The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 28, 2013

Ceramist Mika Negishi Laidlaw taking art in new directions

By Tanner Kent
The Free Press

ST PETER — Get a look now at the McKnight Touring Exhibition on display at the Arts Center of St. Peter — it might be the last you see of the “old” Mika Negishi Laidlaw.

Of course, the ceramist and Minnesota State University art instructor phrased her current artistic inclinations more articulately than that. But make no mistake. 

While recent work has explored the origins and cycles of life, unconditional love and cultural memory in a visual vocabulary marked by graceful, often feminine forms, Negishi Laidlaw said she is beginning to move in a new direction.

She said she arrived at that decision after reviewing the work that sprung from her most recent of three McKnight awards (the last, a $25,000 McKnight Fellowship in 2011). A portion of that work is now on display at the Arts Center of St. Peter, along with selected ceramic works from six other McKnight award recipients.

Three of Negishi Laidlaw’s pieces are included, two from her “Lotus” series and one from her large-scale installation “Circle of Life.” Each bears the delicate form, voluptuous curvature and sensual composition that symbolize reproduction and regeneration in her work. Vibrating with womb’s warmth and ancestral recollection, viewers are beckoned into a sense of calm and contemplation.

But now, Negishi Laidlaw said she is ready to challenge that sense of calm. Criticizing previous work as too symmetrical and delicate, she summarized: “Now, I want to push beyond pretty.”

Much of Negishi Laidlaw’s ceramic sculpture is grounded in a personal exploration of family, love and motherhood.

When she created her “Lotus” series, her grandfather was nearing death. Characterizing the December of his lifetime as unhappy, she created a series of works around the Buddhist symbol of renunciation.

Her “Circle of Life” series was created when she was pregnant with her second child and learned that her grandfather had passed away.

But her current work incorporates elements of heat, light and fire that are inspired by the fear and ferocity of motherhood.

“I have tended to be pretty calm and inviting,” she said. “I hope this work adds new adjectives and expands on what I’ve done already.”

Born and raised in Kobe, Japan, Negishi Laidlaw has taught at MSU since 2003. Her work has been featured in a variety of publications and she’s exhibited her art around the country and even internationally. Along the way, she has won a variety of awards and grants, and has been asked frequently to give lectures and discussions.

Early in her career, Negishi Laidlaw said she struggled with the artist’s role in society. For a time, she said, making art felt like a “selfish act,” without any benefit to anyone besides the artist.

But now, she said she’s become comfortable with the idea of her work contributing to a broader social commentary about the human condition.

“Ultimately, artists have to communicate,” she said. “When we make something and it just sits in the studio, it doesn’t seem to carry the full meaning of the act of making art.”