Above: Rhythmic Circle. Rope, Thread, Plastic Flowers, Hot Sculpted Glass, by Sayaka Suzuki, 2013. 6-foot diameter.
When I visited the Bullseye Resource Center Portland to hear the artist Sayaka Suzuki talk about her work on December 13, I had a notion of what was to come: a description of her process, accompanied by dramatic images of works in progress in the studio, along with finished pieces in a gallery—the usual. What I experienced was far different, and much deeper.
After living most of my life in the Southwest, I decided to move to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to family. I spent the last year in Juneau, Alaska. This was a rewarding and challenging time for me, as I focused on woodshedding new glass ideas to the exception of pretty much everything else. It was a year of self-exile in an incredibly remote, beautiful place, and I was glad it was over. The last two years, it seems, have been a series of cutting ties and generally feeling unmoored. Since arriving in Portland earlier this fall, I have wanted to connect with the community in a meaningful way. Stepping back into the glass world with a nice afternoon talk at Bullseye Glass seemed like the perfect thing.
Suzuki launched into her presentation with warmth and enthusiasm, and a degree of personal
sharing that I didn’t expect. It was immediately apparent that this would not be the standard artist’s talk. Rather, she showed photos of her kimono-clad young self with her family, and began to describe her life growing up as a child of Japanese birth who moved with her parents to London and then to America, where she lived in New York and several other states. Her family arrived with very little ability to speak English, and she had to find a way to adjust quickly to radical cultural shifts. Her work is informed by that early experience of being thrust into unfamiliar circumstances, having to find her way, and the sense of displacement and of being an outsider. This left her with a deep appreciation for family connections, and the longing that comes from living far away from loved ones.
In addition to glass, Suzuki uses various materials to explore the idea of connection in her work: fiber, sewn fabric, thread. These elements “tie “ the elements together, mending tears, and weaving a web of support, albeit at times a tenuous one. Not content to limit herself to only pate de verre, she uses blown glass components and reinvestment casting, whatever she feels will communicate her idea most effectively. She also uses found objects and natural materials like pet hair, deer antlers, and bones, which she either uses as-is, or recreated in glass castings. In her work she strives to preserve small wonders, to examine the small lives that go unnoticed, and the narratives unspoken.
Deeply interested in animal rights, she has explored the ethics of human consumption of animals—but not in a hard-line vegetarian, PETA-promoting way. Her intention is to remind people that eating meat brings with it a responsibility to be mindful of the sacrifice it entails, that other lives are affected by this choice. It was during this part of the talk that I considered how Suzuki’s early education in Bhuddism has directly influenced her attitudes and her art.
Above: Gentle Play, Cast Glass by Sayaka Suzuki, 2011. 36" x 5" x 2"
Of course, there were also some images of her stunning and technically amazing work, and a bit of shop talk at the end. Suzuki is an adjunct faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA.She described her desire to make art that causes the observer to “quiet their mind,” a very Bhuddist thing to wish for. She accomplishes this in her quiet pate de verre sculpture of vegetables and bread, simple items lovingly cast with luscious surface detail and color, including all their natural imperfections. This piece was included in Bullseye’s biennial glass exhibition, Emerge 2012.
I enjoyed her comments about the way her studio is sometimes a place of doubt, and sometimes of confirmation, and her observation that it’s important not to let the material “push you around” and instead to master it. Suzuki’s art is obviously an outgrowth of her own way of being in the world. I was reminded of a passage I recently read in Where We Were When: The Glass Landscapes of Roger V Thomas. “Artists make a choice about how they will represent their work to the world…whatever choice they make, be it optimistic, reclusive, critical, joyous or chaotic, this viewpoint will eventually become that of the artist; they will conform to the emotional and psychological profile of their work.”
It’s an interesting premise to consider: that the type of art one makes directly influences the type of person one becomes. It’s rather the opposite of what I’ve always thought, but it feels right. At least I hope it’s true, and that by making art that explores the wonderous and the connected as Sayaka Suzuki does, I can in turn become better connected to wonder myself. It’s worth a try. Her presentation was far from the artist’s talk I expected, but in a way it was exactly what I needed to hear.