Heritage plays main role in his art

“One other thing stirs me when I look back at my youthful days, the fact that so many people gave me something or were something to me without knowing it.” This quoted words by Albert Schweitzer {1875-1965} Humanitarian, 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, has much more deeper meaning in the not only his everyday life, but also in the works of art by Anthony Foo of Irvine, California.


Foo with work entitled “Landed”.

Anthony Foo draws from his Asian background to create his ceramic sculptures from his training in the traditional Japanese swordsmanship. His works have a different meaning to him than what the viewer’s eye may see; moreover, each one having its own story which takes him further back to his ancestral origin; those former earthly souls who have contributed to Foo’s human artistic symmetry. So very often we are too afraid to undertake our passions and strive to make a go of it. For Anthony, it was his creative side which he stifled until the call came, and eventually he took it upon himself to tune into that subdued need, and grant his innate imagination to flourish in his ceramic sculptures.

     Artist Foo grew up in Malaysia in Chinese family. Art was an accepted norm for children, and it was part of the school’s curriculum. Painting, drawing, wood carving, block printing, basketry, metal-working, tie and dye, screen printing, but there was no ceramics. “I remembered seeing a potter’s wheel, the one where you have to use your foot to kick, but no one taught it,” he said.

“Embrace Your Destiny”

     Once reaching young adulthood, a “meaningful job was expected because everyone was clamoring to be engineers, doctors, architects, business people, and scientists,” he said. Although, his family did not discourage him from art, he knew he had to make a living. Therefore, his clay art interest was shelved away. Foo went on to become a graphic designer which involved him to be in front of the computer all day. “I found myself needing to do something tangible, something that I can get my hands into, to feel it, touch it, turn it around, look at it from all angles.”

     According to him, his work was too much virtual and he needed more occupational balance. He began his search which led him to Irvine California Fine Arts Center in California. “I went to check it out and started right away in my first ceramics class.” That was over twenty years ago, but the older Foo today is much more wiser in his decision-making, however his artworks reveal the youthfulness of a Raphael. “I believe creating art for the joy of it is the purest transfer of one person’s innermost feelings into his medium.”

     One of his works, Embrace Your Destiny has three main branches, similar to a tree. The First is your true destiny; Second is what you think you are; and Third is what other people think who you are or should be. “It is a painful sculpture, physically because of the thorns. I have endured many hardships and pain with my calling, but through it all, I have achieved true happiness,” said Anthony. He further seeks knowledgeable understanding about what he conveys in his works through universal questions: Who am I? Why are we here? What is life? Those answers are taken from an abstraction and given a form.

“All That Remains Are Summer Grasses”

In another work, All That Remains Are Summer Grasses, artist Foo follows a belief that focuses on achievement; the sum total at the end. “Regardless of our successes or what we have accumulated in life; in the end we lose it all, and only the summer grasses prevail,” he said. Foo further adds support to his assessment by relating to the troubled times in Japanese history. “There was so much warfare. The castles fell, armies faded away, but the grasses remain.” He includes more association that deals with his martial arts sword training. “Life and death are determined in a split second after the blade is drawn. It has shown me how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away. The study of any martial arts is to preserve and protect life; not to harm it.”


     For several years, Foo has been using paper clay to make his sculptures. This medium has given him the freedom to go beyond the bounds of traditional clay bodies. He is able to make larger and more delicate pieces in less time, with less warp age and cracking, and with superior green ware strength. His work, Sanctuary falls within a self-portrayal on how others see us, and how we see them. Foo expressed, “We hardly penetrate the armor that surrounds us as humans. We protect our vulnerabilities, and thusly we shield people from our true depth.” In this piece, he illustrates within the confine of the “armor’s protection, we can begin to explore and search for the purpose of our being, just like the tentacles of the anemone searching for food,” he further added. The Japanese title for Becoming One is Ken Shin Tai I chi, meaning: Sword, Spirit, Body, and Becoming One. In Martial Arts, the achievement of unity with the mind/spirit, body and the weapon used {which body can serve as the defense tool} is the central doctrine in this training.

“Becoming One”

     Many moons ago, when I was juggling three business majors, accounting, administration and management, I became engrossed in Maslow’s theory relating to human behavior. In a nutshell and not in exact order, but we as humans all want and need, however we have to first satisfy the basics and work our way to the top, the higher needs. Therefore and ‘starring’ at the bottom are a few, such as, must breathe, need food and water, sleep, and sex is somewhere on the Physiological triangle.  Going up the ladder, there is Safety which there is a gambit of things, but some are: secure employment, good health and property. Next rung is Love/ Belongings. This would be good friendship, tight-knit and healthy family, and more sex, but intimate.    Another hop up deals with Esteem. I can relate to a few of these: respect for others and their respect, self-confidence, achievement. Presto! We are at the top-Self Actualization, and these few are also not in any specific order: lack of prejudice, able to accept the facts, a whiz at problem-solving, strong morality or got the faith, and creativity.

     I know when I was studying Abraham Maslow, his concepts were so deep and detailed; I do recall it made my analytical/left side of my brain race with excitement, like being behind the wheel, crossing the finish line at the Indy 500. And if I stayed on that path, I could have probably easily juggled Wall Street’s books.

     Fortunately, the environment of higher educational arena offered my creative/right side a ‘full course meal’ of opportunities. The exposure to the arts provided me with ‘new eyes’ – eyes to be able to recognize not only great works of art, but also a front and center view of the soul of the creator. Happily, Anthony Foo has rewarded me with this self-assurance in his works, as I see his hands shaping every curve, stretching the clay to a very thin porcelain fineness, and then applying the colors of grandeur.

     In the time I spent in communication with artist Foo, he has led me back to my Should I or Should I not roads. Unfortunately, I cannot turn back the clock. However in this present time, I do know, we now share a common bond, in fact, possibly a friendship of brotherhood expressed in the words by Joseph Conrad {1857-1924} a polish-born British writer, sailor and explorer: “I don’t like work, no man does, but I like what is in work; the chance to find yourself, not for others, but what no other man can ever know.”

     To learn more this man who has uncorked his vintage bottle of fine talent, to let his creativeness flow to come full circle, see www.anthonyfoo.com.

By Ben Rayman

Published by on December 2012. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Cover Section, Potter's Shed Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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