A Japanese Sculptor and Convert, Inspired by Work of Gaudí

Etsuro Sotoo on the Catalan "Architect of God"

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BARCELONA, Spain, JAN. 9, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The art of a church or cathedral can lead to an individual's conversion.



This is certainly the case of Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, who converted to Catholicism when he saw the still-unfinished Holy Family Cathedral of Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí (1852-1926), regarded as one of the most important architects of his time.

For Sotoo, who was baptized in 1991 in the cathedral, where he works today as a sculptor, "Gaudí is alive."

The Japanese sculptor took the Christian name Lluc Miguel Ángel Etsuro Sotoo. He now is one of the promoters of the beatification of the "architect of God," as Gaudí is popularly known.

Sotoo was a professor in Japan with a special interest in stone. He traveled to Europe, the continent of stone par excellence, and discovered the Holy Family Cathedral. Although a sculptor by profession, Sotoo describes himself as a "worker," just as Gaudí did.

Q: What impressed you about Gaudí that made you want to know him?

Etsuro Sotoo: First, I was interested in the Holy Family. At that time -- I am talking about a quarter of a century ago -- I had a physical need to touch stones; I would get sick if I couldn't.

With the Holy Family, I discovered that Gaudí is alive. It sounds paradoxical but it is true. He is alive and his strength lies in love. Love is the most important thing in life.

I see Gaudí, I look at his face, which gives me strength and encourages me to look much further. He teaches me ever more things, to improve myself, to trust God.

Before, I had more doubts; now, I note more intensely that he is there. I feel his presence and I am convinced that he is not only an architect but an architect of our life and of our future, who indicates a direction. This intuition is ever more present to me, and sculpture and architecture are less important. Gaudí is determined to go to a place and he shows it to us.

To stop at Gaudí's architecture and not see the meaning of his work would mean not to know him. The Holy Family itself is like a great encyclopedia in which there are topics that have answers, but Gaudí is much more than this.

It would worry me if the Holy Family acquired a purely economic dimension or impetus for fame: What is important is to seek truth and not to be afraid. There is no art, culture, or even material without love.

When we look upon the living building of the Holy Family we must not forget that it is only a sign that refers us to that which is highest. All the important things that happen to us humans are related to love.

Q: Why are the Japanese so interested in Gaudí?

Sotoo: Already earlier Gaudí had taken an interest in the East. Gaudí's own Eastern spirit reflected admiration for nature and, above all, an enormous respect for it. In this connection, nature and Orientalism coincide.

Now it happens that the Japanese are rediscovering these traces in this Art Nouveau. It is a new art for them; they have never known anything like it. Gaudí, however, is neither modernist nor art nouveau; he cannot be classified, he has his own style.

Q: There is much discussion of his personality. Gaudí is accused of having a bad temper.

Sotoo: It is good that there is debate, this means that they don't know him and this is why they talk. Clearly we are not equal to Gaudí. I myself feel mediocre, but I am at peace because I know I can work with him.

Deep down, we must accept that we are all disabled in a certain sense. We are not perfect. Gaudí had many virtues, but I will not deny that he had a bad temper, and he did not succeed in overcoming it.

Q: Will Gaudí be canonized a saint?

Sotoo: The answer is only in God's hands. What is important is to act, and through our action there will be people who will learn about his person and his love, what Gaudí's spirit is. Love is key in reading Gaudí.

It is this love that I also felt when they baptized me in the crypt of the Holy Family. I was surprised by the support and affection of the people who wished to accompany me. They filled me with gifts, as the Child Jesus has these days, and I felt that love which gives freedom. Gaudí is pure wisdom: It is necessary to know him but without forgetting that we must love. Without love we will never understand him.