By BRYAN THAO WORRA
AAP staff writer
Patrick S. Hayashi has had a distinguished career in academia and as a community activist.
Hayashi worked closely with UC President Richard Atkinson to develop new admissions policies, including new policies regarding the selection and use of standardized tests in university admissions. He led an effort to expose the National Merit Scholars program as a bogus program that advances a false and discriminatory definition of merit.
It wasn’t until he was 56 years-old that Hayashi took up art.
Hayashi’s family was among those who had been incarcerated at the Tanforan Assembly Center in 1942 before being transferred to Topaz, Utah, where Hayashi was born. Following the end of the war, he grew up in Hayward, California eventually earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees at UC Berkeley.
After serving as coordinator of Asian American Studies from 1971-73, Hayashi was special assistant to Chancellor Michael Heyman from 1986-88 and associate vice chancellor for admissions and enrollment from 1988-1999. In 1999, he was appointed associate president for the UC system. He retired in 2005.
Hayashi continues to involved with many issues and organizations including service on the advisory committee for the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program and supporting the acclaimed Leadership Education for Asian Pacific Americans program. Asian American Press had the opportunity to speak with him about his art and future directions. You can see more of Patrick Hayashi’s art by visiting his website athttp://patrickhayashi.com
Asian American Press: We often talk about how artists got started, but what keeps you going?
Pat Hayashi -The promise of intimacy. Art is a profoundly solitary activity, but I work with friends who are also intensely involved in art. They, in turn, lead me to new friends. Nobody ever completely understands what another person is experiencing. Each of us, however, understands deeply the other person’s struggle, hope, despair and joy. This evolving intimacy keeps me going.
At the same time, this continuous struggle helps me understand myself and others in a deeper, more complex, more immediate way.
Our conversation is an example of what I mean. You and I met just two months ago. Now I know that we are both Capricorns, that we both listen to Tom Waits. We may have a shared interest in chess.
You talked to me about the bombing of Laos and the continuing emotional and social devastation it wreaks. You introduced me to Sayon Syprasoeuth’s drawings, paintings, videos and installations – which are both haunting and beautiful. His work reminds me simultaneously of Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, a comic novel recounting his childhood experiences at Hiroshima.
I read your wonderful quartet of poems: “Snakehead Fish,” “Departures,” Capitol,” and “Preparations for Southeast Asian.” I gathered up the last lines of each poem and, just for fun, I put them together to see if they capture a little of your essence.
Over a bowl of sour soup
The shape of a kind heart
Of the children born with no memories of me
Our parents alone would recognize.
See what I mean. Just by talking with you, my life has become richer by knowing a little more about you and your world. That’s what keeps me going.
AAP – What are some of the themes you’ve enjoyed exploring through your art lately?
PH – Very recently I realized that all my work, taken together, constitutes a kind of visual autobiography – not one that talks about me, but rather one that attempts to capture and convey what I am seeing, hearing, feeling. I am now 67 years old and think a lot about mortality. But, this is too narrow a description of what I am exploring.
The Japanese have a concept “mono no aware” which is best defined as a gentle sense of sadness at the passing nature of all things and all people. The beauty of “mono no aware” is that rather than focus on death, I become intensely engaged with life and rather than look back, I look to the present and future.
And here’s a question for you. Taken together, is your work a poetic autobiography? If you say “No,” I won’t believe you. And you shouldn’t either.
AAP – When do you know a piece is finished?
PH – Usually too late … about three minutes after I’ve wrecked it.
AAP – What’s your artistic process like for you as you start developing a new piece?
PH – Right now I am doing a self-portrait while listening to Tom Wait’s “You’re Innocent When You Dream.” I usually start while listening to music – anything from Rachmaninoff and Puccini to Tom Waits and the Dixie Chicks. Sometimes I have an idea that I want to explore, sometimes I let my hand do the thinking.
I try to trust my intuition and to let my curiosity lead me to wherever it wishes to take me. I am now reading the French impressionist painter Camille Pissarro’s letters to his son Lucien.
Lucien left France to try to make his life in art in London. At the same time, I am reading James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native Son,” in which he reflects on his father’s life and death. Camille and Lucien Pissarro’s relationship and James Baldwin’s relationship with his father could not have been more different.
The Pissarros’ relationship was loving and supportive. The Baldwins’ relationship was fraught with bitterness and anger.
Yet, with both the Pissarros and Baldwins, I get a sense of a father and son trying their hardest to understand each other as each struggles to find his way in a hostile world. This, of course, makes me think of my own father – thoughts that are painful and unsettling and that make me want to paint.
AAP — What was an intersection of your personal, professional, activist and artistic life that’s stood out to you lately?
PH — Finally, Bryan asks an easy question.
The LEAP program brought personal, professional, political and artistic commitments together. I remember asking Carole Hayashino, the current president of APAHE, what she hopes to do when she retires. She said that she wanted to get back into theater.
I said that she shouldn’t wait, that she should get involved in theater now while she’s still working. (We, retired folks, are good at giving unsolicited advice.) I spoke to Ketmani who described the story-telling tradition in the Lao community and we discussed how story-telling is such a powerful tool for understanding our communities, our families and ourselves.
Lately I’ve been working with a journalist who is writing a story on how the National Merit Scholars program advances a fraudulent and biased definition of merit. This is an issue that I’ve worked on for over a decade.
I remember while working on it. I felt completely isolated and alone and that even my friends thought I was trying to fight a fight I could not win.
They wondered why I was making such a big deal about it. Right in the midst of all this, I did a small etching of me on a soapbox, railing at a crowd of people who wondered what I was talking about and why I was so angry.
A few years ago, a few others and I finally succeeded in getting all University of California campuses to drop out of the program. When UC dropped out, it said explicitly that it was doing so because, after careful analysis, it concluded that the program advanced an indefensible definition of merit. That felt good.
AAP – How important is risk for Asian American artists?
PH – I recently listened to an interview with Phillip Levine who was just named this country’s next poet laureate. His experiences as an auto worker provided the raw material for his early poetry.
On my 26th birthday, I met my present wife. And how many women could stay with a guy who has no prospects and wants to write poetry and stay with him now 55 years?
Sometimes, she worked, so that I could sit home and scribble. And she honors what I’m doing. And I think that is the most crucial thing, to be honored, as a poet — not by a nation, because a nation is an abstraction — but just to be honored by this person, or that person, or especially by your wife, or your brothers, or your mother, father. I mean, it’s just fantastic. It keeps you going in a way that nothing else could keep you going.
This is what I think is important for all of us. We need to create places where we can take risks, fail, take more risks and fail again, but despite our failures respect each other nevertheless. This is why friends, family and community are so important.
We met at LEAP – the leadership program for Asian Pacific Americans. At that program, you and I along with everyone else felt immediately comfortable with each other for a simple and profound reason — we understood each other’s journeys, each other’s struggle and effort.
That’s what is important, not just for Asian American artists, but for everyone. We must honor each other’s struggle to make life a little more meaningful, a little fairer, a little better for ourselves and others.
AAP — What’s your next project you’d like to take on?
PH — For reasons that I don’t understand, I have been deeply interested in Hiroshima. Ground zero at Hiroshima was a Catholic orphanage. Whenever I try to paint the bombing of Hiroshima, I listen to Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels).
I am not a Christian, but when I paint, I suspend disbelief, and see the little children at the orphanage being instantly vaporized, being lifted by the hot wind, merging with the body of Christ and becoming the bread of angels. When I paint, I sing Panis Angelicus.
And James Baldwin is making me want to take a closer look at my father’s life and to try to experience his life from the inside out. This is what art make possible.