Zero and I first met at the New York Studio School when he became a student there in 1988.
Zero's recollection is of a man with a mop of blond hair walking into his studio space one winter's evening. The man was wearing a long overcoat against the evening's chill. Its wooly fabric had a lively Fifties pug, jazzy pattern of a predominantly black and white check with liquid rhythms of red, blue, and green. Bulging in each of the side pockets was a bottle of European beer revealed by the shiny white ceramic flip tops peeking from their pouches. Another Japanese student introduced Zero to this man, a member of the sculpture faculty, Lee Tribe. They shook hands and Lee offered Zero one of his bottles of beer saying as he opened the other, "I'm going to drink this one I don't want to walk home with a limp so you had better drink the other." We clinked the dark green glass and drank. I am sure nobody present understood my London dockland humor but the gesture was universal.
During my visits to the school, working with the students, giving tutorials and critiques Zero and I quickly developed a friendship. I
soon came to realize that he was an advanced student with real talent and conviction.
As a teacher I often find myself going beyond the call of duty. So when Zero and Tracy, another sculpture student came to me saying they had found a lot of great lumber on a demolition site nearby and could take whatever they wanted, I offered my help along with my old Ford pickup truck,as they knew I would.
Zero and I sweated side by side, loading then unloading this fine heavy wood. Toil such as that is a bonding experience, each relying on the other, when one slip could result in injury. Our friendship was establishing deeper roots.
Soon enough our wives met and got along; in short order we were
eating at each others' homes; we cooked-they cooked. If they needed help, I obliged and vice-versa. In due course, I introduced Zero to the Phillipe Staib Gallery NYC and soon we were in a show there: "Steel and Wood" 1992.
In 1993, Zero invited me and my wife Stephanie Franks, who is a
painter, to participate in an exhibition he curated in his hometown of Higashi-Hiroshima called "Art from New York." What a wonderful visit that turned out to be. We met many of his family members and friends and were treated as honored guests, being showered with such generosity as we had never experienced before.
Whenever Zero came to New York City we would meet up, enjoying many a fine meal. If help was needed with his various projects, I would always try to be available. In 1997 I began exhibiting with the "Robert Steele Gallery" NYC. He was a dealer from Adelaide to whom David Serisier had given my name (Thanks David). Soon Zero was showing there too.
In 2004 Zero was curating another show, this time in Tokyo, in which Stephanie and I were included. When we arrived, with our seven year old daughter Lila, it seemed that the whole of Maemi's family was there to greet us.
The show "May Peace Prevail on Earth" was a strong show and a privilege to be in. Zero then hauled us off on a whistle stop tour of
museums and galleries about the country. He had done an amazing job of setting up meetings with Museum directors, curators and artists.
Lila was taking all of this in stride, but must have found all of the dashing about somewhat confusing. Her moment of heaven came when she was dressed in the fabulously beautiful kimonos gifted to her by Maemi's family. Maemi, her lovely sister, Maki, and Rieko, her wonderful and gifted mother fussed over Lila on the night that the show opened. Lila looked and I'm sure felt like a perfect Japanese princess.
The stories go on as does our fraternal inevitability. Through the years affinities in the sculptures we have produced have evolved. Though
made thousands of miles apart these affinities speak of the mutual respect each of us holds for the other.
This Spring at the New York Studio School, David Handley was scheduled to make a presentation on "Sculpture by the Sea.: He would be accompanied by Ron Robertson-Swann (whom I had known of for many years and had met briefly in the past) and Zero Higashida. When they arrived I took them to the small but crowded lecture theatre. David proceeded to deliver an enthusiastic and inspiring lecture with Ron and Zero filling in details.
Several present decided to apply including myself. To my delight things fell into place. I was invited to be a guest artist at Bondi 2011. Thanks to Zero for his support. I came and witnessed what a grand affair "Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi 2011" turned out to be.
On the night of the opening of Sculpture Inside after all of the hullabaloo and rashes of red round dots, Zero Higashida and Lee Tribe, two sculptors, were in their suite at the Bondi Grand (many thanks Bondi Grand!). Both were weary yet restless, seeking the scrolling surf ride to slumber but to no avail. The wee hours came and found an English New Yorker and a Japanese ex-Patchinko player sitting, dressed for sleep, drooping on either side of a small circular table. Soothed by the dim lamp light, warmed by its glow, the two were speaking of financial fears; no sales here! An urgent desire for normalcy, to provide for loved ones, not place this burden on them, this shared painful, familiar dilemma.
Yet as slowly and softly as the hypnotized shadows about them,
their whispered conversation shifts its tiny gears to their mutual passion, it feeding them as they feed off of newly spoken words. Wisdoms of shared but separate paths, (Basho's Trail, "Listen! a frog"); affirmations drunk, poety swallowed, the whiskey flask sought yet sulking unopened. Light seeps around the rectangle of curtains' edges aglow. The two now float on their separate islands and find a few hours, welcome, sleep.
I would like to express my gratitude to ALL concerned with Sculpture by the Sea. The kindness and generosity I received were above and beyond all expectations. David and Ron, Zero too, thank you.