Spring 2009 Fellow
The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion — all in one.
John Ruskin was, of course, thinking of representational artists, painters in particular. He would have been taken aback to have his ideas applied to installation art (unknown to his time), or to abstracted sculpture — much less to structures in glass — all the interests of Harue Shimomoto. Nevertheless, Ruskin’s description fits her. I’d like to think that he would agree if he could know, rather, see the history of art over the century and a half following his writing. Vision remains a primary interpretive and representational tool — we just approach things a little differently today.
A Spring 2009 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, Shimomoto takes as her inspiration, her starting point, incidents of light and shade, of sky color and atmosphere — of seasons and weather— and observed details like the habit and appearance of specific plants at specific times. She jokes that her constant use of her camera is emblematic of her Japanese-ness, but in fact, it is key, not simply to the production of beautiful photographs — and hers are satisfying, memorable, stand alone artworks. Shimomoto’s main interest in photography, though, is recording and building a kind of visual resource bank containing the minutia as well as the broad strokes of the natural world.
Her wall-related pieces are composed of layers of pale colored, fused glass rods. Sometimes they hang densely spaced on clear fishing line. Recently, Shimomoto has slotted glass grids onto short horizontal dowels. In both cases, delicate shadings of color and texture build a “small world” but a precise one. The movement of light and the viewer’s gaze meld individual elements into the ever-shifting colors of nature.
These are sculptural field paintings in a way. They are built of modules, sometimes squared off grids of fused canes, that could suggest brush strokes — even Jasper John’s crosshatchings.
Other Shimomoto sculpture densely layers arcs of cane, perhaps punctuated with small spheres resembling berries or the American crabapples which, Shimomoto says, were an inspiration for one work. In the “Fall” section of her season-based master’s thesis installation at University of Wisconsin, Madison, long glass “water drops” in coppery colors fill the space. In “Spring,” buoyant curves of greens and blues are layered like grass bending before a stiff breeze. In all her work, small identical units build a rich impression analogous to the paintings of Claude Monet, an artist she admires.
Linear rods, threadlike, reflect her interest in weaving, an interest that came after her eleven-year-old child’s realization that she had a talent for painting. She worked as a painter as an adult and has always rejected colors straight from the tube. When Shimomoto pulls lengths of cane, she tints them uniquely drawing upon an enormous spectrum of colored frits neatly filling the shelves of her studio at CGCA. Even with dozens of colors to choose from, she never uses one right out of the box, but blends
unique hues. The completed canes are then stored, each with related colors, until she is ready to assemble grids. Then they can be heated in a kiln and fused with other pieces.
When she installs a work she has sold, she gives the new owner matching spare pieces to replace any fragile elements that may be broken in the future. Still, she occasionally has to return to tune up the composition.
Unconsciously echoing Ruskin, she says, “I don’t know how my work connects to people but still I want to say what I saw.” In her art it feels like she sees clearly and succeeds in that rare thing, sharing her vision of the forest and the trees.