Local News: Ceramics exhibition by SEMO art students inspired by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi (09/23/22)

Southeast Missouri State University art student Neal Joiner with his exhibit of wabi-sabi-inspired ceramics at the Catapult Creative House in downtown Cape Girardeau.

Danny Walter

There is a Japanese philosophy – wabi-sabi – which views the world as impermanent, imperfect and incomplete.

Neal Joiner, an art student at Southeast Missouri State University, said he used that philosophy to inspire his creation of a series of small ceramic pots currently on display at Catapult Creative House at 612 Broadway in Cape Girardeau.

Joiner said that hundreds of years ago in Japan, Zen practitioners applied wabi-sabi to pottery. He said it is usually associated with pots and cups for tea ceremonies, often irregular or rustic in appearance.

“The emphasis is on natural materials. As I understand it, imperfectly, ‘wabi’ means impermanence, and ‘sabi’ is the irregularity, flaws and natural degradation of materials. So I tried to apply this concept in my work and came up with my own interpretation,” he explained.

All Joiner jars are small, about 6 inches tall and around. They are only partially glazed and have a rough smoked finish. Joiner said he used a potter’s wheel to throw the pots, then fired them in a kiln and then gave them a partial fire in the pit.

“There’s no science to it,” Joiner said. “You never know what will come out. It’s the sabi part of wabi-sabi. It’s the acceptance of flaws and irregularities.”

Each pot has broken twigs or moss sticking out of the top. Joiner said the twigs and moss were part of the pieces and represented wabi, or the impermanence of pots.

“Ironically, pottery is, relatively, one of the most durable materials for art,” Joiner said. “I wanted something organic that would break down over time. It’s just sticks and moss from my garden. They’ll die and decay. It was a way for me to emphasize impermanence more.”

There is a quote printed on the wall above the Joiner jars that reads, “Wabi-Sabi can, in its fullest expression, be a way of life. At the very least, it’s a special type of beauty. The quote is taken from the book “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers” by Leonard Koren. Joiner said it was one of the books he studied before starting his project.

There is a second quote on the wall, from Joiner himself; “All things are impermanent, imperfect and incomplete.”

“This is my attempt to distill a philosophy into one sentence. Wabi-sabi is philosophical, not just related to art or aesthetics.” said Joiner.

For this show, Joiner said he originally planned to do oil paintings. He is a senior who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art with a major in painting. However, after seeing the TV show “Great Pottery Throw Down”, Joiner said he had a change of heart and decided to do ceramics.

“I started from scratch,” Joiner said. “I didn’t have a potter’s wheel or a kiln or any of that. I had a big collection of comics that I sold to fund whatever I needed. I built my own kiln with materials I bought from Lowe’s. This included a propane tank. , high temp oven liner, metal and screws. Everything I needed I bought online. I also had a fire extinguisher .

Although the carpentry degree will focus on painting, he said he will continue to do ceramics.

“I actually find it less stressful than painting,” Joiner said. “There’s a lot of pressure when I paint because it’s my main specialization. I usually think too hard or try to challenge myself too much. When I get on the potter’s wheel, especially with aesthetics wabi-sabi, I’m just letting them be whatever they want to be. That’s why they have such a variety of shapes. I’m not trying to define a specific size or shape. It’s very calming and relaxing.

Joiner said he grew up in Bollinger County, Missouri, and graduated from Meadow Heights High School in 1995. A year later, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a photographer of documentation for the first decade, then it was transferred to the public. business to do photojournalism, mass and strategic communication.

Joiner retired from the military in 2019 and he said it was SEMO that brought him back to southeast Missouri.

“I was in Tucson, Arizona when I retired from the military,” Joiner said. “I looked at a few other schools, but then I looked at SEMO’s website and saw that they had a campus dedicated to the arts.”

Joiner will graduate from SEMO in the spring and will continue to make art, and he said he hopes to show his work in galleries or at the Southeast Missouri Arts Council in downtown Cape Girardeau.

There will be a closing reception for Joiner’s show on October 7 in Catapult.

Kayleen C. Rice