Of all artistic media, glass may embody the most contradictions.
It is simultaneously strong and fragile, by turns opaque and translucent. And as an art material it is both ancient and modern: its use spans practically the entire history of artistic production, from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to the present day.
In the work of Japanese artist Hiroshi Yamano, glass is also the medium he uses to span different cultures — a concept embodied in the title of his new exhibition on view at Studio Inferno in Arabi this month.
“East Meets West” features 30 of Yamano’s intricately wrought glass pieces, examples of which are part of prominent public and private glass collections worldwide and which have been exhibited extensively in museums and galleries in both the United States and abroad.
But it’s his homeland which figures most prominently through Yamano’s extensive body of work.
“Most of my work draws heavily from nature, in particular the flora and fauna of my home in Japan,” he said. “Each piece captures a moment of inspiration from my environment.”
While Yamano says he has visited the Crescent City twice before as a tourist, the Studio Inferno show is the artist’s first solo exhibition in New Orleans — and it’s taking place in a venue in which he feels right at home.
“It’s exciting to be hosted by my fellow glass artist Mitchell Gaudet at Studio Inferno’s new location in Arabi,” Yamano said. “Because Mitchell is also glass artist, I feel the exhibition is presented with a creative understanding, which makes it all the more interesting.”
“And to be showing in New Orleans for the first time is such an honor,” Yamano said. “I feel my work will resonate with the people here who are also surrounded by nature; beautiful birds and fish.”
Those fish and birds play an important iconic role in Yamano’s current work, and in keeping with other elements of his art they also represent a combination of several opposing forces.
“The sculpted glass fish are a personal symbol, a symbol of myself,” Yamano said.
As personal avatars, the fish in his work possess both animal and humanlike aspects. And the way Yamano depicts them — curled within and around the curves of his bowls, draped along the edges and leaping out of his vessels, or interacting with birds and other wildlife in his wall pieces — gives them the appearance of existing in a state somewhere between dead and alive.
Yamano also uses fish in his pieces as much for their formal qualities as for their totemic ones. “Fish ikebana” is the term he uses to describe the works in which his glass fish are arranged with birds, branches, and the more abstract forms of his glass vessels themselves, referencing the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement in which various pairs of formal opposites — long and short, wide and narrow, soft and hard — are combined in a group of objects to create a whole reflecting the harmony and totality of nature.
Traditional Japanese art is also used as a point of departure in Yamano’s wall pieces. Created from painted and etched glass and incorporating silver leaf and three-dimensional glass animals and foliage, these “Scenes of Japan” are meant to evoke landscapes on classical Japanese shoji screens yet come across as completely modern and original creations in their own right — another instance in which Yamano bridges two different realms via his art.
But it’s translating the ephemeral into lasting and beautiful objects that just might be the central pair of opposite ideas in Yamano’s work.
“All my work begins with a spark,” he said. “I try to capture the moment of the inspiration I feel and translate it into my work. That is the moment I want to share with the viewer.”