthur's lidded pots on the ground. Immediately, the creation blended with the natural landscape. Finally, clarity."
Arthur did not speak about his pottery other than to decline my probing. "What can you say about them?" was his reply. This was disappointing as they are fascinating work unlike any I have had the recent pleasure to experience. I would like to understand them better. Apparently, I am not the only one unable to connect with him on this. "When asked about the evolution of his ceramics -- the color, form, texture---he couldn't quite pinpoint the inspiration."

The Jacoby Arts Center is one of the newest art complexes on our east side.