Fruits of Fire
Within the contemporary Venetian glass scene, the work of the Japanese-Italian artist Ritsue Mishima is exceptional. Her trademark is intuitive colorless glass objects with strikingly rough, sometimes ornate surfaces. Limiting her possibilities purposely and provokingly, she takes on a special position within Italian glass production, which is known for its colorfulness and perfectionism. Her meanwhile impressive work may be seen as a multifaceted demonstration of the classical techniques of glassblowing and decoration. In principle, her work bases on the traditions of this famous glassblowing center.
Ritsue Mishima came to glassmaking over detours. Her artistic career began in 1982 as a designer for Japanese advertising firms. In 1989 she expanded her creative range by combining installations and flowers. In the same year, she also moved to Venice where she began making glass art in 1996. Her fruitless search for an ideal vase inevitably led to her own design. Her first attempts resulted in very classical forms: elaborate and at the same time graceful designer vases on a foot, exceptionally well suited to arranging flowers. Soon a personal style became apparent; the vases developed increasingly in the direction of objects. They became larger and heavier, and many vases attracted attention for their technical perfection and visual emphasis.
Mishima often creates her works without a plan. She hardly ever provides fully detailed designs that the glassblowers have to translate exactingly. Miniature clay models, which Mishima makes parallel to the blowing process, serve the glassblowing team as orientation. While the work is in progress, she makes decisions together with her team; their collaboration is close and intuitive. The energy released during the work process is evident in every one of her objects. Ritsue Mishima follows every single step of the production and continually intervenes to bring the design to life.
Mishima draws her inspiration—if we look at the associative titles for her works—primarily from nature and the cosmos. Sometimes it is the glinting skin of fish or enlarged microscopic sea life. Sprouting seeds, weathered tree stems, or exotic fruits motivate other forms. In addition, there are objects that show meteorites boding ill, the full moon, or the twinkling starry sky. A specific type of weather or a step in a work process seems to be the subject in some pieces. Venetian light is always a source of inspiration of course. Finally, Mishima’s Japanese background continues to be tangible.
Interestingly enough her oeuvre, on which she has been working for nearly fifteen years, cannot be told as a linear narrative. Not every new piece is a development of earlier work. Every object stands for itself and its form apparently gives expression to a specific feeling.
“How can I explain my feelings? Thanks to glassblowers, sand, and fire, everything comes together when we make glass. That combines with a run against time and the form emerges. The constant rhythm of material and labor during the glassblowing process fills me with energy and passion each time anew.”
Ritsue Mishima’s work vacillates between gently swaying and lustfully brutal. Each piece has a simple inner form as starting point. All around Mishima adds layers and finally decoration. This may be geometrically shaped quills, flattened drops, or even coarse glass powder and streaks applied in circular or undulating patterns. She also uses classical Venetian hot decorative techniques such as wings formed with pincers. Only after detailed reworking in the annealed state is each piece considered finished—form and surface are then unique. Many pieces are cut in detail or polished so that the light appears differently each time.
For many years her work has received international recognition as the large number of exhibitions and prizes show. Her work is represented in ever more private and public collections. Although the vases are one-offs and each stands for itself, Mishima arranges them meticulously in installations. First, she intensively analyses the rooms in which the vases will be. Then she develops a concept in which each work for itself and all together form a spatial composition. In this, light plays a very important role. Mishima invests a lot of energy in working out the surface structures and three-dimensional decoration; she considers beforehand very carefully how the light will look in the object and how the latter will thus appear.
In economically difficult times—many of the Venetian glassblowing workshops had to close—Ritsue Mishima considers it her duty to keep the traditional artisanship in Murano alive. Increasingly she experiments with new forms and types of decoration that carries her team to their limits. The pieces are getting larger and heavier; they have lavish decoration. Often her ideas do not seem realizable but then the team does reach its goal during the work process after all. Requests from abroad to work with other glassblowers, she categorically turns down. Her collaboration with the Venetian master Andrea Zilio and the two to four “serventi” of Fornace Anfora is very important to her; she considers it an indispensable condition for her work.
Thimo te Duits 2010, Design Curator 1995 – 2014 , Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Translated from German by Claudia Lupri