|So I really have to get to know each piece of rock because I can’t change the character of the rock… So I’m not going to change the rock; the rock is going to change me. I discovered a mystery.|
When Etsuro Sotoo left his home in Fukuoka, Japan to visit Spain in 1978, he had only meant to learn more about sculpting stone, but seeing Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia caused his jaw to drop and has anchored him there ever since. So fascinated was he that he tried to communicate with the disciples of the principal sculptor, the late great Gaudi, even though he didn’t speak Spanish or Catalan. He showed them some photos of his work, and this led to the wacky misunderstanding of hiring him to finish Gaudi’s work rather than to study under them. Incidentally, the job of trying to finish Gaudi’s vision would become the most all engrossing tutelage that Sotoo could have imagined.
Sotoo was obsessed for years in trying to understand Gaudi, and many nights went sleepless, to which Spanish wine became an aid. But finally, he made a breakthrough: looking at Gaudi was not enough, he had to look where Gaudi looked. That was, of course, at nature, and this revelation proved most fruitful.
Every day the good words of Jesus are spoken. Gaudí had to express this very important work, and he also learned from nature and used nature… But in nature you find fruit and many leaves.…So the fruit is our soul, our heart. And this is why Gaudí wanted all this fruit.
And at the top of everything there’s fresh, ripe, colorful fruit with no leaves because when our body gives up, our soul rises. When a person has heard a lot of good words and has read a lot of good books, his soul is ripe fruit, but up there there are no words; you don’t need any words.
Indeed, it’s not enough to mimic someone by their actions, or to scrutinize the product they leave behind. You must look where they are looking, and it was through searching for the object of Gaudi’s gaze that Sotoo found God, the creator of nature, beauty, and mystery. “I invite everyone who wants to understand Gaudí to not pick the wrong door. If you really want to know him, find the the door of spirit and faith.” 1 It would be only a matter of time before he converted to Roman Catholicism.
Etsuro Sotoo has sculpted hundreds of pieces for the Sagrada Familia, has been a university professor, and is a recipient of the Ars Spiritis Prize of Lladro and the Fukuoka Prize for Culture.
The only way was you’d have to set two boards, and there was 16 meters, which is over 100 feet down; it was nothing. And why did Gaudí hide the love of God in such a difficult place? Because
the love of God, the love of your mother, if you’re near, you can’t see.
Italicized sections were taken from a transcript of Etsuro Sotoo's talk at Fordham University in New York (the year is obscured by a typo). I encourage you to read the entire thing to benefit from this incredibly thoughtful and reflective artist.
More on Etsuro Sotoo:
1 The Scultpor Who Became Catholic (Rome Reports)
Gaudi Calls the Future (Crossroad Cultural Center transcript)