Suszynski: Silver fissures
When I sit in my mom’s studio, I am both a young girl and the version that grew tall from her little feet.
As somebody who loves the process of art just as much as looking at it finished on a wall, being able to spend time with my mom, as adults, as pieces always in process of being finished, has been gratifying. With the time that I have been given, I am getting to know my mom both as artist and friend.
When I was a teenager, my mom gave me one of her copies of “The Unknown Craftsmen, A Japanese Insight into Beauty” by Yanagi Sōetsu.
One of my favorite sections reads: “Unlike other collectors, most Tea masters prefer the incomplete; they look for slight scars or irregularities of form.”
This idea, that an irregularity is necessary to create something beautiful, was an ideal that I internalized at a young age. Now as an adult, and as an adult getting to know my mom as a friend, I am starting to see both the root of the ideal and how that ideal has flourished in the personalities of my two brothers.
One of my favorite sculptures of my mom’s was a stout terracotta pot. It eventually bore a large crack down the middle, starting at the rim. She painted the whole vessel midnight blue, with a crater glaze. When it came out of the kiln, the glaze bubbled and cracked like what I imagine the surface of the moon to look like. And the crack, she filled it in with putty of some sort and painted it shimmering silver.
It was displayed on old South Pearl Street in Denver for a while, and I hung out there a lot in high school at a coffee shop called Stella’s. I could see the crack shining from down the street. When I was little, I felt without knowing why. The glint would catch my eye and it seemed very right. Now, I can articulate why the irregularity makes me feel something.
“All works of art, it may be said, are more beautiful when they suggest something beyond themselves than when they end up being merely what they are,” Sōetsu says.
As I sit in my mom’s studio, she is dipping old dresses into a trashcan full of paper clay. We are working together to make a piece for a show that opens, albeit a bit restricted, next week.
As she pulls the dresses from deep inside the trashcan, I concentrate on her hair. My mom has long black hair that is the same length as mine. She doesn’t dye it, so the more “wise” threads shine silver in the sun.
Just the other day, I counted the fourth silver hair pushing through my own head. I remembered the time my mom found her first one. She told me that she pulled it out but then quickly realized that it wasn’t a true gray hair. It was just a strand that was dressed in porcelain clay. That was the last time she pulled a hair from her head.
“Zen Buddhism uses the phrase kenshō, in which ken means ‘seeing’ and shō ‘nature’; taken together, however, the two words do not mean ‘seeing nature’ but rather ‘seeing into one’s nature’. In kenshō, the artist and his guest are not two distinguishable concepts,” Sōetsu says.
Now, looking at my mom with her head of hair that I aspire to, I want to practice this kenshō. I am trying to see into my mom’s nature and I want her to see into mine. And this isn’t just something I want to practice with my mom, but with my whole family. Even with distant friends on the phone, I am trying to get to know everybody as if they are an ancient Japanese teacup, their irregularities and all.
In kenshō, if the artist and the guest are not distinguishable, then I too, the little girl who could barely get on the stool in the window of my mom’s studio and now the one counting gray hairs in her head, these two people are also the same. The guest and the artist, the little girl and the taller version, the mom and her daughter. The friends I call on the phone, the woman I stride past on my daily walks. We are all indistinguishable, except I would say, for our shimmering silver fissures.
Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram at annasuszynski or on Twitter at anna_suszynski.