[Originally posted September 6th, 2014]
Q&A: Artist Miya Ando on Connecting to the Natural World Through Her Art
By Alex Greenberger
Emerging New York-based artist Miya Ando has something of an unusal approach when creating her large-scale abstract landscape paintings: by applying intense heat to carefully laquered sections of metal, she’s able to fundamentally alter the chemical properties of the materials, tranforming the pieces into brilliant gradient patterns. We talked to Ando—who has a a collaborative show with the artist Marc Egger opening this weekend at Brooklyn’s Fresh Window gallery—about her meditative process, the influence of Zen Buddhism, and the artists that have inspired her work.
You once had a show at Sundaram Tagore Gallery called “Mujo,” or “Impermanence,” which is a title that’s hardly describes your materials—steel and anodized aluminum, mostly—and yet somehow very apt for your interest in nature. Why does your work contain a tension between man-made objects and natural transcendence?
I’m seeking harmony with both the man-made and the natural. I’m drawn to elements; fire, water, metal, air. The works reflect our surroundings and how we live, a relationship to nature and man-made structures. Nature as a force that effects each person universally and without judgement has always been of interest to me, as I loved Shinto ideas as a child and also lived in a redwood forest in Santa Cruz. By applying different techniques, I transform the materials to evoke sky or water or air—it’s like a transition from the industrial to the natural world.
How did you initially conceive this process? What drew you to working with metals?
I was drawn to metals as a child because my Japanese ancestors made swords. I have continued working with metals because the material supports my artistic pursuits. My work is an exploration into the duality of metal and its ability to convey strength and permanence, yet in the same instance absorb shifting color and capture the fleetingness of light. It reminds us of the transitory nature of all things in life.
Your paintings involve a difficult process in which you apply heat, acids, and grinders, among other things, to anodized aluminum to produce transcendent color effects. Creating those colors requires a careful and precise technique—to get a rich red, for example, you have to stop applying heat at an exact second. One would imagine that your process is very meditative. What do you think about while you’re making a painting?
I try to focus completely on each task while I am working. My process is meditative and ritualized.
How long does it take to make a painting?
It takes anywhere from three weeks to two years to complete a single painting.
In an interview with CNN, you said that you respect the American Minimalists, namely Sol LeWittand Carl Andre, but that you think all minimalist tendencies are ultimately derived from Zen Buddhism. Can you explain?
I believe that Zen has had a part in informing many ideas across many disciplines, including art.
Your work also incorporates traditional Japanese styles and symbols. Sora Sky Kimono, which appeared in “Mujo,” is a sculpture composed of smaller aluminum works that forms the shape of a kimono, and some of your paintings have even been installed in Buddhist temples. How do you believe your work recontextualizes Japanese art history?
I am interested in ancient ideas put forth in contemporary forms and materials.
You’re a noted collaborator with various philanthropic organizations and have created monuments to world events, including a 9/11 memorial in London, but your abstract paintings seem devoid of an explicit connection to politics and society. How would you explain this dichotomy in your work?
If there is a chance to do something for the public, I feel quite honored. Public art and my studio art are two different aspects of my practice that are balanced by each other. The studio work is more private and smaller scale. I’m interested in having that spectrum of making.
What artists have inspired your work?
What is your favorite space to see art?
Anywhere with beautiful light and an environment that engages the viewer to have a contemplative experience.
What is indispensable in your studio?
The keys to my studio door.