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1/18/2016 | Weekly Highlight: SETO Hiroshi A lost hero. Part II: Living as an Artist

Weekly Highlight: 

SETO Hiroshi 瀬戸浩(1941-1994)

A lost hero. Part II: Living as an Artist

Influenced by his uncle who did business overseas, SETO Hiroshi came to the United States and became a lecturer at a university in Colorado in 1972, at the age of 31. He spent a year in Southern Colorado State University and then half a year at Indiana University teaching young students the art of ceramics and also learned the art of gold and silver enamel. While in the US he also lectured extensively, in Chicago, Arizona, and elsewhere, despite the fact that many could not understand his Kansai-dialect accented English. 

He learned from his American colleagues to call himself an artist rather than a potter, and the distinction remained important to him until the end of his life. 


Ceramic Monthly, January 1974

When Seto's wife joined him is US with their two children, a three year-old daughter and a four month-old baby girl, Mrs. Seto recalls once she saw that he was making sculptural pieces and immediately thought "oh, we are going to have a hard time making living..." At that time, functional pottery was the way to become successful, as very few people had ever heard of ceramic sculpture. However, she accepted it since Seto looked so happy!

Seto was educated a contemporary ceramic philosophy at the famed Kyoto Art University and then he moved to Mashiko where Hamada Shoji's Mingei movement has a big influence, and also their studio were so close to each other. Though determined to become a sculptural artist, Seto didn't realize that he was so influenced by Mingei. He even had a climbing kiln (Noborigama) which is not necessary to create sculptural work. 


Seto grew up with many rules, but Mashiko gave him lots of freedom. He loved to climb mountains, find inspiration from nature. He had many drawings of leaves & plants. The abstract evolution of these shapes became the prototype of his ceramic forms. Like a sculptor, he made paper marguttes before he finalized his ceramic forms. We were shown many of sketches  and paper models. The knowledge and skill of silver and gold enamel certainly liberated him in the mystery of forms and glazes. 


As American art has moved to post-war abstract expressionist, Seto was too much ahead at his time in Japan. Though patronized by pioneer gallery such as Aoyama Green Gallery; and big department store gallery such as Mitsukoshi, Seto was often disappointed to face the unsellable outcome of exhibitions. At one point, he was so frustrated, he smashed ALL the exhibition pieces after the show. 

Classmate MIYASHITA Zenji came to visit, he knew Seto had a hard time to make a living. He said in Kyoto potters had secretive way to make a living, they made both (Utsuwa) functional wares and sculpture pieces. But, Seto, being an artist was stubborn enough to ignore his advice. 

C.S. Jiang