On a trip to Japan last year, I purchased a travel notebook that resembled a 1970’s Hawaiian Airlines timetable. The cover was adorned with the airline’s typeface and original Pualani logo, which I had adored in my youth. But once I had the notebook in-hand, I was unsure of what to do with it. It was too precious to merely scribble notes. So I left it sealed in a plastic sleeve in my studio for almost one year.
On a recent day trip to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, I brought the travel notebook with me, on a whim, still protected in its plastic sleeve. I opened its pristine ivory pages and drew several orchids, eventually moving on to other tropical plants. While it was strange to see such plants housed in a glass conservatory, they were immediately relatable, much like the floral airline logo decorating the very notebook I was drawing in. The notebook had become a sort of catalog. A documentation of colors and aromas rendered in quick marks that would somehow erase the distance between this bustling city that I lived in and the quiet, moist gardens of what I still considered home.
And perhaps this was an indication of an undercurrent of my studio work, or even a thread that wove through my recent experiences of relocating over the past five years. Moving to one location reveals something of the previous. It reveals things that can only be seen from a distance. Through this composite of lenses, I was rendering the information before me by visualizing what I could no longer access. Not just in a physical space, but also in navigating my own understandings of cultural location, genealogy, divides between the outdoor elements and the constructs of the domestic interior. And often, as I moved closer to the source, I broke the very image that I had painted.
A cross-section of my studio might reveal dyed strips of silk, chips of pine scattered from carvings depicting an abstracted landscape, planar sculptures born from folded paper and realized in hardwood, more sketchy drawings of layered vistas seen from a train window, a copperplate etched with the image of an aircraft hit by a gleam of sunlight. The work spreads across a number of disciplines, but I prefer to know the intimacies of each medium to gauge how my decisions meet the materials. Each vein of work manifests in distinct forms, but they iterate different paces of the same breath. For me, quick drawings are never based solely on the registration of the visual to the page, just as labor-intensive sculptures have moments of immediacy that respond to the surrounding environments.
An armature of walnut, cedar, poplar, among others, draws allure to its own grain as much as it frames the light that hits the wall behind it. A sculpture can retain the idea of a partition and instead become a window. I’d like to believe that my affinity for wood grain is inherent, somehow attributed to my grandfather’s obsession with carpentry. My experience working with the material never overlapped with the sixteen years that I knew him. If that’s the case, maybe it was a quiet inclination, always there, just waiting to be kindled.
My work table is littered with paper maquettes of sculptures that may never be realized. I kept coming back to one in particular, folded in one place, standing at three points. I translated this maquette that was structurally sound in miniature into a modular sculpture of slender frames that stood taller than me, not without moments of uncertainty. It was a relief to assemble it, let go, and see it able to support itself for the first time. The tactility of the piece lends it a concrete presence, roots it in the physical surroundings, asks the viewer to understand it by means of the shadows it casts.
In turn, it provides a space for other works that evoke location and the experiential. Landscapes of sugarcane, abstracted through woodblocks, can reemerge through rice paddies in northern Hokkaido or a patch of tall, dry grass on the route to Far Rockaway. I tore down strips of raw silk and impressed the weave of the fabric into the carved wood, which I had saturated with dye. As I pieced the transferred prints together, the compartmental nature of printmaking seemed so closely related to the planks of hardwood I was joining together in my sculptures. Once hung, the silk obscured the space, and I was gazing at the sugarcane.
Nature is aestheticized by its own ephemerality — bloom, wilt, hibernation, wakening are all echoed in our own lives. Especially living in the city, I’m drawn to spaces that, even if curated, provide some source of nature, as it has become an essential feed into my studio work and perhaps necessary for my own well-being. It isn’t so much a path to escapism as it is an affirmation of warmth and my attempt to be present with something that can so easily be filtered from our lives.