What does it mean to be born and raised in Hokkaido and to live here? A simple answer linked to monozukuri, the art of making things.
Many sketches Yuki Nishiyama drew in the nature of Hokkaido. Reflected in transparent glass, they attract us with their overflowing vitality.
Today, Yuki’s glass works are widely popular both in Japan and abroad. Where do her style’s roots lie? Why does she depict the nature of Hokkaido? We asked her about her approach to monozukuri, or the art of making things.
Interview by Kyoko Tsutsumi (HULS)
Yuki Nishiyama Glass Artist
Glass artist based in Hokkaido, Japan. Influenced by her father, a glass artist, Yuki Nishiyama studied glass art in Toyama, Japan, under Yoshihiko Takahashi. Her works are characterized by their depiction of the richness of nature and delicate expression of its vitality. She performs the entire process from glassblowing, cutting, and painting, creating a world of depth in which her painting and glass become one.PROFILE
How did you get started as a glass artist?
My father was a glassblowing artist, so I grew up in an environment where glass was around me from a young age. I was really a child who loved making things and drawing pictures. I first encountered traditional Japanese painting in the art club of my high school, and I enjoyed it so much that I became obsessed with it. I skipped classes and stayed in the club room all the time to paint. I think the foundation for my love of painting was laid during my three years of high school.
There was an exhibition of contemporary Japanese glass at the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art. There were colorful works of art and large monuments that did not look like glass, and I was struck by the possibilities of glass, which until then I had only seen as a material for containers. I had always been interested in glass, but from there my desire to work with glass became much clearer. I then went on to a crafts school in Akita, where I worked with a variety of other materials, but glass was the one I felt most comfortable with.
Are there any experiences abroad that have left a lasting impression on you?
When I was in my mid-20s, working as a staff member at Toyama Glass Studio, I was given the opportunity to go on a study trip to Scandinavia for about a week. I loved Scandinavian design at the time and was able to see the Scandinavian glass studios and stores that I had longed to visit, and I thought that the atmosphere in Scandinavia was similar to that of Hokkaido. The moment I landed at the airport there for the first time, I thought it was Chitose Airport (laughs). What I had been longing for had become my hometown all over again. It was a very shocking experience.
About a year later, I had the great opportunity to stay there for about a month as an assistant to Monica L. Edmondson, a glass artist based in Lapland, Sweden. While staying with her and helping her with her work, she told me, “My identity is that I am of Sami descent. For me, it means a lot to make art pieces here, in this place”. The art pieces she creates are expressions in the colors used in the traditional costumes of the Sami, the indigenous people of Lapland. Her words made me think about my own identity for the first time. While half of me was disappointed to realize that “What I longed for had always been in the place where I was born and raised,” the other half wondered, “What does that mean?”
This is an event that seems to be a major turning point.
That was the biggest realization I had during my one-month stay at Monica’s. When I was working at Toyama Glass Studio, there was a time when I really thought about what the purpose of making things is. At the studio, materials that cannot be recycled become industrial waste. Plaster used for molds becomes a mountain of garbage. I practice hard to master the techniques, but the more I do, the more garbage I produce. There were times when my hands would stop because I wondered if I should keep on making more, or if I was spending money to make garbage. But after meeting someone like Monica who has a clear meaning behind what she makes, I realized that unless I first find a pillar or a foundation within myself, I will be swayed by little things in the future. Why do I make things? Why am I here now? I need to think about this until it becomes clear to me, and then I will be able to engage in the process of making things.
Your current works are popular for their spontaneous blown glass and delicate painted expressions depicting nature as full of vitality. How did you come up with this style?
When I was 20 years old and a student at the Toyama Institute of Glass Art, I attended a workshop at the Pilchuck Glass School in the United States, where I learned how to carve detailed drawings on paper directly into glass. At that time, I remember how excited and thrilled I was to see the fusion of my old favorite art of drawing with blown glass. For my graduation project, I also created a glass piece with a painting on it. But at some point, the idea of painting on glass had disappeared, and I had forgotten how much fun it was and was struggling with it. I thought I had learned many things in Scandinavia, but I lost track. It was a dark period for me (laughs). I was depressed like never before in my life; I thought a lot, and tried many things, but nothing worked out. This period lasted for a long time, and when I went to galleries to sell my work, I was rejected at every turn.
At that time, people around me encouraged me to take my work to the gallery “SAVOIR VIVRE” in Roppongi, Tokyo, which I had dreamed of visiting. As I expected, I was told that my work was “not good at all,” but the owner still carefully looked at all the pictures I had made as a student and my portfolio. She said, “You used to do interesting things, didn’t you? Did you stop painting? Why don’t you paint again?”
Then I was told, “Don’t worry about sales, just think about what you enjoy making,” and the following year she invited me to do a solo exhibition. She looked at my work when I was a student and said, “You must have enjoyed it back then, didn’t you?” Indeed, I did; at that time, I was creating only with the desire to have fun and create. I had forgotten how fun it was. Then, after much trial and error and with some advice, I finally got the OK about two months before the exhibition. That was the prototype for my current style, which combines sandblasting and painting with a brush. In Japanese painting, a thin, fine-point brush called a menso-fude is used, and the moment I picked up the brush again and started to paint, I had the feeling that it was a perfect fit. For so long I had forgotten how to paint with a brush, but now I remembered, “Yes, I can paint on glass with a brush.”
Is there anything that is important to you in your current artistic endeavors?
I was born and raised in the countryside and at the time thought that there was hardly anything there, but when I looked back, I realized that there were plenty of motifs. Then, I started taking a walk every day to look carefully at the things around me. As my awareness changed, the scenery I had been seeing became a lot more colorful. And then I got so excited and thought, “I want to enjoy life in Hokkaido even more, if I don’t, it’s a waste to live in such an amazing environment full of nature!” Swimming in lakes, climbing mountains, snowboarding, and so on, I started to see a different view from the one I had before. I encountered new plants and saw creatures that live only there. I felt that this was connected to the meaning of my being born and raised in Hokkaido and being here now. Making things is linked to the way I live. Everything about what I enjoy, being born and living in Hokkaido, and creating things are beginning to click into place. I am truly grateful, and the number of my customers has increased along with that. I am finally starting to realize that I just need to enjoy myself more and that things are really quite simple.
What are your future plans?
Right now, I’m on the verge of growing wings (laughs). I have a feeling that I will be able to fly in a little while. I’m feeling very happy myself right now through everything in my life, including creating, eating, and outdoor activities, so it’s a matter of how to put that into glass. There are many things I want to make and many things I want to paint, but if my heart is not moved, I will never be able to move the hearts of my customers. The moment I paint on glass and open the kiln – the first moment I see the finished work – there are times when my heart is moved. I think, “This one came out really good, it’s wonderful!” I would like to increase the number of times that happens. I believe that the more I enjoy creating, the more I can make the viewers enjoy my work.
Photo by Rumiko Ito (Portrait & Works), Kenzo Kosuge (Studio)
■ General Information of Yuki Nishiyama Solo Exhibition
Dates: November 19 – 27, 2022
Venue: SAVOIR VIVRE (3F, AXIS Building, 5-17-1, Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo)
* Dates are subject to change without notice. Please check directly with the gallery for the latest information.