PMC Magazine: The Plane Of Serenity, A conversation with Miya Ando

[Originally posted May 5th, 2015]

A Conversation with Artist MIYA ANDO
By Lori Zimmer
Spring 2015

When you first meet Miya Ando, the first thing you may notice is how striking she is. Beautiful and petite, her tattoos and astute sense of fashion convey a presence of style. Coupled with her bubbly personality, I had initially expected her art work to be as outgoing as she is.

Instead, I was surprised and pleased to find Ando’s work to possesses a sophisticated calm that meshes influence from her family history with her belief that serenity comes from within. Her upbringing sounds ripped from a movie–with a Japanese mother and Russian father, she was raised in a Buddhist temple in Japan, then later the redwood forests of Santa Cruz, California. Her mother’s family are descendents of Bizen sword makers, an evident influence in her body of “metal paintings” she has developed over the years.

With a highly personal sculptural work headed for the Venice Biennale, a partnership with Calvin Klein, and a recent lunch with Vice President Biden, I sat down with Ando to talk alchemy, influences, and her relationship with fellow artist Shelter Serra.

Lori Zimmer: Some people refer to your work as “metal paintings,” but your process is much more complicated than that. Meshed with your family history of Bizen sword-making, I can’t help but dream up references to Medieval alchemy with your process. Can you explain your process a bit?

Miya Ando: Alchemy? Absolutely yes. I’ve always been interested in transformation, both physically and metaphorically. Alchemy is also about interconnectivity and I look to elemental vocabulary in my work. I use several techniques to change the surface of materials. I use heat, fire, chemicals, sanding, etc. on metals, wood, glass. My primary medium has been metals. I work in both an additive and subtractive way, sanding down the material, layering on materials. I try to look carefully at the nature of each particular material and then effect a transformation of that material.

LZ: What were your first experiments with this process like?

MA: I made all black and grey paintings for my first 8 years, I worked only with black steel during that time and looked deeply into the nature of that material and studied the surface transformations which were possible within a restricted field. This grew into working with the reflective properties inherent in metals and investigating the ephemeral nature of light.

LZ: Your work has an overpowering calm and meditative quality. Is it difficult to maintain this serenity while working in the chaos of New York City?

MA: I actually find New York City to be a calm place, it is like any place–it has a system. My thinking has always been that calmness and serenity come from the inside and have zero to do with any exterior stimulus or physical location. I used to live in a Buddhist temple in Japan. I felt sad being away from it and several years ago someone I respect told me that “The temple is here” and pointed to my solar plexus. I believe this. Calm is a state of mind that is controlled by your mind, not by outside things.

LZ: “Emptiness The Sky (Shou Sugi Ban)” is heading for the Venice Biennale. The installation is essentially a freestanding room that is evocative of a Japanese tea room,  clad in traditional Japanese charred wood. How is this piece different than your traditional metal canvases?

MA: The piece is similar to the paintings in that a space is created, only with this particular piece there are walls which literally demarcate a separation from one space to the next. Different also is the charred wood exterior that has gone through a very obvious transformation, while usually my vocabulary is more subtle.

LZ: Does the piece have a personal narrative that goes beyond referencing your personal heritage?

MA: I view the piece as being about memory, a space of memory. For me, this piece investigates identity. I was raised in Japan and California, with distinctly separate paradigms of language, values, and systems. The piece is a space of harmony and quiet, like entering into a painting and being enveloped in space of altered consciousness. Charred wood is a material that for me connects my two upbringings. Charred wood clad the Buddhist temple I lived in, in Japan. I also lived in a redwood forest in the Santa Cruz mountains and played in a treehouse made from a 20 foot wide redwood tree that had been struck by lightening and was black and charred inside.

LZ: Aside from your family’s heritage and history, what else inspires you?

MA: Math and Nature and Buddhist thought, all of which are systems.

LZ: Your long time boyfriend is fellow artist Shelter Serra. As two creative people, does your work have any influence on each other? 

MA: It would be difficult to say “no” to this question. I think we must influence one another, but then again as artists we are influenced by all interactions with people, everything we read and see and experience.

— Miya Ando is a Japanese-Russian artist based in Brooklyn, NY.


Miya Ando’s Official Site

Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography Courtesy of Miya Ando
Design by Mina Darius

Emptiness The Sky (Shou Sugi Ban), 2014, Photography Courtesy of Miya Ando
Portrait by Lorraine Young, Courtesy of Miya Ando