Allen Wilson The Introspective Artisan of Hawaii

Allen Wilson

Are comics a valid representation of Art? This has been argued throughout the decades of the last century. I had a chance to discuss this very question and more with who I like to dub “Hawaii’s Socratic Artisan,” Allen Wilson.

Tell me about your art style and how long you have been doing it?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had some form of art or at least exuberant expression in my life. My parents are from the “Baby Boomer” generation and I take pride in the fact that (unlike other generations) most of what they passed down from their pop culture was inspirational, soulful and ground breaking for its time. Between my early exposure to The Beatles, classic rock, soul music, blues and amazing animations like heavy metal, and fire and ice, and my “comic books galore”, I had a multitude of sources for my foray into expressing myself.

All these influences are responsible for my love of art that doesn’t need to cater to a society to be beautiful. The art I enjoy the most comes from a place of counter culture and thought provocation, but also doesn’t shy away from what’s fantastic and “cool” for the sake being “artsy.” These are the underlining inspirations that push my hand in times of creation. As I developed my talent and ability to perceive and translate my expressions, I find it’s like a “snowball effect.” The search for beauty keeps me almost enamored with wonder, my mind soaks it up like a sponge, and sometimes it overflows on to paper, on a screen, or in a sculpture.


What are your feelings regarding the local Hawaii art scene? How does it differ from other states/countries?

I’m Oahu grown, so I’ve had the blessing of living in Hawaii my whole life. Growing up in such a vivid environment, you can’t help but have an appreciation for art. Likewise, the people I tend to meet are in touch with their inner artist; I might be biased, but I think Hawaii produces some of the finest artists. Creativity is deeply entrenched in the culture of my home state.

As for other places I can only speculate, yet I keep my ears and eyes open. I hear Austin, Texas is the live music capitol of the world. I’ve been to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA. The beautiful thing about art is it transcends boarders.

Sail Boat

Who are some of your influencing artists? Have these heroes changed through the years? If so, how?

My Mother has artistic talent. I always had outlets as a child; like Light Brite, and Echaskech, Mini chalk boards, Legos and video games. I’ve had my share of “one for the fridge moments”. I would say the first style that had an influence on my art was Anime. Dragon Ball-Z…I got good enough to sell my drawings to the other kids at school. I remember the first time I felt like I had made one of the characters appear on the page in front of me. Krillin, a round head with no nose, and six dots up his forehead. From then on I was hooked.

I went on to discover comic books and the list of influences goes on and on.Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr, Lanky Frank Miller, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee. and Leinil Francis Yu , Steve Dillon, Joe Quesada, Lee Bermejo, all fantastic and master craftsmen. On the finer side of art there are Frank Frezetta and Alex Ross. If you look any of those men up you won’t be disappointed.

Swamp Thing-2

What where some of the obstacles you faced with your craft? How did you overcome them?

When I was beginning to get the hang of comic book drawings, I would bring them in to my high school art teacher and get a critique. He would tell me to stop taking short cuts. I had learned all the techniques for making art expedient for mass consumption. He made me slow down and comprehend what I was drawing. Realize that it was about process, not end product, and if I build foundations and worked on my elements I would be fine. Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.


I am interested to hear your views on modern art style verses classical methods. Especially with digital verses
non. What are you opinions on this war? Or is it a war? Can modern /classical styles co-exist?

Another amazing thing about art is it gives a sort of emotional history that co exists with human history; bringing another perspective on how the social climate effects change. The art of the past is responsible for the modern and helps create a swirling effect that has the past influencing the future by association. Hence the battle between Retro and Neo, once one gets popular, the other rolls in to create change and progress is made; avoiding stagnation. For some strange reason an artist who uses the mediums or techniques of his day is considered less of an artist, and this is how the future effects the past. That’s how you get to be “before your time” like Jimi Hendrix, Vangoth, and Alan Moore.

To shift gears. Andy Warhol has once said “An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have”. I personally favor art as a function over form. Not just art for art’s sake. What is your opinion on this? Can art even exist without having a function? The subtlest Avant-garde piece could change someone’s mindset forever.

Nothing is more necessary than the superfluous. Andy had that “Mr. Glass” thing going on, so he’s kind of a Droopy Dog, but I see his point. That quote comes from a place all artist share. The uncertainty of translating something from your mind’s eye can be nerve wracking, and process is such a personal thing. Some artists are like raging conduits of creation, no stop, just constant flow. Some artists have to plan carefully and nothing is misplaced. I, for one have trouble working in front of people, I feel like a magician and someone is in my workshop, watching me craft my tricks, cheapening them somehow.

If you look up the first examples of art in human history you’ll find that the oldest forms we know of are pre-historic hand axes. The cavemen would carve a tool out of shale rock, a tool for cutting, chopping and pounding, and then he would make it an exquisite example of the tool, showing his keen ability for craftsmanship, and attention for detail. These master craftsmen tools where never used for labor, and some still survive till this day. It would seems that form, function and art all share a common genesis.

Silver Surfer

I understand your read a great deal of comics. What current artists /comics would you recommend?

Current runs? No, but graphic novels are always quality. Anything by Alan Moore, Jeph Loeb, J. Michael Straczynski , Garth Ennis or Frank Miller is good stuff.

Where do you think comics will be in the next 10 years?

Well, my beloved medium is in the hands of Disney, and Warner Bros. so I’m guessing a lot more movies? The culture will be affected. People will start to dress like superheroes. The age of the superman will begin, Dr Manhattan will unknowingly help Adrian Veidt summon foth dimensional, psychic cephalopods, faining an alien invasion, and tricking the world in to unadulterated peace, while I read about pirates and horror monsters, because superheroes are overplayed. Yeah, it’s gonna get crazy.

Disney Botox

I find that having an actual comic in my hands seems to be a satisfactory tactile experience. Rather than reading the same comic on a computer screen or digital tablet. What are your opinions on Digital comics vers paper comics? Pros/cons?

If I have a book in my hand that I’m interested in, I tend to read it stem to stern. As if I might have missed something, but when I have a digital copy, I tend to skim. I’m not sure why. It might be habit or the fact that if I zoom in on a computer I get pixilation at some point, but I can put the comic up to my eye and see the stroke of the artists’ hand. Digital has always had the problem of carrying the same emotions and memories as its older counterparts.

Finally, do you feel formal training is needed for an artist to make a living at his trade?

Simply put…no. If you have a yearning in your soul to create something for the pure joy of seeing it exist, sharing it with others, and bringing creativity to the world, than you are an artist. Trust me, it’s gonna get out somehow.
How can you be contacted for commissioned work or mentor ship? I have a Facebook page under Allen Wilson, or you can e-mail me at my email


The Enlightened Potter. An Oahu’s Potter’s Quest For Perfection.

I was surprised when I googled the entry “passionate/enthusiastic Potter” and my results did not bear the name Larak Briscoe, because you will never meet a more fervent potter in our day.
I was fortunate to interview this master craftsmen and discus his artistry and how he channels the ancestral wisdom for his life long vocation.

Raki Brisco Master Raku Artist

Could you tell me about your craft what it’s called and a description on what it is?

I started doing pottery almost 20 years ago, when I was a sophomore in High School. What I do now is almost exclusively wheel thrown ceramics, fired in Raku. For sake of simplicity you could say I am a Raku Potter.
Raku, if you’ve never heard of it, is an ancient ceramic firing technique developed in the 16th Century in Japan by tea masters where the pots are fired very quickly up to an eyeball-guestimate of 1800 degrees F, then using some long heavy duty tongs, taken out of the kiln while still glowing red hot. There are many derivatives of what happens next, and timing is key. Depending on what glaze is used, some pots are thrown directly to cool in water (as with traditional Raku), some “luster” glazes are thrown in a combustion chamber with heaps of newspaper or sawdust, then “flashed” with oxygen to bring about colorful almost metallic affects. Others are left “naked” where the clay body itself is exposed after scraping off a thin layer of slip, revealing intricate partly purposeful designs in stark white and black.

Raku Pottery Cage, Larak Briscoe

What motivates you to continue your craft and what enjoyment do you receive?

I get enjoyment out of all of it; the ups and the downs. By nature, Raku has a very high breakage ratio, for instance. And consistent results are almost impossible to achieve.Though these aspects might not be very motivating, as an artists on this lifelong journey, it makes me appreciate the challenge of my craft, and celebrate that much more, in the times I am successful.

I am motivated most of all, by just knowing I am creating something beautiful that is one of a kind. Something that I put heart and soul into and created start to finish… and if I’m fortunate enough that another person appreciates it, buys it, even cherishes it, then that’s a bonus.


Where did the name Raki Raku Pottery originate?

The Raki Raku Pottery name, well it just worked out that way. My given name is Larak , but I go by Raki. At some point after stumbling onto Raku, I decided to register my company as Raki Raku Pottery.

Larak Briscoe in his studio

Could you explain the Raku Philosophy of Imperfection and how that could apply outside of pottery?

Back in the day, starting around 400 years ago, when the tea ceremony vessels were made in Raku, the desired aesthetic was established to be “imperfect,” or asymmetrical. I’ve read over and over how these lopsided pots are masterfully crafted, but to be honest, part of me will never get it. For me the craft reaches beyond just the pot. It’s the entire endeavor of being an artist. I like my pots iconic, shiny, and completely symmetrical. They are to celebrate life and the elements that bring us through it.

The philosophy of Imperfection, however, I fully embrace. The basic idea as I understand it is: art is created to make you contemplate life. In a piece of pottery, you might see an impression, and then recognize it as the Potter’s hand leaving its mark on the clay. Outside of pottery, I suppose life itself is full of awkward impressions, dings, scrapes, and general unevenness. One must be able to accept how things are and enjoy being in itself. Nothing is perfect.


Is there a large difference between traditional and western Raku?

Traditional Raku was created for a ceremonious drinking of tea. The Raku was intently simple, made for holding comfortably and perhaps not to draw attention to the vessels, so one could focus. Browns and blacks, earthy tones were used. Remember, we’re talking about ancient Japan, so that means living their austere life with a sense of duty, discipline, harmony, and above all, enlightenment.
Western Raku, is not confined by rules of austerity and functionality imposed on aesthetics by the traditional Raku tea ceremony.
There are a couple individuals that are accredited with completely reinventing Raku. Bernard Leach, from England, and Paul Soldner from the U.S.
They experimented with the craft and developed a completely new addition to the firing process and the post firing reduction. The entire flashing process was literally invented by these guys! Basically, instead of taking the glowing red hot pots out of the kiln and cooling them by air and water, the pottery was instead quickly thrust into a combustion chamber, and then allowed to oxidize (flash). It is this process alone that causes the metallic luster’s that Raku is often known for.
To me, these guys are the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of Pottery. Their work, and their willingness to share their methodology, resulted in what I associate to be Western Raku, or American Raku.


Where do you see Raku in 5 years 10+ years?

I would like to see more educational programs on the high school and university level carry raku pottery programs. Also, I would like to see the technique well documented in high production value multi-media on the web with potters active in a community sharing their discoveries.

I would, of course, love to see the craft go through another epic transformation, such as what Soldner and Leach have done. I don’t know that would be… perhaps some movement that included a blockbuster movie, a sold out benefit concert, or a mega dj. I don’t know. The sky is the limit for my expectations of this artform.

If I had my dithers. I’m holding out for Raku Pots transmuting into Hogwarts port keys!


Are there any Potters that have influence your through the years or mentors to name?

Somewhere along the line back in high school ceramics class, Senior year, I read a book about a famous potter named Thomas Coleman. The author was a good friend of my father’s and he has since passed. He wrote it from a journalist’s perspective, capturing the endeavor of a talented unknown on the brink of stardom. The book is titled, “The Mudpie Dilemma”. And it delves into the core nature of artists, “Should one make what sells, or make what satisfies his/her own muse of creativity”. At the time the book was written (1977, the year I was born), Coleman was a no-name. Since reading that book I have always followed Coleman’s career, which took off thereafter.

I have learned a lot throughout the years from artists that i have shared studios with or gotten to see work in person. Locally I work from time to time with some artists that continually help reset my bearings and decide what direction to go with my art. When I’m not working in my studio at home, I share a studio with a wildly talented group of potters on the west side at Leeward Community College. The instructor there, Russell Wee, is a phenomenal Raku artist. His pieces go for thousands of dollars and yet he is one of the most humble persons I know. Another close friend and mentor that I consider to be a master, is Ramon Camarillo. His throwing abilities are unparalleled. He can make a 2 foot vase the size of a Samoan toddler with just 8 pounds of clay. It’s amazing to watch him work. What I love about the dynamic I share with the great potters I know, is we all make exceedingly different pieces. Though I admire their work very much, I wouldn’t dare try to recreate what they are working on, and it goes without saying, I don’t see anyone else trying to do what I do. That is the nature of the craft. Potters are a rare breed. Even still, no two potters do anything exactly the same. The end results always end up completely different.

How is the Hawaii Pottery Scene?

It’s great. There are so many talented potters here.

Once a year we all rally together for a Raku festival in the North Shore. There are typically 50-100 Raku artists that participate in a three-day camp out that doubles up as a juried show. By the end of the three days all the artists lay their works from the weekend out on the beach. A guest artist then plays juror and selects his or her favorites out of the collection. That collection goes on display in Mark’s Garage Art Gallery in Chinatown for the summer months. Friends and family attend and we even get some foot traffic. It’s an awesome event that most of us Raku Potters look forward to each year.

Here in Hawaii, I don’t know any professional artists that make a living solely on the art they create. Certainly not potters! You have to teach, or open up shop, or by some factor, sell out to an industry. I think it has to do with Hawaii’s economy being largely funded by tourism, and in general, not having enough affluence and population. How many retail items do you see with a turtle or dolphin emblazoned on it, and people go gaga over it. To me that’s a desecration of the soul. And yet, my daily puzzle is how to compete with that! I don’t know how many times I’ve shared pictures of my pottery to people and they say excitedly, “you should go swap meet”!

Any advice to anyone who would like to do some research on Raku and or learn Raku Pottery?

Best resources = Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, Amazon, Public Library or local listings for Raku pottery classes.

As mentioned earlier, I highly recommend “The Mud-Pie Dilemma” by John Nance
I am also available as a resource. I have been known to demo re-firings on at least a few occasions!


Where can you be contacted for further questions or commissioned work?

Send me an email at rakiraku@gmail.com or contact me on Facebook. I love doing commissioned orders and have a lifetime re-firing policy if you are local to Hawaii.