Back in 1991, Takeshi Fukunishi realized that the program in metalworking he had just completed at Osaka University of Arts had focused on the wrong material. Glass —not metal — was the medium for him. He entered the Toyama Institute of Glass Art where he was graduated in 1993. Although glass is primary for him, Fukunishi refuses to be limited by any particular technique and when appropriate incorporates other materials, even living ones, in his work. The summer, 2012 Resident fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America has immersed himself in the full range of approaches to manipulating glass. He does “not think about the limitations of the technique or a particular style” but focuses on the feeling he wishes to express. Fukunishi strongly believes that sculpture should grow out of an inner almost physical sensation, often a direct response to the environment. Blowing, sand-casting, kiln-casting, lamp-working, and even cold-working (which unlike many glass artists he enjoys) can contribute to any of Fukunishi’s sweeping but understated elemental narratives. Each work is an abstract whole, a pure statement embodying the idea of time as an organic concept in which past and future eternally emerge from the present in what Fukunishi sometimes calls “energy cycles.”
Fukunishi has studied with and assisted several of the foremost glass blowers, but his work does not appear to be indebted to any particular individual. He has said that sculptural concepts must germinate and grow slowly in his own thoughts and even his physical awareness before they are manifested as a creative reality. Circular and disk-like patterns incorporate repeated elements that could suggest calendrical wheels, like the Maya’s, the seasons, the hours of the day or the wheel of life and death. The resemblance to a compass is sometimes also noteworthy. In one series, calligraphic open circles resemble brush strokes realized as three-dimensional light captured in the refracting medium of kiln-cast glass. Another series is roughly globe-shaped. Again hinting at geography, the openwork spheres are composed of criss-crossed strips. Fukunishi uses plaster molds and the lost wax process to build the individual coarsely shaped circles that are layered and bundled together into open rings. He fires enamels onto the finished work. Displayed free-standing, they project a sense of spinning motion.
A vertical conical shape assembled from similar angular strips is another repeated motif. Narrow and tall, pointing skyward, though bound with a ring near the top, the blunt ends of the layered elements could mimic strips of bark or the textures of pine cones. Even more layered and leaf-like are structures composed of sinuous striated petals that suggest sea plants.
Substantial and ambitious outdoor sculptures assembled from thick wedges of cast glass like pie sections placed on the cut surface of a tree stump are especially memorable. In one piece some of the wedges are turned on their sides breaking up the uniformity of the surface. In another they curve slightly down toward the center, bowl-like where they channel rain and dew: water, the beginning of life. Moss and small plants are trained to fill the interstices between the heavy, translucent glass, anchoring the sculpture in real time, change and growth, natural processes that transcend human concerns. Visually, glass contrasts with textures of vegetation, juxtaposing two materials that are alive to light in different ways.
Radiated across the annual growth rings the angular forms make complex paradoxical time references.
Fukunishi’s caping of the cut tree and moss planting, foretells how the truncated life of the tree will ultimately be absorbed into the on-going life of the landscape, embedded in the process of growth. The tree is healed and completed by the sculpture. “Most people have an image of glass, I want to show glass in a new light as a natural element,” he said.
Written by Robin Rice