Naoko Takenouchi’s intimate art exhibition explores the instinctual process of creating art. Photo credit: Naoko Takenouchi.
VANCOUVER — Creating the glass pieces for her upcoming exhibit, Japanese Canadian artist Naoko Takenouchi connected to something deep within herself.
Takenouchi is a celebrated Canadian glassblowing artist, who has received mid-career grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and has been commissioned to craft the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award since 2003.
Her upcoming exhibit, Spirit Messenger Show features 10 glass sculptures and two large installation pieces at VisualSpace Gallery in Vancouver, opening Feb. 15.
Naoko Takenouchi working in the studio, during the process of glassblowing.
Each of the carefully designed and intricate sculptures are made of hand-blown glass, delicately carved out with a compressed air sandblaster to look like feathered wings. The sculptures take inspiration from birds and their instinctual migration, explains Takenouchi.
“I was very interested and amazed at how birds can fly and navigate themselves,” Takenouchi tells Nikkei Voice in an interview.
The instincts that guide birds to migrate south for the winter and bring them home for the summer felt parallel to Takenouchi’s own journey as an artist, she explains.
“They do have survival instincts, that’s why they migrate,” explains Takenouchi. “But I think for me, making something, visual art or sculpture, it is kind of a similar process. Following intuition, you really have to listen to yourself, you have to listen to inside and have to connect with your inner self.”
More than just intuition, creating the pieces for Spirit Messenger Show became a survival instinct for Takenouchi. Creating these pieces became a way for her to cope with and survive the loss of her husband, who died three years ago.
“When I lost my husband, I was completely lost. Not just that I couldn’t make things, I almost lost the passion to live for a while,” says Takenouchi. “Coming back from there, navigating myself today, I started making things again, almost like a bird flying back to their nest, their instincts. For me it’s like going back to a process of creating gives me energy to live again.”
From this, Takenouchi created a carefully crafted series of winged glass sculptures.
“Her technique is superb and aesthetically very delicate and sensitive, and she gives that feeling to her work,” Yukiko Onley tells Nikkei Voice.
Onley is the curator of Spirit Messenger Show and the owner of VisualSpace Gallery. Onley, a self-taught photographer originally from Osaka, Japan, moved to Vancouver in 1976. She opened VisualSpace Gallery with two other partners, but is now the sole partner left. The gallery usually features local Vancouver art, but Onley says she hopes to include more artwork from Japanese artists in the future.
She first discovered Takenouchi’s work at a group show in Vancouver.
“To me, Naoko’s work was outstanding in many ways. A group show is interesting, but compromising. It dilutes individual work. I thought Naoko would benefit from a solo exhibit,” Onley says. “My emphasis is on quality artwork and I hope people can see that in Naoko’s work.”
Takenouchi has a degree in design and glassblowing from Tama Art University in Tokyo, one of the few art schools in Japan that offers glassblowing. She says she was attracted to the constant motion and balance required to shape molten glass.
“It’s a beautiful material, once I got in and I started touching hot glass, and glassblowing, I was so excited,” says Takenouchi. “It’s very much in the moment, and you have to dance with glass, the glass is molten, and constantly moving.”
After working in a studio in Northern Japan after graduating, Takenouchi says she struggled to be an artist in Japan. The costs of materials, studio time, the large equipment and gas was high, and she had little time to work on her own artwork after long hours at work.
While working with some established Swedish glass artists in Japan, one of the artists connected her to a studio in Granville Island, B.C. Takenouchi says she got a working visa and made the move to B.C. in 1990. She would spend her days working at the studio in Granville Island, and stay late into the evenings creating on her own artwork.
When Takenouchi met her husband, who worked in a studio nearby as a cabinetmaker, she decided to stay in Canada.
That decision led to an identity crisis for Takenouchi, who turned to art to help her find her place, she says.
“I didn’t really know where I belonged, at that point I wasn’t really Canadian yet, I still have struggles with expressing myself in English, it is my second language,” says Takenouchi.
After her husband died, Takenouchi says she turned to art again.
“It happens sometimes not very consciously, it’s coming from really deep place,” she says. “I can see my past through my work and it’s very interesting, it’s expressing something really deep, becoming at peace.”
Takenouchi says she found a beautiful large fir tree to spread her husband’s ashes. As a cabinetmaker, wood was his art medium, explains Takenouchi. The tree was so large that the branches created a canopy that blocked out the sky. When she came out from under the tree, Takenouchi says she heard a whistle-like cry.
“I looked up and there was a bald eagle flying around, and he was flying so low, close to me and I could see his face looking at me. And he was making circles, soaring for awhile and finally flew away,” she says.
Takenouchi says when she returned to visit her husband’s tree, an eagle was there again, cementing the connection between birds and her sense of healing.
When people come to see Takenouchi’s show, she says she hopes people will be able to understand the healing journey she underwent to create it. She says she also hopes people with similar pain and loss can see her work, and feel a connection.
“I hope people will find some parallels to my experience,” says Takenouchi. “I’m hoping it will touch some part of people’s hearts, maybe in a different way than my [story]. I’d like to make something that touches people’s hearts, so if they see that connection, that would be wonderful.”
Naoko Takenouchi’s Spirit Messenger Show will run at VisualSpace Gallery in Vancouver, from Feb. 15 to Mar. 7, 2018. For more information visit VisualSpace Gallery’s website here.