Drawing from her suit of purity, simplicity and refinement, half-Russian-American, half-Japanese artist, Miya Ando, gambles with raw materials of metal and light. With an intriguing childhood surrounded by Japanese sword-smiths, Ando doesn’t deny herself this deeply entrenched fascination with metal to support her artistic pursuits. Not from a dissimilar dialogue of minimalist artists Donald Judd and Carl Andre, Ando hand tints her metal sculptures or paintings, leaving her audience to sink into a calming splendor and visual meditation. Working primarily in grey scale, the artist has recently introduced what she calls a ‘shifting’ colour into her artistic vocabulary, in order to capture and represent the fleetingness of light and the results are incredibly pleasing to the eye. On top of mastering her use of metal, Ando also works with phosphorescence as well as natural materials such as foliage and flowers. What’s more, in 2009 Ando was approached by the London Project Foundation to create a memorial sculpture to commemorate the World Trade Centers. Now residing in New York City, Ando is content with where she is, a mindset that translates seamlessly into the introspective, abstract and exquisite art that she makes.
Sophie Flecknoe: Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself?
Miya Ando: I’m an artist who is based in New York City.
How would you define what it is that you do?
I work primarily with the transformation of surfaces.
What is your definition of beauty? Where do you find it?
Beauty is simplicity and truthfulness.
You have an interesting personal history. Do you draw specifically from your nationality and family’s story when making your art?
I’m half Caucasian and half Asian and was raised between Japan and California. I lived in both a Buddhist Temple & Redwood Forest when I was a child and all of these experiences inform my art practice and my way of seeing.
Who are some artists, photographers or designers that influence your practice?
There are many artists that I admire [including], Agnes Martin, Lee Ufan [and] Anish Kapoor. Yohji Yamamoto is my favorite designer.
Where do you draw inspiration for your work?
Inspiration comes from within for me, from my memories, my spiritual beliefs, my experiences in nature.
What part does colour play in your work?
I’ve only been working with color for the past few years, until then I made all grayscale works. I view colors as speeds of light and so these works are mostly about time and temporality.
Your practice is particularly interesting to me, as I am someone who spends a lot of time discussing photography more than anything else. What role does light play in your practice? What is the appeal of metal to you?
Metal redirects and reflects light like no other material I’ve encountered. I’m fascinated by substrates that capture light and change with lighting situations. I find the material dynamic and beautiful.
Are your works conceptual, or devoid of concept? What is the process of creation, for you, from beginning to end?
Art is thinking; art is a visual manifestation of thought. In my process, each piece begets the next piece; it’s a continuation of a thought.
Do you believe in a formal art schooling for aspiring artists?
Education on any level is important.
What is the difference in a publicly commissioned work as opposed to one of personal intent? Do you think it alters the viewing process for your audience?
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 kind of materials do you work with? Where do you source these materials?
I work with metals and light. 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. In my public practice I frequently work with phosphorescence and natural materials such as leaves and flowers.
In your opinion, what makes a successful image?
An honest one.
Can you tell me a little about your memorial sculptures for the World Trade Towers? How did that project come about? What did you draw from it as an artist?
I was contacted by the 9/11 London Project Foundation in 2009. They asked if I would be willing to create a memorial sculpture out of a found object; a piece of steel recovered from the World Trade Center buildings. I agreed to this project, selected a piece of steel from The Port Authority’s storage facility where the wreckage was being held. My idea was to polish the very rusty found object into a mirror finish such that when we stood up the steel it would reflect light and redirect light back into the world.
Is travel a major component of your work? Are there any particular anecdotes you’re your travels that you’d like to share?
I travel a great deal as I frequently have projects and exhibitions abroad. I sometimes work on projects in the airplane. I actually have one piece, a scroll that is covered in Buddhist prayers that I made over 6 months on airplanes. I would pull it out of my bag and drape it over my table in the airplane and work on it.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I like where I am now.
You’ve been featured in numerous prestigious titles such as The New York Times and The Huffington Post. What is the importance of media (both social and published) in regards to art today? Is it crucial to your practice?
It’s nice to have the work reach a larger audience, since ultimately art is a means for communication and visual dialogue with the world.
Where do you see yourself and your work in a decade’s time? What’s next for you?
In a decade, I hope that I will have distilled my work and my investigation of creating quiet, abstract, meditative environments. Ultimately I am interested in the study of subtraction to the point of purity, simplicity and refinement. What is next for me is a group exhibition at Sundaram Tagore, Singapore ‘To Be A Lady’ curated by Jason Andrew, I am very excited to be part of this.
Words: Sophie Flecknoe. Image courtesy of Miya Ando.