Meet the Artist: Q+A with Asako Iwasawa

This summer, Ronin Gallery is pleased to feature the lush contemporary paintings of 2018 Ronin | Globus Artist-in-Residence Asako Iwasawa in our third annual Contemporary Talents of Japan exhibition.  Raised in Tokyo, Iwasawa graduated from Tama Art University’s Textile Design course before managing Design Studio Himiko. She later discovered a passion for kimono design and worked at the batik studio Kimono Studio Dye Laboratory. Iwasawa spent 10 years living as a farmer in the countryside, indulging her love for nature. Though she ultimately returned to the city, she brought the vivid world of insects, plants, and natural beauty back with her.  We took a moment to talk to her about her process, inspiration, and her plans for her stay in New York City.

Asako Iwasawa at work. Asako Iwasawa at work.

How would you describe your process of capturing “what we see and don’t see” in nature? Do you begin with studies of actual landscapes that evolve in the imagination? To what extent do natural realities influence your dream-like works?

When I see a landscape for the first time, my soul is drawn into its beauty. My principal action is to feel this beauty, to appreciate it fully. Then, nature begins to speak to me, revealing a lively world before my eyes – a scene of little friends…dancing trees…all blanketed in morning mist.

You mention that you aspire to capture the “dream of nature.” Your work evokes this otherworldly sense of half-waking, particularly in the quality of the light. Is there a reason you choose to capture night scenes primarily?

I always want to express the awe-inspiring energy of nature, especially in its destructive potential. Although I am drawn to the branches and leaves that fiercely grow towards the bright sky, I’m most attracted to what goes on in the twilight zone. The moments before morning bear a sense of mystery. Until 100 years ago in Japan, it was believed that foxes and raccoons hid in the fields, waiting to trick people before the sunrise. Today, the time of darkness is the time for plants to think and to prepare their energy before they greet the morning. I want to represent that moment when the morning sun just breaks the horizon. Hokusai’s daughter Katsushika Oi captures this moment in the work “yoshiwara koshi saki no zu”. I strongly admire this work and may have found inspiration in the way she uses light.

Like kacho fugetsu, your work does not present a naturalistic vision of plants and insects, but instead something more incisive. As particular pairings of birds and insects may allude to larger truths or enduring stories in the tradition of kacho fugestu, do you find that your work reflects a larger reality?

Certainly, I think my work overlaps with the idea of kacho fugestsu. I always aim to bring the natural world to life and to capture the unusual movement of plants. I add something moving, something small, but something full of life into my grassy paintings. Even rooted grasses and trees that seem not to move can generate free movement in the wind. In my work, I explore this overlooked vibrancy of natural world, the larger realities of plant life.

Do you find that your work in textile design and batik inform your paintings? If so, how would you describe this influence?

Making batik-dyed kimono expanded my understanding of color. For example, this experience helped me learn subtle Japanese colors like shijū haccha hyaku nezumi, the 48 browns, 100 grays. Additionally, in textile design, you want to repeat the same shape across a whole screen. Somehow, I carried this effect into my paintings by using a bathtub or a vase as a recurring motif throughout my work.

The elongated horizontal format of “Breeze from Paradise” and “Breeze from Morning” call to mind the natural scenes that unfold across screen paintings. Do you find inspiration in or draw a connection between your work and earlier works in this genre?

The horizontal composition of paneled screens open viewer’s heart. As I use this inviting composition, I find powerful influence in scenes of nature’s power, such as those by Hiroshige, Hokusai, and other ukiyo-e artists. I find inspiration in the distant views of Mount Fuji, lone watchtowers, sprawling landscapes, and waves that rise from the sea like mountains.
How do you intend to use your time in New York? Are there areas of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that you are particularly excited to explore?

In New York, I plan to explore both the city and the countryside. I will visit my friends at a lake in the country before I explore the urban nature at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden 4 or 5 years ago. I am excited to return as I remember its lush gardens brimming with action. I am looking forward to my time at the garden and the opportunity to immerse myself in the world of plants that make their home there.

Experience Asako Iwasawa's paintings for yourself this summer in Contemporary Talents of Japan: Kacho Fugetsu. The exhibition will be on view through August 11th . Can't make it to the gallery? Explore Iwasawa's work, as well as that of other contemporary talents included in Contemporary Talents of Japan online.

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