Welcome to our ‘spiral market selection’ interview series, where we look at living from the viewpoint of artists and creators engaged in craftsmanship for daily life. For our thirteenth interview, we talked with glass artist Takafumi Matsushita.
──Digging deeply into the things that excite me
When I was little, I had this vague idea that I wanted to be an illustrator. After graduating from high school, I couldn’t find what I wanted to do, so I made a living through part-time jobs. At age 21, I panicked. It occurred to me that people who took the art university path would already be graduating. When you’re young you have no idea what you want to do and you freak out when you compare yourself with those around you, right? I realized I wanted to do something in the arts, and as I looked into ceramics, sculpture, photography and all kinds of media, I was drawn to glass. Glass can be made into works of craft and sculpture, and there are so many different techniques. I felt an affinity for it. I instinctively knew that it had to be glass for me.
I attended a cultural school, but I wanted to really delve in and study the field, so at age 26 I commenced studies at the Tokyo Glass Arts Institute. Over two years, I studied the fundamentals. For people who wanted to study techniques, you could observe the teachers at work to see how they moved their hands and the timing for different steps, but I wasn’t really interested in any of that. For me, it was more the wow factor in glass and being amazed by the things you can achieve with it, so there was a huge gap between what I could do, and what those around me could do, technically. Today I still have that outlook. I perhaps can’t blow people away with my skills, but I’ve always dug deep when it comes to things that excite me, so I’m better off working on my techniques at my own pace, making discoveries for myself as I go.
──Strong sense of individuality is a product of perseverance
The plants in my pieces are not drawn on but created by piecing together tiny pieces of colored glass on a glass base. It’s a technique I created myself. Using the blown-glass technique for making bowls or glasses, as I breathe out, the base and the plant parts take on this really soft appearance. Using the same technique with plates, however, it’s very hard to maintain shape and balance in the pattern.
One of my friends is extremely talented, and whether it’s blown glass or pâte de verre glass casting, everything he makes takes on his unique style. He’s like a giant ball of individuality. I wish I could be like that. If my individuality flowed like that with every technique, no matter what I made, it would be instantly recognizable as my work. That’s what made me change my methods for making plates. Trial and error got me to where I am now, and changing the technique allowed me to draw out the delicate appearance of the motifs. I feel like I’ve been able to make pieces that people will recognize as mine if they’ve seen my work before.
I believe a strong sense of individuality is something you find through perseverance. I have to experiment on my own because the things I want to do are different to others and I’m fascinated by things not found in any textbooks. But it’s about the accumulation of successes. Artists working to make truly unique pieces don’t see that as an arduous process. That’s my goal – to become more like them.
──Just like choosing a canvas
I think about plates and cups and how they would probably be easier to use if they had a more simple form. My pieces are quite decorated, and I often wonder if I’m pushing an individuality too far removed from practicality. If I want to make such decorative pieces, should I be making different shapes or objects? With tableware, you need really solid skills to be able to continuously make the same item over and again. I don’t have that. That’s the dilemma I face in my work, so I have no sense of whether a plate I’m making is practical or easy to use. I end up with the right shape, but I treat the different sizes, from mamezara small plates to large platters, as different-sized canvases, and I decorate accordingly.
──Routine generates results
On weekdays, I work in my studio from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Even if I’m unwell or can’t get motivated, I always make sure to go to the studio. I need to face it. When I’m there I can clean or just zone out, but I really believe it’s crucial to have a routine and that routine generates results.
My studio is my workplace – where I can focus. I usually don’t let my family in because there are quite a few dangerous tools around the place, but there’s a world of discovery and inspiration gained from spending days off with my children. They’re in 3rd grade and 1st grade now and going on walks with them brings up memories from my childhood. If I put myself on their level, I can see just how tall the grass looks to them. I must have experienced the world like that when I was a kid too, and that was the inspiration for the title of a series I called “Looking up at Landscapes”.
I don’t have a specific vision for the future like opening a store or expanding my business. I’ve always been terrible at imagining my own future. But I do know that I want to continue my work, and I would love if one day my children took an interest in my field and we could work together. I know in this line of work that each artist has his own time, but just like the town tofu or sweets maker, I daydream about one of my two children taking over from me someday.
Interview and editing by Spiral