Artist Interview: Masako Miyazaki

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Your work explores the ways different elements or facets merge and clash, whether they are natural phenomena or identities. What about these meetings interest you?

My background is in animation so the core of my work, starting from my undergraduate years, has always been about motion. I find that I’m less concerned about an object or form in the static sense and more engaged with how these forms come into being and how they dissipate. Everything is temporary. Everything has its seasons.

There’s that scientific idea of how the universe may be made of a finite number of particles and that everything is a constant recycling of these particles. I love this. It means that the edges of things, including myself, are in a vibrating balance to retain form. Everything is porous to each other and the bonds between these particles will eventually weaken until they let go, swooshing to become something else. Life is in a constant becoming.

So, the act of these particles momentarily coming together to form the eyes of hurricanes or a grandchild, the slats of a park bench, genocides, or a loose tooth—I find immense drama in the transition of these forms. Everything embodies the history of the universe. This churning motion is messy and most of the time, I believe, defies our words. This is where I learn the most as an artist. It is where I try to create my work.

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Art allows for ambiguities. It thrives on ambiguities. It is one of the rare places where ambiguity is embraced and celebrated. I think that there is incredible importance in thinking about things like where a storm ends or when a flame becomes a fire. In terms of identities, it’s always a fertile challenge to think about what we are in control of and what we aren’t—what we think we know and what we can’t know—and the emotional posturing it takes to keep living through this uncertainty.

Despite the tangle of things, I find there is a rich “visual” logic to a phenomenon. It is this richness that turns me on. It’s everywhere. A phenomenon comes into being by emanating a unique, self-organizational behavior. At the same time, the forces of constraint that such behavior generates define the phenomenon. In my work I try to suss out these organizational patterns, find the essence of something, and see how far I can push it before the logics of a phenomena break.

Why are you drawn to silkscreen as a technique and process through which to explore your ideas?

I learned how to silkscreen for a residency at the Kala Art Institute right before I started the MFA program at Stanford. Initially, I was working on a different project that involved many many layers of intaglio printing and social research. But I was swiftly running out of time due to the slowness of the research. I’m writing this to describe that I was at a point where I needed to make something quickly and that’s how I happened upon silkscreening.

I was needing to come up with a project suitable for silkscreening. Typically silkscreening is used to replicate images on a mass scale with pinpoint registration, but I wanted to use it to create monoprints yet retain its ability to repeat images. I was taking a walk in the woods and looked up at how the sunlight was shining through the canopy of leaves. The layering and the negative spaces were intriguing. (Who isn’t interested by this?) So I decided to cut out a limited number of “leaves” and burned these paper shapes into the silkscreens. I wanted to layer these shapes to see what would happen. I thought this was a perfect study to do in silkscreen. It’s graphic, repetitive, and quick. Silkscreening was also tactile enough for accidents and experiments to happen. I thrive off this. It is my jam. I tend to start pretty literally and end up somewhere else because of this.

Through printing each shape one by one and composing them on the fly, I started to change course with the concept. There was a movement that came about visually that I wanted to explore further. Eventually, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to work off the idea about particles coming together to form different phenomena. I treated my limited palette of 13 shapes as particles and by changing the inks and my intention of how to place these shapes I found that I could emanate different forms of energy.

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Color is a strong element of your work. How do you select and experiment with your chosen palettes?

Thanks for the compliment! If you look at my work prior to the silkscreen prints, I have worked primarily in monochromatic whites and blacks. I guess choosing to work in just grayscale is also a strong choice of color in itself. I consider all my work to be formal studies so working in black and white has been the best way to approach these questions. I had always thought color was something more advanced and would come into play in the future. Maybe that future is starting to happen now.

However, working in blacks and whites is also a challenge I set for myself—the challenge of making a statement in the midst of such kaleidoscopic color in our media. At the same time, I find it very difficult to work in anything other than black and white because of how incredibly rich and profound they are. I feel like I’m working with light itself.

I think the Japanese parts of myself prefer color palettes that are seasonal—colors that come from natural phenomena and landscapes. There is a very specific color sensibility that comes from the city of Kyoto, Japan’s old capital for more than a thousand years (and also where I’m from), on which they base much of their textiles, cooking, and design. This distinct “Kyoto palette” is very influential to me.

I started off the silkscreening project in black and white. Although a canopy of leaves inspired the initial concept, I didn’t really know what the visual language of these cutout shapes would be. I had no preconceived notion that I wanted to portray clouds or flames. I just started printing and let the process take its form. Black shapes on white paper. While I was printing, the silhouettes started reminding me of shorelines. That’s when I chose to work with tan colored paper for the “Shore” series. This is also why the prints in the exhibition are titled “Shore II” because it was my second round of printing this phenomenon.

The tan reminded me of the gold backgrounds of 15th century Japanese screen paintings. I also used the tan to echo the isometric view frequently used in these paintings to carry over into the “Shore” prints. The “shorelines” were made to read from this perspective. The “Vapour” series came from printing “Shore II”. The new shapes I was getting from partially overlapping the basic shapes in “Shore” became a point of interest that started “Vapour.” I experimented around with black first but then switched over to white ink, which was more exciting. I also realized that because I had changed one parameter, the transparency of shapes, a different sort of visual movement occurred. So even though I’m using the same set of shapes, I had to change how I placed them for this new visual movement to work. The “Flame” series’ colors came about from adding another parameter to the mix. I wanted to work on black paper because I wanted to see what visual language I’d get when I knocked the built up shapes back into the background by printing over them in black ink. The only interesting inks I could use that would print on black paper were these iridescent inks. On white backgrounds the color shows only when the light hits it in a specific way, and on black they print in a shimmery color. That bit of ephemerality somehow allowed me to use color in the piece. But I didn’t know what phenomenon this new layer of language wanted to emanate until I experimented and found that they wanted to be in the form of flames.

How will the Jack and Gertrude Murphy Fellowships and the Edwin Anthony and Adelaine Bourdeaux Cadogan Scholarships Awards, administered by The San Francisco Foundation, and the accompanying exhibition support your work and future artistic development?

The fellowship is an immediate and direct support both financially as well as an emotional one. Creative freedom is the most important aspect as an artist and I believe this acknowledgement allows me to sustain such a practice. It aids in procuring studio space, raw materials to work with, and the psychological space needed to work where there is no clear destination. With every source of support like this fellowship, I am encouraged to keep researching questions that ask and document what it’s like to live in the passing moment of today. The opportunity to show a glimpse of some of the work I’ve done in this exhibition is most critical, as I believe I do my work to connect with other minds. It is in hope that the work will perhaps have a life of its own through people sharing it with other people and that these people will somehow catch the scent to return for more. I sincerely thank everyone who made this fellowship possible.

Masako Miyazaki received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her film work has shown nationwide and won numerous awards. Living both in the US and Kyoto, Japan, Miyazaki is similarly influenced by Japanese aesthetics and the Super Bowl culture. Her primary subjects are of open systems such as fire and traffic jams. Much of Miyazaki’s recent work examines the language of movement harkening the works of Norman McLaren, Oskar Fischinger, and Man Ray. Miyazaki’s public collections include the New York Public Library and the Pacific Film Archive. She is currently attending her 2nd year at Stanford University’s MFA program in Art Practice. masakomasako.com

About the Interviewer
Brianna Nelson coordinates communications and community engagement efforts for SOMArts Cultural Center. Before joining the SOMArts team, she managed publications for Frameline: San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival. She is also part of the communications team for the Arab Film Festival and is a reader for Zoetrope: All-Story literary magazine.

Masako’s artwork is on view September 3–26, 2015, at SOMArts Cultural Center, as part of The TSFF & SOMArts Annual Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Awards Exhibition. To learn more about the exhibition, click here.

Images courtesy the artist, top to bottom: Flame Tripych, Silkscreen, iridescent inks, 30 x 75.5 inches, 2015; At Fault No. 36, Charcoal on paper, 42 x 108 inches, 2013; Shore II Triptych, Silkscreen, 30 x 75.5 inches, 2015