Fire, soot and Sanskrit: Interview with Japanese artist Etsuko Ichikawa

US-based visual artist Etsuko Ichikawa combines soot and Sanskrit in a new series, “Aquagraph”.

We sat down with the emerging Japanese artist Etsuko Ichikawa to find out more about her latest series. What led her to experiment with a new medium? Why has she used Sanskrit in her work? You can find answers to these questions and more in our interview below.

Installation view of the October 2012 to February 2013 solo exhibition by Etsuko Ichikawa, in Seattle Art Museum's TASTE Restaurant. Image courtesy Davidson Gallery.

Installation view of Etsuko Ichikawa's 'zabda (sound)' (left) and ' zunyata (emptiness)' (right) at TASTE, Seattle Art Museum, October 2012. Photo by Lincoln Potter. Image courtesy SAM Gallery and TASTE.

Fire, soot and Sanskrit

Works in Etsuko Ichikawa’s newest series, “Aquagraphs”, are on display at the Seattle Art Museum’s TASTE Restaurant in an exhibition that runs until 10 February 2013. As the artist explains, “I will be showing about ten pieces … including [work from] the “Glass Pyrograph” series and new “Aquagraph” series. [An] aquagraph is a drawing made by water and soot, inspired by Sanskrit language.”

Art Radar met with Ichikawa at her Seattle studio. Read on to learn more about how living abroad has influenced the artist’s work and her fascination with fire, soot and Sanskrit.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'Zabda (Sound)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 11" x 11". Image courtesy Davidson Galleries.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'sabda (sound)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 11" x 11". Private collection. Image courtesy the artist.

Do you feel a connection to Japan and the Japanese art scene? 

Absolutely. I love the country and that’s my home. Also, because I am here in the United States and next year [2013] is going to be my twentieth year [abroad], I recognise my identity as Japanese more than ever because I am outside. I don’t live in Japan and look at my identity from far away. [This] really emphasises who I am and where I am from. In regards to the art scene in Japan, we have limited information here. It’s my country and I would love to learn more about what’s going on. I have friends from art school who still live there, trying to survive as artists. Most of them quit or went to teaching careers, architecture and design. I’d love to learn more about the Japanese art movement, but I don’t really feel any movement or nothing grabs my eye. I get easily distracted by other art movements here and [in] Europe. I am currently interested in China.

Please explain how your experience living in two cultures are ‘defining influences’ in regards to your artwork.

Part of me is becoming non-Japanese and Americanised, or more universal. It’s like a magnet: one side is pulling me out away from Japan and the other is attracting me back to Japan. [I am] basically seeing both ends and then they are melting together in my daily life, as well as what I create. I am defining those influences from the two opposite ends. I know that what I am seeing and what I am feeling are naturally coming into my work.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'Tejomaya (Full of Energy)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 22.5" x 22.5". Image courtesy Davidson Gallery.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'tejomaya (full of energy)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 22.5" x 22.5". Image courtesy the artist and SAM Gallery.

Why did you choose to settle in Seattle?

I was studying glass blowing in Japan. One of my friends had a Pilchuck Glass School catalogue. I looked at the catalogue and that was it. I thought, ‘What kind of place is this?’ [It was] so different from the glass schools I had seen in Japan, [a] totally different way of working. I could feel the energy [coming] from the catalogue. So beautiful; I wanted to go there. That was the interesting connection that brought me to the United States.

The ‘Aquagraph’ series seems like a departure from your ‘Glass Pyrograph’ series. Could you briefly explain what lead you to work with soot and water instead of the glass pyrographs?

I don’t see ‘Aquagraphs’ as a departure but more like a parallel. The series are like brother and sister, shadow and light, water and fire. The glass pyrographs have become a body of my work and I feel very grateful. I see [the] aquagraphs becoming a new series that I will be working on long into the future.

Psychologically, I see ‘Aquagraphs’ as a way to keep balance in my art practice. When I work with the glass pyrographs, I never get bored and it’s never the same. However, it does require that I utilise a glass studio and because of this, it is an intense environment where I strive to be productive. With the aquagraphs, I can be spontaneous in my home studio and freely produce work by hand through a craftsmanship-like process.

Installation view of 2011 exhibition by Etsuko Ichikawa, at Seattle's Davidson Galleries. Image courtesy Davidson Galleries.

Etsuko Ichikawa, installation view of nine-piece "Aquagraph" suite at Davidson Galleries, September 2011. Private collection. Photo by Robert Wade. Image courtesy Davidson Galleries.

Please explain the process of creation for ‘Aquagraphs’.

First, I draw the Sanskrit letters in water with a glass dropper on paper. Basically, at that point, it is an invisible drawing. You see the light reflecting on the water [beads], but nothing [is] there. Usually, I flip the paper over and use a small candle similar to a birthday candle. I aim the flame at the paper and the soot basically makes a drawing on the paper. I use smoke as a drawing tool, similar to how I use hot glass in my glass pyrographs.

What is your interest in Sanskrit and how does it inspire your aquagraphs?

Something really clicked when I [first] looked at Sanskrit. I am just so in love visually with the look of Sanskrit. It’s the old, ancient feeling that I am attracted to.

You have described your work as ‘a continuing investigation of what lies between the ephemeral and the eternal’. Do you consider your aquagraphs ephemeral?

‘Aquagraph’ is between [those two aspects].  Two unexpected materials come together: fire and paper, water and paper. Using water to draw [with] is unexpected, as it is invisible. Fire is ever changing, will never be the same. These two things come together and then materialise. When they meet, they are eternalised and it will stay.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'anitya (ephemeral)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 11" x 11". Image courtesy Davidson Galleries.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'anitya (ephemeral)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 11" x 11". Private collection. Image courtesy the artist.

Do you have any large scale or mixed media installations planned for your ‘Aquagraph’ series?

Yes, I am working towards making a large scroll. I use 300 weight paper, Lanaquarelle French-milled paper. Lanaquarelle means ‘water colour’ in French.

You have used a diverse range of media and techniques in your artwork. Is there any specific media or technique you would like to try in the future? 

I am working on a project with sound and I am really interested in doing more. [It] could be a project, could be just sound itself. Another project I am researching will be in a decommissioned nuclear plant tower in eastern Washington, doing something with sound inside that structure. In addition, I am doing a residency at [Mighty] Tieton, in an old apple storage warehouse, doing a project with sound reverberation and objects.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'avichinna (eternal)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 4" x 22.5". Image courtesy Davidson Galleries.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'avichinna (eternal)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 4" x 22.5". Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'aihahika (ephemeral),' 2012, water and soot on paper, 4" x 27". Image courtesy Davidson Galleries.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'aikahika (ephemeral),' 2012, water and soot on paper, 4" x 27". Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'prajc anitya tu nitya (between ephemeral and eternal)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 4" x 31". Image courtesy of Davidson Galleries.

Etsuko Ichikawa, 'prajc anitya tu nitya (between ephemeral and eternal)', 2012, water and soot on paper, 4" x 31". Collection of the artist. Image courtesy the artist.

About Etsuko Ichikawa

Etsuko Ichikawa was born in Tokyo, Japan. She received her BFA in painting from Tokyo Zokei University in 1987 and attended the Tokyo Glass Institute and Pilchuck Glass School. Today, the artist resides in Seattle.

Ichikawa’s previous series, “Glass Pyrographs“, has shown throughout the United States and in Japan, and the artist has been nominated for Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant and the Freedom to Create Prize, and has received support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Her artwork can be found in select private, public and corporate collections worldwide, including the Henry Art Gallery, Microsoft Art Collection and the Sumitomo Corporation of American.

[Editor’s note: This post was amended after publication in response to comments from the subject.]

LMP/KN

Related Topics: Japanese artists, glass art, interviews, art in the United States

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more on Japanese contemporary art


Comments

Fire, soot and Sanskrit: Interview with Japanese artist Etsuko Ichikawa — 3 Comments

  1. Thank you for your comment, Marsh! The technique is certainly unusual, which is what caught our attention in the first place. We have a writer based in Seattle at the moment, so keep an eye on our site for more on Asian artists working in the city.

  2. I found this well written blog very interesting. Putting the concept of painting with water and fire is unique and it’s results beautiful, full of energy but calming at the same time. An artist to follow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.