The work of Ayako Ikeda, a spring Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America gives rise to several paradoxical trains of thought. Ikeda was born in Kumamoto, Japan and much of her work consists of vases and bowls. It’s a bit of a cliché but also true that what Westerners tend to speak of as “functional” or “decorative art,” ranking it below “fine” art, has consistently received more attention and appreciation in Japan than it does in twentieth century USA. However, when one considers the passions of collectors here, it’s difficult to be sure how dramatically the intensity of appreciation in Japan differs from that in the USA.
An archetypal Japanese example of practical art at the highest level would be objects associated with the tea ceremony. The best are cultural artifacts of inestimable philosophical or spiritual resonance. Cha-no-yu (the way of tea) centers on a ritual in which participants theoretically abandon the consciousness of status, paradoxically has always nurtured a fetish for the cult of personality relating to tea masters and makers of tea utensils. In the face of the Modern design movement, Yanagi Soetsu’s 1926 book The Unknown Craftsman was the impetus for the international Modern mingei or folk movement in crafts. The “craftsman” of Soetsu’s title is “unknown” because he does not seek or expect fame or personal expression. He exists only through his work. As everyone knows, “mingei” potters Bernard Leach (British) and his colleague Shoji Hamada sought to affirm the value of the humble artist working in anonymity; however, inevitably they and other mingei-type craftsworkers became crafts superstars with readily indentifiable styles, sought-after as commentators and teachers.
To return to the present day, Ikeda was drawn to qualities in glass which are quintessentially the product of authentically anonymous craftsmakers: organic and accidental. Before turning to art making, she studied design and its relationship to society and human cultures from an academic perspective at the University of Shiga Prefecture. As graduate student in the Department of Life Style Studies, Ikeda became involved in researching a building in Kyoto that combined a businness with living quarters for the family. She became fascinated by panes of 200-year-old glass integrated with traditional shoji screens in a novel way. Each small transparent pane cut from a blown rondel was the center of a grid, surrounded by eight identically shaped squares of translucent rice paper, then the traditional covering for an exterior opening. This was Ikeda’s first close examination of blown glass. She was enchanted. “It’s so flowing,” she recalls, “The lights and shadows; it’s so beautiful.”
By the time she finished her Masters degree at the university, she was also studying glass blowing. Ultimately she completed a course at the Toyama City Institute of Glass Art. From there she came to Pilchuck where she met her future husband, Christopher Lydon. Today she lives in Philadelphia where She and Lydon produce work jointly under the name Glassboss Studios, Limited Production Company.
Ikeda, in her personal work, blows vases which are gracefully simple and traditional in shape; however, she moves beyond the typical in her exacting technical process. She layers colors over one another, almost mimicing the layering of lacquer which is later carved, but using greater contrast in color. When the blown glass has been anealed, Ikeda uses a Dremel grinding tool to carve linear images through the layers of color. A swelling, teardrop-shaped vase from the “KIKU” series is a deep peony pink on the outside. The simple outlines of flowers cut through the translucent pink and an opaque white layer into a dark base color. The whole transparent rosy exterior is made pinker by the underlying white.
Ikeda carves the schematic flowers with a sensibility which reflects her study of old fabrics and wallpapers. She collects textiles, often old kimonos, and sews her own clothes incorporating pieces of antique material. The flower design is a transcription, contemporarily “cute” and simultaneously suggestive of the Japanese woodcut tradition.
In a final step, Ikeda re-heats the vessel to smooth the edges. In the “KIKU” design, stylized chrysanthmums, an autumn flower, mingle with spring flowering cherry blossoms in a way which might be surprising in old Japan where designs often relate to particular seasons. Though they suggest nature, nature in its irregularity doesn’t appear to be the real subject of Ikeda’s vases; decoration does. For her, it’s flowers for flowers’ sake. The regular and outline-oriented character of these blossoms hints at the manga sensibility of much contemporary Japanese art and at the current Western fashion for Japanese-inspired printed fabrics.
Ikeda’s fabric studies perhaps suggested the “Bamboo Series” in which opaque sections of pâte de verre incised with a bamboo motif are inserted into a transparent blown vessel in greenish yellow. She’s also used similar panels patterned with flowers and made bowls in which the incised lines become transparently suggestive of rippling water.
The particular project she planned for her CGCA residency visually suggests fabric piecing or patching and builds on her pâte de verreskills. She plans to apply sections of the sugary pate de verre to a blown vessel and overlay it with hot glass. Later, she will carve into the cooled glass to reveal the interior color pattern.
Anonymity aside, Ikeda’s discipline and sense of purpose do seem to resonante with the powerful Japanese tradition, which values skills honed through many repetitions. The sense of pattern and process and sensitivity to materials are qualities artists everywhere must admire.