YOThis exhibition featuring 40 years of Ms. Miyawaki’s art is a “retrospective” which seeks to look back upon your work through its various “periods” from early period to present. At the same time, we have noticed that a certain “something” is surprisingly common to all of your works. We have borrowed Your own words in our exhibition title to convey that which we sensed, the constance presence of the concept of “no beginning, no end.” 1)
And of course, yet another keyword came to mind, the Japanese concept of utsurohi “swift change,” “transience.” This concept seems to prevail in your recent works, and I would like to begin my discussion with you on this concept. Am I right in thinking that this idea first emerged in your work at the time of the MAEspace/ Temps au Japon exhibition organized by Arata Isozaki and held in Paris in 1978. 2)
AMThat ’s right, at that point my works were brass, not wire. The piece was a metal folding screen-like object. I displayed the work as one aspect of the exhibition’s central theme of ma, in Japanese, “space/ time.” And while the shape of that work was completely different from those created in wire, the concept was the same. Yes, in terms of light, in terms of changing light....
YOWhere did that difference of shape emerge from, how did it emerge? Even if the concept of the work is the same, somehow there is something new or novel about wire.
AMWell, most of all I wanted to exclude all sculptural weight, all that was physically weighty, and I set out in search of some material that was somehow honed or pared down. That was when I found piano wire. What Masakazu Horiuchi has described as “leaping fleas” actually began from small piano wire models. You see it was a little model, so it went“hop! ” Then it took a really long time to find a similar medium that could be used on a large-scale. And then there is something that has since become a problem, the work I made for Hikota Park in Ichinomiya. In the end it was not something I made myself, it was made at a factory from pipes, not from piano wire. It is curved and shaped, but it ended up a bit different in shape from the shapes I make. It was so big it had to be put on a large truck and carried to its new site. When I make a work myself I carry lengths of wire and make the work in situ, but this was not the case here. It ended up as something that I am not really taken with, it is somehow ungainly, it has an ungainly shape. Recently children have damaged it with their mischief, and it has ended up in a completely hideous shape. I am negotiating with the owners and have asked them to destroy it, but they don’t seem to have done anything yet.
YOSo, the models are also important as realized sculptural works, aren’t they?
AMYes, the first model was made from just two pieces of wire. That was displayed at Tokyo Gallery. Horiuchi saw that exhibition, and Yusuke Nakahara also wrote about it. I really worked hard to find large wires, and it really took quite a bit of time. Mukai of Gallery Mukai introduced me to a collector, Mr. Murayama. He was the president of a company which makes piano wire. The company has a plant in Narashino, and I went to visit the factory with the young man who was my assistant at that time. That is when I found piano wire and was inspired by it, deciding right then and there to carry it home with me. We rolled it up and got on a crowded train with it. If I hadn’t found that piano wire, I would not have been able to create the sense of transience in outdoor sculpture, so I am extremely grateful to Mr. Murayama. I was so happy that I set about making sculptures right there on the spot, in the middle of the factory. But at first I was using steel wires. While steel is much more flexible than stainless steel, it rusts and so cannot be used for outdoor works.
YOLong before you found those materials you seem to have had an image of “drawing lines in the sky,” and continued to make drawings based on that image. I believe that you have said that this drawing lines in the sky, doing calligraphy in the sky idea is somehow linked to your dreams of freedom that you have had since childhood, but do you also think that it is linked to the concept of utsurohi, “transience,” and can it somehow be considered Japanese in nature? I have also heard that this practice is because you have always liked ink paintings, such as those by the Song dynasty artist, Mu Xi.
AMI don’t know if I was particularly conscious of the Asian-ness of my ideas, they just seemed to emerge naturally. Probably because I studied Japanese art history and I am always thinking about the relationship between Japan and the west.
YOIn any event, wire is somehow free, creative. Horiuchi has written, “Ms. Miyawaki may have attained this idea of free, witty space from her friendship with Man Ray formed during her time in Paris. This free spirit who came through the Dada movement seemed to have fun as he made truly witty, unconventional works, such as hanging lots of hangers from the ceiling, at the same time that Henry Moore was making ponderously heavy sculpture.” 3)
AMYes, you could say that. He was a bit playful. We can call him playful, at least, and observe that he strongly resisted anything heavy. That is why I like Man Ray. And of course, I don’t despise Moore. But from the time that I lived in Milan, I did not respect normal sculptors, like Marino Marini for example. That was probably because I had been baptized into the abstract, and I strongly resisted anything realistic. That was why I said things like aranumono, “that which isn’t. ”4)
YOThe other day, by chance, I saw the “To and From Shuzo Takiguchi” exhibition at The National Museum of Art, Osaka. That was the first time I had seen one of your painted works from the early year of 1958, and I was surprised by how harsh it was.
AMThat was the work that Mr. Ohashi purchased from me in my Milan studio. I started from things like that. And when Shuzo Takiguchi saw that work in an exhibition in Tokyo, he said to me, you really should go to Milan. Before that time I had been a student in America. A friend of mine invited me to California. There I studied in the art departments of UCLA and Santa Monica College and began to paint paintings. I drew from nude models. This was in 1957. But on my own I was painting somehow surrealistic paintings which looked like birds. I went to Nobuya Abe’s place when I was a student at Japan Women’s College. My sister-in-law, Nobuko Kamiya, was a painter and she introduced me to Yoshishige Saito. I visited Saito at home. Saito was a very kind man who gave me lots of helpful advice. At that time I was painting pictures secretly, because of the objections of my family. Nobuko Kamiya married into the Kamiya winery family, and when she was widowed she began to paint. She was then wealthy, but because she wanted to paint she used up all of her financial resources on painting. It was extremely hard. My father then decreed no more painters in the family. That’s why I painted pictures in secret. Then Professor Saito came and told me it was absolutely wrong to paint pictures secretly. It’s wrong unless you show them to people. So that is why I count Professor Saito among my mentors.
YOThe works in the 1959 exhibition held at the Yoseido Gallery were what we might call surrealistic, somehow violently writhing forms. But working on a parallel, hadn’t you by this time already begun work on a purified expression, one that was more unism-like?
AMProfessor Abe had information about the Polish art movement unism. I was completely drawn to it. Since then Poland has been one of my favorite countries.
YOYou made some different types of paintings in the pre-1960 period, you have some made just from netting, others that seem to be repeated layering of paint laid on with a knife, and there are some which seem to combine both of these things. Even though we can say they have in common repetitions of the same single element, there are differences. How did all of these things relate to each other?
AMWell, the net is a painting, nothing more. Mr. Yamamoto of Tokyo Gallery was exactly right when he said, “Do you think this painting which looks like a piece of worn-tatami mat will sell?” That was the way it was then. At first I did these paintings on top of a worn-tatami-mat-like layer. That was the process. At first there was visual meaning in my using a “worn tatami mat” as my under-layer. But then as time went on, I just made a painting out of just the under-layer, nothing more.
YOSo there was some mixture of forms in terms of period.
AMYes, at that time I was sort of haphazardly interested in those things which were somehow related. I rented a house from an ex-viscountess in Harajuku and made lots of paintings in that garden.
YOThis was immediately before you went to Italy?
YOYou were already interested in controlled compositions, in unism-like works before you went to Italy, weren’t you?
AMYes, I was, but that interest came and went. That unism-influenced style was mixed in with some extremely surrealistic works. I was painting some pointillist-like works too. In all sorts of colors. On images of birds. But when I went to Italy, when I mingled with artists like Manzoni and Fontana, my own feelings got clearer, because I understood that they too had been greatly influenced by unism, even though it was never clearly stated. The Zero Group of Germany was also like that. Unism was influential among artists all over Europe.
YOIn his introduction to the 1962 exhibition held at Tokyo Gallery, Shuji Takashina seemed to make particular note of the colors you used and the blazingly emotional quality of the works.5)
AMYes, Takashina took a unique view of the works. Takashina first wrote about my works at the time of my one-woman show in 1959 at Yoseido Gallery. He had just returned to Japan from Paris and he praised my works.
YOThen you went to Europe again?
AMWhen I exhibited at Tokyo Gallery in 1962, the French dealer, André Schoeller, purchased some of my works. With the idea of setting up an exchange exhibition between French artists and Japanese artists, Mr. Schoeller came to pick out works by several artists from those shown at Tokyo Gallery. I was fortunate in that he liked my work. At that point Mr. Schoeller was an extremely important man. He was like the standard bearer of contemporary art. At that point Tokyo Gallery was handling people like Professor Saito, and I was the lowest ranking artist in their stable. Maybe because the French are so strong-willed, whatever, this decision showed how adamant he was. Some might say that he decided this because I was a young woman, but he made the decision without having ever seen me. He purchased about ten of my works and took them with him.
YOThat means that some of your works have remained in France. What is the status of André Schoeller’s gallery today?
AMThe gallery no longer exists. At the time it was in a good location, on a street called Rue de Miromesnil. Today he is more of a connoisseur. His father was a famous collector of the Impressionists. After that I was invited to Paris by André Schoeller, and I agreed that I would live in Paris for one year with his support and create paintings and hold exhibitions. It was a contract between us. It created a sensation at the time.
YOSo you returned to Tokyo from Milan in 1959, created more works, and began holding exhibitions in 1962, and then you left Japan again, this time for Paris. When did you first meet Man Ray in Paris?
AMI first met Man Ray when I was living in Milan in 1959. Hans Richter happened to be going to Paris and he invited me to come along. I went to Paris and visited Man Ray briefly in his studio. Then when I went to Paris in 1962 under contract with André Scholler, I met with Man Ray every week. There were a lot of Japanese painters in Paris, but everyone told me not to link up with them. So, I didn’t meet with any other Japanese people, I only felt like linking with Man Ray. However I was in touch with Yozo Hamaguchi and Keiko Minami. And Toshimitsu Imai was also extremely kind. He brought people to see my one-woman show at André Schoeller’s gallery and had them buy my works.
YOMan Ray made a photographic portrait of you in 1962, didn’t he?
AMYes, one day I happened to be wearing a brooch and he was extremely taken by the way it looked. Up until that point I had hated having my picture taken, and I told him, I hate having my picture taken. But I think mine was the last portrait shot by Man Ray. So, today, I am grateful, though I was embarrassed at the time.
YOCan you tell us how May Ray was doing at that time?
AMHis life seemed quite hard. He was by no means affluent; he was living quite frugally. At that time it was known that I was close to Man Ray, and so when someone came from Japan who said they wanted to meet Man Ray, I took them to his studio. This person then exclaimed, “What! He lives in such a hideous place?!” And Man Ray had understood what the person had said, even though he couldn’t speak Japanese. While he was supported by American collectors and such, he had a very frugal lifestyle, and indeed at first he didn’t even have a refrigerator. But, on the other hand, it really was a marvelous lifestyle. That studio of Man Ray’s was wonderful.
YOThe subtitle for the current exhibition,“No Beginning, No End,” was the title of an essay you wrote in Paris during that period. What was the fascination of Paris?
AMWell, it really was the sense of freedom. Man Ray was an extremely free person. I was really taken by that, the way he lived. He was completely without luxuries, not living a comfortable life. Even though he was an American, his lifestyle didn’t even include a refrigerator, but every Sunday his wife Juliet would cook for me. I also used to go and visit Van Doesburg’s wife Nellie throughout that year I was in Paris. That was also a lot of fun. I went almost every week to the Van Doesburg studio in Mendon. Nellie told me so much, talked to me about so many things.
YOYou got completely involved in that sort of European milieu in Paris, and then you went to New York.
AMYes, Man Ray introduced me to Marcel Duchamp.
YOTo return to our discussion of your two-dimensional works, when did Katsuhiro Yamaguchi make his comment about light and your works?
AMYamaguchi was kind enough to say that it was good how I made light move like the light seen in the Noh theater. I was only interacting with Yamaguchi at that point.
YOWhich exhibition was he referring to?
AMThose works were not exhibited, I didn’t exhibit them, I just put them away. Yamamoto had said, “You think you can sell that worn tatami painting? You can’t sell that kind of painting with their own special lighting devices...“ I said, “Oh, is that so?,” got absolutely livid and sent all the works right back to my parents’ house.
YOBut you had a great success when André Scholler purchased your works during the 1962 exhibition at Tokyo Gallery...
AMThat was OK. Because those works were paintings. Yamamoto understood those works. Then I made a net mesh set beneath drips into a painting. I made it into a painting. But, everyone said, a net can’t be a painting, it’s not painted. Even though I myself intended it as a painting, the other people in the world didn’t think it was a painting. That is one of the reasons I don’t like that red painting; it has some of the feelings of that time painted into it. In other words, I ended up painting a painting. At that point, Yamaguchi was the only person who understood what I was doing. When I came back from Italy I went through something like aphasia. I couldn’t speak Japanese properly, and the only person I met with at that point was Yamaguchi. He too was aiming for something that wasn’t painting.
YOYou then came back to Japan in 1966 and entered works in an exhibition entitled, “From Space to Environment.”
AMIt was an exhibition by Isozaki’s environment group. Yamaguchi was also involved, and that is how I was asked to participate. That was when I exhibited the triangular, layered work.
YOBut that was also around the time when you started to make works out of brass pipes. Did you start making brass works in America?
AMNo, I started in Japan. I was going around the hardware shops in Tokyo’s downtown district, and that is where I noticed brass pipes. Then when I had a one-woman show at Tokyo Gallery in 1967, Edward Fry came. After that I entered a work in the Guggenheim exhibition and that work received the Guggenheim Prize. Edward really liked my work, and while he was in Japan he would come to my studio almost every day. Yusuke Nakahara was the one who first brought him to my studio.
YOThe repetition of a single something, whether stroke, or image, that occurs in a flat work you then continued in your three dimensional works in the way you piled up square or round pipes. While this can be seen as the artist’s feelings, ideas carrying through all of their work, in addition, it has been said that a change was suggested by the painting of 1964 now in the Hara Museum in which you attached a mirror to the painting. Another thing I notice from your early paintings is the fact that you were already showing a tendency to deviate from the two dimensional plane in your use of thick paint layers, and the introduction of different materials.
AMYes, I really seemed to have a strong tendency towards the three-dimensional. I painted that Hara Museum painting in the Chelsea Hotel in New York.
YOThat makes sense, the repetition of drips, the layering of paint, while it seems, at first glance, to consist of only a surface layer, it has some sort of three-dimensional feel to it, like the multi-layered effect of Cubist canvases. And really, all of your paintings are made heavy by their thick layers
AMMr. Soroku Yamamoto of Tokyo Gallery often complained that my paintings were too heavy and thus hard to handle.
YOReturning to your works made from brass pipes, you said that they were often unframed, but what kind of works were they?
AMThey were made up of pipes attached to each other, or piled up. I had a work like that on my desk and would play with it every day. Early morning light shines purple inside these pipes; I experienced these kinds of effects. I piled up the things that were left after creating a large work. But those pipes, they were expensive. At first I would receive scraps left at factories and would make small-scale works. And I became so interested in these things that my studio became a welter of pipes. I took more and more loans to buy materials. But then I started to win prizes and such, and the brass merchants started to trust me. They started to send me materials. And architecture students like Manabe and Hiroyuki Suzuki started helping.
YOWere these architecture students introduced to you by Arata Isozaki?
AMNo, not that at all. I met them at various “events.” And I could ask these architecture students to draw plans of works for me.
YOWhere is the work that you made in 1968 which makes sounds?
AMIt is gone. It was destroyed.
YOYou have said that the surrounding shape is not the issue in the brass pipe works. The pipes are set inside an outer shape and are made to move freely. You have said that it is the light inside of the pipe which is important.
AMAs I always say, I don ?t have a sense of having“made” these works. I seem to have a sense of having “found” them. Brass pipes are quite long you know. And if you peer into them, it is overwhelmingly beautiful. But, even the brass merchants don’t seem to know this.
YOThe lighting is extremely important when you display a work like that. In other words, you can’t have lighting that is so strong that they sparkle strangely. Then, while not a brass pipe work, your“Utsurohi” piece displayed in the “Ma” exhibition seems to have sort of a decorative quality, a quality that resembles the gold folding screens placed in the shadowy rooms of a Japanese house. What do you think about“the decorative”?
AMAt all costs I avoid the decorative. I even hate the decorative in painting. But it is convenient to think of gold screens when you look at brass works. I have a bit of the art-for-art’s sake philosophy in me.
YOYou have a series of works entitled, “Listen to your portrait,” made between the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s.
AMI like those works. There are all sorts, with different languages, some English, some Polish. When an exhibition was to be held to show them I would make the works in all different languages. At that point I didn’t think I would live a long time, it was a time when I always said that I would “die, die” during the year, and I created them as my own grave. I had so many operations for cancer.
YOIt really was an extremely hard time. Then, in your “Scroll Painting” works from the end of the 1970s, you put all sorts of numbers and dates in those works.
AMWhile I don ?t know where the biggest piece in that series has gone, I painted those works like I was copying sutras. I had reached a sort of psychological impasse at that point.
YOThere is a link to your early works in the repetition of the same act over and over again. You have said that, somewhere, about your early works. You had always had a somewhat autistic aspect, and it was some sort of endless repetition, endless filling up.
AMRecently I am able to talk to anyone, but in the past I was not able to talk to people I didn’t know. Up until I went to America as a student for the first time, I was not able to open my mouth around people I didn’t know. But then I seem to have been cured of that autistic tendency by my experiences in America.
YOAnd you loved literature from that early age too....
AMWhile I will never have the talent to write something that could be called literature, Mr. Kazuo Hirotsu lived near me when I was a child and he was extremely nice to me and I was influenced by him. Thus it wasn’t Man Ray who influenced my ideas, it was Mr. Hirotsu all those years ago who influenced me towards something like art supremacism. Atsushi Nakajima’s Deshi and his Riryo were so important to me I carried them wherever I went. I liked Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Kappa, and works like that. I was extremely influenced by them. And I also studied art history from Professor Orui. He was a wonderful teacher, I was also influenced by Professor Orui. That was when I studied the Momoyama period. What a strange period that was, somehow separate from a Japanese sensibility....
YOIs that so? Well, our time is almost at an end, and I have one final question. You used the image of birds in your earliest works, and painted in a pointillist style. And you began to create works that were made of a matière that seemed like a flowing life force. From that period, to the present “utsurohi” installation where you are creating works which seem to draw lines in empty space, you have created all manner of works from a range of materials, in a variety of sizes. How is this current work going, this arranging of wires in the museum in Kamakura?
AMThere is no easy place for this. When I started with the staff, no-one knew how the wires would be. Then as we began, the wire lines divided the space before our eyes, and something was born where there had been nothing. It was in that moment a new experience. I have a sense that I have always been moving forward, always proceeding, repeating experiences.
(Interview conducted on September 19, 1998 in Karuizawa, Japan.)
This Interview is reproduced from no beginning, no end Aiko Miyawaki 19581998 [published by the Museum of Modern Art Kamakura& Hayama, 1998]
Copyright (c): The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama