Art review: Positive by choice: Potter shares happiness

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Ceramic artist Yukari Kashihara describes her process for creating pottery during a reception April 10 in the Morris Gallery of Contemporary Art at Missouri Valley College. Kashihara's work will be on display through Sunday, May 13. (Eric Crump/Democrat-News)

Judging by comments overhead at a reception Tuesday, April 10, at Missouri Valley College's Morris Gallery of Contemporary Art, Yukari Kashihara's work accomplishes her goal -- to evoke feelings of tranqulity, harmony and happiness.

"This is very peaceful, serene," said one patron.

Charity-Mika Woodard, co-director of the gallery, agreed.

"We're trying to give patrons a variety," she said of the series of shows hosted in the gallery's first year. "This is different from our previous shows."

When Kashihara talked about her work, though, there were allusions to darker moments, personal difficulties and professional frustrations.

A tea set on display as part of Yukari Kashi-hara's show, "Harmony and Tranquility" is an example of her recent work, leaning toward a balance between aesthetics and practicality. Kashihara's work is on display in the Morris Gallery of Contemporary Art at Missouri Valley College through Sunday, May 13. (Eric Crump/Democrat-News)

The moments of doubt make subtle appearances in her work, too. In her more colorful and practical recent work, there are dandelion-puff shapes painted on a number of pieces. The background shades move from off-white to muted gold or yellow, conveying a bright, positive feeling, but the dandelions are black, providing contrast and a sense that beneath the positive aura there is a history of trouble. Those hints of darkness provide a depth that simple sunniness would lack.

For Kashihara, being peaceful and positive is a choice.

"I try to focus on positiveness," she said. "If I want to be happy, I should focus on all things positive. If I'm looking at a pothole, that's where I'll end up."

That comment led to a story she told during the reception about a biking expedition. She said she was having a great trail ride when she came upon a steep hill with numerous obstacles. She paused, considering whether to attempt the difficult ride down.

"I thought, 'Do I really want to go down this hill? Am I going to die?'" she said. But her riding partner urged her to try, saying, "Don't look at where you don't want to go. Look at where you want to go. If you look at the holes, that's where you're going to end up."

"That was kind of a profound moment for me," she said.

The story suggests that a positive attitude requires taking some risks, and Kashihara said a breakthrough in her work also came from a moment when she gathered the courage to take a risk.

While working on her master's degree, she felt she had "hit a wall" with her pottery.

"For a while I was making just functional pots, very humble bowls," she said. "My professor loved it. He thought they were beautiful bowls. I just couldn't go any farther from there."

Then a visiting artist gave her the nudge she needed.

"He said, 'You make a beautiful bowl, but if you want to go beyond it, you've got to break the bowl. You've got to cut into it. Do something about it. Don't just leave it a perfect bowl.' That's where this started," she said, gesturing to the side of the gallery where her master's project work was displayed.

The bowls produced during that phase are striking in the balance they maintain between gently curving lines and disruptions in expectation. The bowls have an almost uniform off-white color, so attention can focus more completely on the shapes.

On the other side of the gallery are her examples of more recent projects, which return to the more functional character but with hints of the whimsical, imaginative explorations of her master's work. Both sides of the gallery accomplish what Kashihara set out to do, convey peace, harmony and happiness as a choice, well-earned.

"If I can make people smile or feel good about it, it makes me happy," she said. "It all comes back."

Kashihara's show, "Harmony and Tranquility," will be available through Sunday, May 13, in the Morris Gallery of Contemporary Art at Missouri Valley College.

Contact Eric Crump at

The top rim of one of Yukari Kashihara's master's thesis pots shows how she balances graceful lines with disrupted expectations. (Eric Crump/Democrat-News)

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