My Geisha Series started with my final print in my relief class at UCSC. It was an eight run reduction woodcut and, at the time, I thought it was intricate and detailed. I never realized the true potential of the wood or the tools.
Let’s go back a little bit. This past fall I joined a printing studio in Seaside called “Open Ground Studios,” or OGS. Here I was, fresh out of college, trying to find a job as well as work on art. Let’s just say I didn’t get much creative juices going for a while. This March I was fortunate enough to be a part of a three (wo)man show for the new comers at OGS and I decided that I needed a new piece to exhibit. Here’s where the inspiration needed to get going. I had no IDEA what to do. It was at this low point in my creativity that I found inspiration in a strange (but not so far-fetched) place. My grandma’s house.
I am of Japanese decent and yet I was born and raised in America. On the very rare occasion do we (my family) celebrate anything in a traditionally Japanese manner (the main, and kind of only, event is New Years). But other than that, I am pretty much just scratching the surface when it comes to my heritage. My grandma’s house is filled with all sorts of interesting artworks that she has done as well as things she has picked up over the years, but I never really LOOKED at them. It was here that I found my inspiration for my newest endeavor, the Geisha Series. Hanging in the first bedroom of her house is a large felt blanket with the design of a woman in front of a tall cart with shades, the old-fashioned ones for high status individuals to travel in. I saw this and immediately wanted to make a carving.
The Geisha was, and is, a complex idea. Many people have the wrong impression of these women because of the way things changed in Japan during World War II. These individuals (mostly women) came from different backgrounds, but they were all trained in the arts. Be it music, calligraphy, dance or games, they were coined with the names, “artist,” “performing artist,” and “artisan.” Yes, they were entertainers, but they were sophisticated, educated, and highly valued entertainers. Sometimes the Geisha were considered to inhabit a separate reality and that world was called the “flower and willow” world. They were called willows because they had the same characteristics of a willow, “grace,” “strength,” and “subtlety.”
It is this complexity of the idea that drew me to using plywood. At first, I would use plywood for most of my projects at school because it was cheap and easily accessible. It is, unfortunately, the hardest material to work with. So why would I stick with it? Not only is it hard, sturdy and difficult to cut, it also splits and breaks really easily as well. But in a way, it’s this constant struggle of strength, control, and patience, that makes me feel closer to my body of work. Like a Geisha, plywood has many layers, each one harder to cut through, but once you get to the center of it, there’s a solid heart, a strength that cannot be broken.