2014 JohnLeighton (FLIPPINGBOOK)


"The Japanese have a word which summariz- es all the best in Japanese life, yet it has no explanation and cannot be translated. It is the word shibui, and the best approximation to it’s meaning is 'acerbic good taste’. Another attempt to define the concept of shibui refers to a made object that is beautiful by being precisely what it was meant to be and not elaborated upon.” -James Michener, Iberia "Wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and char- acteristic feature of traditional Japanese beau- ty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West".

"If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be Wabi-sabi." "[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: noth- ing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." -Leonard Koren, Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

Don’t confuse what you make with who you are… or perhaps that is exactly what one should work toward? “An object, par excellence, freezes time. It is perpetually in the present. Even as it tells us of its history, shares its craft, and engages us perceptually. It holds the moment suspended. It is not a moment divorced from the past or from the future, but it is a moment in the objects own time. It is a moment in which the splitting of consciousness can disappear and, miracle of miracles, the two-ness of the person plus the object can produce a feeling of one- ness in the person.” -Dennis Leon, 1994 Glass Art Society Conference Key Note Address

“The Japanese view of life embraced a simple aesthetic that grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated and trimmed away.” - Tadao Ando, architect


The Japanese have an almost religious rev- erence for well made things with the kind of wear and patina that can only be produced over many years of use. Short-term use may leave a wooden or metal object dirty, sticky, or scratched, but Wabi-sabi refers to the kind of wear that leaves that object polished and even indented where the user places her hands. I have heard that some wealthy home builders in Japan have uneven sections of ancient wooden floors, that record centuries of walking and scrubbing patterns, removed from old buildings before they are demolished and built into their new homes. Respect for care worn objects acknowledges not only their loving repeated use and the exquisite craftsmanship with which they were made, but it is also anathema to

the wasteful, disposable attitude of so many aspects of modern Western culture. It fasci- nates me and has inspired much in this new sculpture. I’m not seeking universal symbols or truths; I am interested in making sculpture that remains viable, perhaps even poetic, as time passes. I want my work to exhibit what I have called “strange familiarity.” I hope these objects seem made without being dated. I hope this work speaks to a timeless usefulness, without being utilitarian. I don’t expect that these objects will enjoy universal understanding, but perhaps some viewers will experience that inti- macy with a physical object that can stimulate pleasant memories, and with the right person on the right day, that feeling of ‘one-ness’ that Dennis Leon spoke of.

This feeling of one-ness could be the experi- ence of that place (and time!) where there is no separation, no ‘splitting of consciousness’ between what we make and who we are. I believe that objects can trigger more than memories. Made things can suggest a kind of poetic wisdom, a knowledge or an awareness that cannot be named or learned, but can be experienced. Whatever they may or may not mean is be- yond my influence. Whatever I have to say in my work sounds different to each listener. It is my sincere hope that, for you, these sculptures are precisely what they were meant to be.

-- Professor John Leighton Winter, 2014

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.” It’s interesting to me, and relevant in looking at Leighton’s work over time, that he speaks very specifically about the way materials are connected. His elegant assemblage sculptures make use of cast and blown glass, wood, copper, and other materials, drawing a viewer’s eye to the places where distinct surfaces and references merge and overlap: hard and soft, East and West, practical and mystical. Leighton’s newest work, made with the same attention to detail, continues to draw on the Japanese inspiration but with an added emo- tional resonance borne of the artist’s consider- ation of personal history, including his Karate practice and his relationship to making art over time. Burden, 2014, consists of an organically shaped urn made from eighty-six layers of cut plywood glued and ground to a smooth finish and bearing a bent basswood pole with two smaller cast glass buckets attached on either side with copper, wood, and rope. Leighton recalls the story and object that, in part,

inspired this work, “My wife and I bought a beautiful Japanese antique wooden bucket on our honeymoon. The day we returned home with the bucket, my only brother was killed in a motorcycle accident. Today that bucket over-flows with the joy of our marriage and helps carry the burden of my loss.” Dualities such as these—joy and loss, beauty and utility, meticulous control and peaceful acceptance— run throughout Imperfect, Impermanent, and Incomplete, not as opposing forces, but as different aspects of a complex and harmonious whole.


What still stands out to me most clearly from a visit to Thailand over a decade ago is a mod- est cafe where I enjoyed a simple meal; from the taste of the food to the temperature of the room and the color of the walls, the whole experience was infused with a calm peaceful- ness, as if each element were calibrated to coalesce in a harmonious whole. To most, this might seem an odd thing to remember, but I sense that John Leighton would understand perfectly; it is a similar kind of harmony— blending the quotidian and the sublime, the manmade and the natural, the visual and the tactile—that inspires Leighton, and that his own work has come to embody. Leighton took his first trip to Japan in 1983 when invited to teach at the Tokyo Glass Insti- tute and he has returned 4 times since, most recently to Western Japan where he taught at Osaka University of Arts in the summer of 2009. Since that first visit, he has been fasci- nated by the way so many Japanese objects, from ancient shrines to contemporary man- hole covers, are made with deep attention to aesthetics, detail, and craftsmanship. In 2010, John told The GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet that his works, “reference my 25-year fascination

—Annie Buckley

I have acknowledged my interest in farm and garden tools, I like old pick-ups with beat-up paint jobs that obviously belong to gardeners because of the shovels, rakes, brooms, etc that silhouette against the evening sky on the top of their worn and mended handles. The image of a 19th century tinsmith/basket/utensil repairman’s cart is a similar example of familiar “forms in space”, on a stick.

Groups of nineteenth century (Edo Period) fireman were divided into 48 districts. Each district used an abstract, usually white, sculptural symbol atop a long pole, to identify the site of a fire. These sym- bols, called “matoi”, were derived from their Kanji alphabet, which conveniently had 48 characters. American artist Sol Lewit worked for decades, devel- oping a sculptural vocabulary based on the cube. The glass forms in this piece were developed with a nod to Lewit’s geometric restrictions, to the romance of Japan’s tattooed acrobatic fire brigades, and to itinerant tinkers, suburban gardeners, and family dirt farmers everywhere.

The Itinerate Tinker: 2013 90” Wide X 79” High X 49” Deep, Cast Glass, Pine Plywood, Bamboo, Basswood, Maple, Oak, Poplar, Copper and String

In 593, at the age of 19, Prince Shotoku became regent of what is now known as Japan. He ruled over three decades of rapid change. The Prince was responsible for making Buddhism the official religion of the state; he established standards of language, built roads and temples, which contained colleges, monasteries, and hos- pitals. He established governmental policy and wrote a kind of constitution that is thought by some to mark the beginning of modern Japan. One of the temples built in Osaka during the reign of Shotoku called Shitennoji still exists and they have a great antique “flea market” on the grounds once a month. On each of several visits to this market I lit incense and spun the bronze dharma wheel (looks a lot like a ships wheel) at the entrance to the temple to insure my good fortune.

to a flat bed carrying an antique farm vehicle identified by the truck driver as an “orchard sprayer”. I’m guessing it was headed for a 4th of July parade? The wooden “U” shaped tank and iron wheels looked almost amphibious. Ancient Egyptian warships used a concave bow design, sometimes reinforced with bronze, to ram and sink enemy ships. I am not sure what these sentenances have in common other than broad interpretations like “transportation, nautical, historical themes etc. I have done some sailing and all of these references combined with cultural and spiritual inspiration from the “wheel of Life” and the life of an amazing prince, led me to the form of Shotoku’s Carriage a kind of spiritual hybrid if you will?

Driving near home on July first, I pulled up next

Shotoku’s Carriage: 2013 90” Wide X 62½” High X 62” Deep, Pine, Cast Glass, Manila Rope and Bronze

Kuwa: 2012/2013 17” Wide X 64” High X 15½“ Deep, Mold Blown Glass, Basswood and Copper


Japanese architect, Tadao Ando designed the Chikatsu Asuka Museum to house thousands of artifacts from the 3rd to the 7th century, discovered in more than 200 burial mounds called Kofun. The museum and these pyramidal mounds are in the Ishi Kawa Tani (Stone River Val- ley) area south of Osaka, sometimes referred to as the “Japanese Valley of the Kings”.

I sketched several objects I saw in this museum in 2009 while I was teaching at Osaka University of Art. From my early sketches, I made a drawing, which later developed into a clay model. After I had blown a large glass piece, made from this clay model, as a demonstration at the California College of Arts in Oakland, I discovered what the object was that I had sketched in the museum! The object is called Kuwagataishi. It is believed to be a ceremoni- al bracelet shaped like the metal head of a hoe or Kuwa. This was interesting to me because I have thought and written about farm tools exerting an influence on my sculpture; If the farmer represents figurative art, and the farm is the landscape metaphor, then in some way, it is the hoe or plough that connects (grounds) the farmer to his land. The spiritual connection that many agrarian civilizations have acknowledged between man and earth is symbolized in these tools.

The shapes and the weight of farm implements inform my forms, the wear and patina inform my surface textures and colors, and the history and cross cultural similarities help me understand how a mundane, yet powerful object can freeze time. In the case of Kuwa, the ancient form of the hoe evolved to a stone “burial bracelet” about 1700 years ago. I saw one in Japan and, for me; it evolved again, this time into what? It does seem figurative, could be the farmer.


Warrior: 2014 38” Diameter X 64” High Cast Clear and Black Glass, Basswood, Steel

My interest in Japan and some encouragement from my daughter led me to study Goju Ryu Karate for several years. The term Goju-ryu actually means “hard-soft style,” which refers to the closed hand techniques (hard), and the open hand techniques and circular movements (wax on, wax off) that comprise this martial art, which originated in Okinawa. Ancient Samurai armor, made from leather, bamboo and many coats of lacquer, was strong enough to deflect a sword strike. Cezanne is said to have suggested a bridge between impres- sionism and cubism. He described how forms in nature could be abstractly represented as spheres, cylinders and cones… The original title of this piece was Cezanne’s Warrior. The hands in this piece were life cast from Shihan (Master In- structor) Brad Wenneberg. Master Wenneberg holds a 6th Degree Black Belt in Goju Shin-Ryu. He is the founder of one of the largest and most successful karate dojos in the country and a member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

Burden: 2014, 91’ Wide x 59” High Cast Glass, Pine Plywood, Basswood, Copper, Manila Rope

A burden can be a duty or a misfortune, a hardship or a nuisance. The burden of a ship refers to the maximum load it can carry and it is a synonym for the theme of a novel and the chorus of a song. In Zen philosophy, when you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden. “Wood is chopped. Water is carried”. My wife and I bought a beautiful Japanese antique wooden bucket on our honeymoon. The day we returned home with the bucket,

my only brother was killed in a motorcycle accident. Today that bucket over-flows with the joy of our marriage and helps carry the burden of my loss. Being good at making things is a blessing and a curse. Can’t afford one? Make one! Making the work for this exhibition, I was forced to confront some of the physical damage this has done over the years. I think this has something to do with the addition of the yoke-like elements in Burden. They call it art work for a reason.

“” In Zen philosophy, when you are fully present, you may find that your labor is no longer a burden. “Wood is chopped. Water is carried”.

Burden: 2014, 91’ Wide x 59” High Cast Glass, Pine Plywood, Basswood, Copper, Manila Rope

The magatama is an ancient Japanese Shinto ornament. Some believe that it represents half of the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol. The symbol is most often seen in the form of polished stone beads. Some modern Japanese artists make magatama beads from glass. In 1983 I was invited to teach at the just-opened Tokyo Glass Art Institute. One of my youngest students, Yuki Uchimura became an accomplished glass artist and years later she gave my daughter a cast glass magatama bead. In 2009 Yuki (now professor Uchimura) and her colleague Hiroshi Yamano invited me to teach at Osaka University of Art and with the help of their students, I made the “bamboo pencil box” element using a technique called “hot mold

blowing”. This element had been in my studio for three years when I decided to combine it with my own cast magatama-like form and to support them atop a bamboo post. The result reminded me of the kind of fan used to cool a potentate as they were transported in a sedan chair on a warm day.

Magatama: 2013/2014, 82” Wide X 80½“ High X 38” Deep Cast and Mold Blown Glass, Basswood, Bamboo and Copper

I’m interested in “place-savers”. Sculptors see poetry in utilitarian objects by separating the utility from the form. I sometimes use glass in much the same way a museum conservator might use some kind of epoxy to replace miss- ing sections of an ancient artifact. By replacing the “business end” of an imagined metal or stone farm implement, with a fragile, pellucid casting, for instance, the viewer is given pause to reflect on the form, rather than the func- tion of the object. Barrel wrights, wheelwrights, wooden boat builders, carriage, wagon, coach, chariot, and all other builders of wooden, horse-drawn transport have my admiration and respect.

I have referred to glass as a non-user-friend- ly material, but wood is my dear old friend. My studio always feels best when there are shavings on the floor and the Fed Ex guy says, “it smells terrific in here”! In my recent work, I have used wood reductively, carving, grinding, sanding etc., and I enjoy researching time-hon- ored methods of joinery, traditional non-ferrous metal fasteners and making somewhat crude efforts to fit wooden elements together. The use of glass in my work helps create dis- tance. Viewers have the opportunity to discon- nect these objects from any utilitarian purpose. Cast and mold-blown glass objects present (as opposed to represent) familiar textures and

forms as new, not-so- functional objects. The translucency of the material simultaneously denotes or outlines their implied original use and connotes a more transcendent or perhaps even a poetic purpose. They don’t exist merely as copied objects; they reference the past like a kind of visual quotation.


Former students Jose Rocha and Debbie Pratt for help in the studio. Professors Pamina Traylor and Elin Christopherson and the students in the CCA Glass Program (especially Andrej Larson, my gaffer) for their help in making KUWA. Marty Lorigan, art mover, installer, and very careful truck driver. Gallery Directors Barry Krammes and Dan Callis at Biola. Cal State University, Fullerton for the sabbatical and access to their glass studio. Annie Buckley for her beautiful essay.

Gene Ogami, Photographer Katelyn Seitz, Graphic Design student at Biola.

My daughter, Morgan, researcher/proofreader extraordinaire. And a very special thanks to my wife, Dee Danzinger for her encouragement, assistance and patience!

The Earl and Virgina Green Art Gallery BIola University

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