Monday, November 12, 2012


The nature of artistic endeavor is that of ceremony itself; an artist gathers not only the materials with which to create, but the inherent spiritual actions that will allow the work to come to fruition. These may encompass such things as using a "lucky" brush; playing particular music while stretching a canvas; beginning a work of sculpture by first reading a series of poems -- the vessels of ceremony which set the stage for an artist's first gesture are infinitely various, yet filled with the seeds of the important beginning. From these come the art itself. And so, these ceremonies become an ardent midwife to visual ideas. All of our ceremonies do the same essential thing: gather us toward community. And it is in this communal spirit that the work of MIYA ANDO resides. A child of two cultures, in her art she encompasses both the duality of her heritage and the extraordinarily rich components of each: a Japanese reverence of simplicity and spirit, and an adamantly American vigor of transmutation and renewal. Her materials and inspirations are elemental: air, water, earth; her processes are spiritual: intention, focus, and clarity. 

The result is an art of ceremony, and its ephemeral and transient core. Working with metals and the intricately mysterious surfaces which occur when their surfaces are transfigured -- chemically or physically -- Ando produces pristine and mesmerizing works of color, light, and texture. With seemingly infinite variation within a precisely chosen and defined geometric arena, her squares, rectangles, and boxes inhabit a realm of beauty that is a mirror of the tangible world: horizons, waterscapes, illumined landscapes, skies all impel the viewer to linger. Their disarming simplicity is garnered over long effort, and astute focus on materials, composition, idea, and presentation. Using photography as well as paints and chemicals, Ando's mark is that of the eye as mirror. She understands that visual images have two lives: one when they are created, and again when they are observed. She offers the viewer a magnanimous choice of creations. 

And it is not only on the one-dimensional plane that these come to fruition. Ando's public works, such as the Obon water series, a public project in Puerto Rico, or the Reichstag project in Germany (see videos on the artist's website) reveal Ando's capacity to capture the essence of the transitory, and the ardor of memory revealed through the very ceremonies which are the heart of much of her work. Whether a scintillant reinterpretation in metal of a traditional kimono, or the time-stopping quality of light and movement in a daguerreotype process, these works evoke both memory and spirit. They have a resonance akin to the fragile beauty of a bell's echo, and the strength and resilience of metals forged through infinite process and reconfiguration. Her colors never mimic nature, but they are always the basis for what is found there. Taking her cues from both of her cultures, Ando has the best of both worlds. Each of these works have the touch of her hand; and all of them the ceremonies of her heart.

You have two cultures in your heritage, Japanese and American. Can you discuss how each have affected how you first came to art, and how they continue to invest your work?

I think being raised  between the East and West has influenced me significantly as an artist. I'm seeking harmony in my works and  tranquility,  I am looking for interconnectivity with my works and I have a tendency to work with balancing disparate things: permanent and impermanent, hard and soft.  I believe part of the reason for this seeking is associated with growing up in two cultures and with two language and being of mixed race.

Who were some of your first inspirations as you developed as an artist?

I looked up to and very much loved my grandparents in Japan. My grandfather was the head priest of our Buddhist temple and so he was a spiritual figure to me, but also someone who loved me and I felt very nurtured and loved by my family in Japan. I have always wanted to be like my grandparents, so compassionate and ethically pure with so much Omoiyari  (caring for others)

Your work comprises a broad range of expression within a disarmingly finite scope of materials -- metals primarily, yet also photography, writing, sculpture and public works. How do you incorporate this post-minimalist approach to each of these forms of expression?

I use a limited vocabulary and similar concept in each of my projects, regardless of material or context. Commonality is light (for example, I use light in the form of reflectivity in my metal pieces and phosphorescence as a light source). My interest is in materials that are in a constant state of flux; materials that change as the light changes, for example.  My works on paper involve graphite and tiny prayers burnished directly onto the graphite - they are only visible from certain angles, for example - the graphite reflects light in a soft and mysterious manner and the text is subtle, almost invisible.

What is it about minimalist art, and its artists that you have admired, that have guided your ideas?

I'm very interested in Zen thought as a precursor to the American school of minimalism. I am drawn to the philosophical notion of distilling or refining via subtraction, to arrive at something pure and true. I also very much admire the American school of  minimalism.

Your approach to color is lush, yet almost restrained -- your tones and hues are inspired by dawns, dusks, and evenings, rather than high noons -- please speak more about your ideas on color and its expression in your work.

I spent my first 5 or 6 years working only in grayscale so color is relatively new to me. Color is emotional and more difficult for me to work with - that said, I enjoy working with color as memories - I always remember how light looked during certain events in my life. I go back to those memories when I'm making the color works.

Your "daguerreotypes" are fascinating; you have taken an antique and beautiful process and created almost images of the subject (self-portrait, landscape, clouds, skies) essence rather than direct depiction. How did you develop these ideas and this project?

I love the concept of 'Hakanai' (Japanese for 'fleeting or ephemeral')  This idea has been in my works from the beginning and this is especially investigated with the new 'daguerreotypes.' - I thought it would be interesting to continue the expression of this idea in different forms - I hadn't work with figurative or representational works and so I thought this would be a good opportunity. I love the idea of transforming something hard (metal plates) into capturing light and transitory imagery. 

I was very inspired by the Daguerreotype, the first photographic process of embedding imagery onto silver plates - they are so beautiful and almost invisible from certain angles. I hoped to pay homage to this tradition but in contemporary materials and forms.  I always take photos when I'm traveling and for some reason I seem to have a huge number of photographs of fog and water and foggy mountains, of elements. I also photograph light ascending or transcending and now the figures.  In researching daguerreotypes I was so moved by these traveling photographers who would have signs that read 'capture a likeness of your beloved' and so this inspired me to create works which were about traces and memories. I am hoping to create not clear portraits but muted, ghostly or dreamlike images.

In your public project, "Obon", the viewer approaches the works through observation of its transience, by way of what happens simply by accident on the course of the water's surface and how that activates the leaves in particular patterns. Or, in the case of the lanterns, how we might be lead through the landscape.  How did this wonderful project come to be? Can you discuss the evocative title of the work?

Yes, the 'Obon' Puerto Rico project is actually the third in a series of public works I've been creating for the past few years. Obon is a festival in Japan which occurs every August. The belief is that during Obon, one's departed relatives return to the home. On the third day the spirits return to the netherworld or spirit world via small candles in boats floated down rivers. It's such a beautiful tradition and I wanted to create something to pay homage to this idea, but with contemporary forms and materials so I chose to use phosphorescence, a renewable and ecologically friendly source of light. Phosphorescence has fascinated me for some years. In 2007 I was making paintings on steel with phosphorescence - in the day time they looked grey and at night they appeared blue. I love the idea of using a renewable and unexpected light source which will absorb and emit light forever. Also intriguing to me is that the phosphorescence charges according to how much light may be in a space and so this project is constantly changing and adjusting - assimilating to it's site and space.

For me, your works evoke the natural landscape and its sensibilities: air, light, color, texture, and energy. Yet your works are also spiritual in relation to how you express these qualities. Why is that such a strong impetus for you?

I've always been very spiritually inclined...  My family tells me that I was very devout even as a tiny tiny child. Some of my first sound memories were of my grandfather chanting Buddhist sutras early in the morning and hearing temple bells. Coupled with living in the middle of a redwood forest in California has highly influenced me.  My interest as an adult has been to investigate more universal, non-denominational spiritual expression and I have become very interested in interconnectivity and in finding bridges and vocabulary which connects us.

Geometry is a significant stimulus for you -- the grids, boxes, squares, rectangles, circles provide a third dimension on your one-dimensional surfaces. Is this a version of art-loving mathematics?

I am very interested in the geometry of nature, actually and so mostly my compositions are an investigation into this.  Also I grew up in Japan and was surrounded by variations on a grid: shoji screens, tatami.

The surfaces of your work have a startling range of pictorial possibilities: you work with some very difficult materials and processes -- fire, fumes, toxic fluids -- yet you bring an alchemical result to the final pieces. Can you describe some of these techniques?

I am interested in transformation and mostly I have been focused on metallurgical alchemical transformations. These techniques involve heat and fire and chemicals and acids and I do enjoy coming up with unique and pioneering methods of executing my visions.  Mostly I work with finishing techniques but also anodizing and dyeing, I layer and combine and invent new techniques all the time, I'm Very curious and adventurous when I'm working.

There is a quality of participation in the ceremony of making your art -- a kind of sacredness to its processes -- and you've stated that ceremony can be accorded to even the simplest, most utilitarian of tasks and objects. How did you come to this understanding?

 I have a respect for the materials that I use and for the practice of art. I try to approach my studio practice with focus and concentration and with the correct intention. My belief is that objects retain energy and a memory of the creator and so I am cognizant of this as I work. My family in Japan made swords before they became Buddhist priests and so I feel a responsibility in representing my family. 

Watching "The Return of Gratitude of a Crane", I am struck by how movement becomes a pulse of the landscape in this work. Can you discuss this piece?

Yes, this video piece was a re-telling of a traditional Japanese fairy tale that I grew up with. The story is really lovely and complex and contains so many levels of intrigue. I wanted to tell the story in Japanese and English and thought that an interesting image would be to simply drop pieces of silver leaf in front of one of my steel paintings.  The idea of metal (silver leaf) being so fragile and ethereal was intriguing for me.

How did the "Reichstag" project come about? What was its inspiration?

Sakura Reichstag was a fleeting project, lasting only moments. I painted a field of cherry blossoms outside on top of the snow in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin. Being of mixed heritage, it was my way of expressing the sadness I felt while I was in front of this significant building; significant for both of my two cultures. My family in Japan live not far from Hiroshima and were effected by the atomic bomb and the war. My American family has both US military and also holocaust survivors.

Your work has been international in scope, as far as where you have exhibited. Are there particular countries where you feel most energized in creating work?

I feel tremendous gratitude each time I am able to exhibit or create works outside of my current home of New York.  I have found that there is a particular happiness for me to showing works in Asia, however because there is an understanding and context which makes for ease in understanding.

Writing -- prayers, sequences, letters -- are a component of some of the metal pieces, and the graphite work. They become illumined on the surface; tiny roads of thought and line. Are there more pieces in which you wish to/plan to incorporate the written word?

I've been doing prayer pieces since the beginning of my practice. In fact in 2003 my very first sculpture was a welded steel piece with free-hand torch cut Buddhist prayers all over it. I grew up praying and writing Buddhist prayers has been a tradition that I've always been interested in and I see this as something that I'll always do.  I have recently been studying the history of the copying of prayers onto various materials, a practice that is particularly beautiful in places like India.

What are you developing at present, and what projects do you have for the future?

Currently I'm looking at surface transformations in the form of rusting things in gradients - I am very interested in the fragility of rust and the metaphor of the transitory nature of all of life with this vocabulary.  I'm also working now with  candy coated automotive finishes with my work - these are a counterbalance for each other and something I've been developing now for years. My main focus at the moment is to prepare for a solo exhibition at Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York, which is scheduled for June of 2013; I am also working on two new public commissions.

All images copyright MIYA ANDO, 2012. Used with kind permission of the artist. Images, top to bottom:  "Ascension Red"; "Kimono"; "Zendo"; "Woods and Lake"; "Leaves on Water," from the 'Obon' series; "Fudo"; "Big Sur"; View of gallery installation; "Ora Kumo". 

For more images, and information regarding MIYA ANDO's work, visit her website at: