NEW YORK, NY.-
A descendant of samurai-era Bizen sword makers-turned-Buddhist priests, Miya Ando
, a petite half-Japanese American who resides in Brooklyn, is the second coming of Ando steel workers. Miya, who from a young age saw the natural beauty and elegance in steel that her ancestors knew, has used this medium to make a name for herself as a respected post-minimalist contemporary artist. Her work is now on view in private homes and in public spaces across the U.S. and abroad.
At 5-foot-4-inches, and about 100 pounds, Miya is the unlikeliest of steel workers. In fact, some of the steel panels she works on weigh more than she does. Miya says she can move a 5-foot square easily enough, but requires assistance for larger pieces, like the 40-foot shes working on now in Louisville, Kentucky.
By using traditional metalworking techniques such as grinding, sanding, patinas and heat to create textures, Miyas use of hybrid metal finishing techniques makes her stand out from her peers. She primarily works in two-dimensional metal panels and focuses on distilling Buddhist imagery to the extent that it becomes non-denominational and universal.
Instead of using steel as a panel as in traditional or conventional painting, in terms of acrylic on steel or oil on metal, I use torches to change the color through oxidation or use patinas and automotive clear coating. Using these methods of metal finishing from the automotive industry and layering them in a way that presents itself as a painting or sculpture is my own unique vision, says Miya.
Miya looks to create works that reflect her Buddhist upbringing to create quiet, meditative environments. And as a 16th generation of the well-established Ando family, Miya made a commitment to her family to honor their name, temple and heritage in her work.
My art practice incorporates elements from my Japanese family through Buddhism and sword making and provides a vehicle for honoring my past and contributing positively to our familys history, says Miya. Metalworking is a beautiful blood thread and working with steel to create art allows me to continue my familys tradition in a contemporary way.
Steel is in her Blood
Miyas use of metal in art has historical significance as she is a descendant of Bizen sword maker Miya Yoshiro Masakatsu, a famed 17th Century Japanese master sword smith whose legendarily well-constructed blades are considered national treasures. Born to a Russian father and Japanese mother, Miya spent her childhood bouncing between Northern California and her familys Buddhist temple in Okayama, Japan. Her father, though not a sword smith like her mothers side of the family, also appreciated metals and spent his time working on cars. He taught Miya how to weld at an early age. She was enthralled with the process of turning a strong medium into something malleable, and took an apprenticeship with a metalsmith in Japan to further her understanding.
Steel is a very dynamic and paradoxical medium, at once so strong and so fragile. Its the perfect medium to highlight ideas such as the transitory and ephemeral nature of all things, quietude and the underlying impermanence of everything. It can be heated and made malleable, the color can change with solvents and heat, and sanding can have innumerable effects on it, says Miya.
Miyas academic background also influences her artwork today. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in East Asian Studies, Miya attended a Masters program at Yale University to pursue her interest in Buddhist Iconography and imagery. She says her academic studies provide much of the conceptual foundation for her artwork.
Minimalist Steel Art
Miyas bicultural upbringing encouraged her to incorporate the themes of meditation and nature in her artwork. Working with industrial steel panels, Miya has chosen to work within a restricted color palette of grays to allow one to experience the subtle shifts and beauty of the material. Miyas studio in Brooklyn is jammed with corrosive and flammable materials, torches, and an array of heavy-duty tools. Yet, unlike most artists who add to a canvas, Miyas goal it to subtract to the point of purity and refinement.
There is an idea in traditional Japanese aesthetic design to pare down anything that is not essential, so that one can see the true nature of things without embellishments. My art connects to this philosophical background and it is my personal practice to find the most simplified, distilled iteration of an idea, says Miya.
Her work often includes a severe dark strip that one can imagine as a division between earth and air, land and water, above and below. Many times Miya uses a heavy lacquer coating to produce a mirror-like surface that reflects the viewer and can be used as a catalyst for introspection. She sees her work as an invitation to enter a state beyond critical thought.
Miyas recent focus is to create public art pieces for spiritual or meditative spaces. Her interest is to create works that express spirituality in a more universal format to inspire tranquility and introspection in any spiritual setting. Two recent projects have allowed her to explore this direction.
St. Johns Bread and Life- Brooklyn, New York
Miya was commissioned by Brooklyns largest soup kitchen to create a piece for its nondenominational meditation space. Her work, a grid of 144 steel canvas squares, composes a visual symbol of hope. The piece, titled Fiat Lux: Let There Be Light, supports Bread and Lifes vision of giving strength and serenity to those who are battling an array of problems, including hunger, poverty, and related stress.
Dharma Punx/Against the Stream Meditation- Los Angeles, California
When Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society opened its meditation center to make teachings of the Buddha available to all, they asked Miya, a practicing Buddhist herself, to work on the centers focal point. Miyas grid of four steel canvases measuring four feet each is a metaphor for the Dharma Wheel and the 8-fold path. She describes it as a wide open piece of work with the opportunity for the viewer to go anywhere within the field.
Miya continues to work on large scale nondenominational spiritual projects. Currently, shes creating a 40-foot public commission piece in Louisville, Kentucky for the The Healing Place, a womans shelter. Her piece, which will be displayed in the shelters meditation room, will embody serenity and transcendence. Miya is passionate about producing pieces for marginalized groups who may benefit from her introspective-provoking work.
Miya also recently debuted a new series of steel canvases titled, Luminous Transcendent, that utilize a phosphorescent pigment that radiates a quiet, ghostly hue of blue in the dark.
She is also interested in exploring environmental and ecological consciousness and has begun a new series of works on metal donated from auto places/recyclers/metal fabricators whod otherwise throw the material away. Miyas green initiative breathes new life into metal by turning it into sleek art.
Finally, Miya is passionate about giving back and creating works for campaigns that raise social awareness. Recently, she donated all proceeds from her limited-edition series of prints on aluminum to support the Indigo Youth Movement, a nonprofit organization that provides art supplies, books and educational materials for kids in Durban, South Africa. Using Kickstarter, a fundraising platform for artists and other creative types, Miya exceeded her goal and raised more than $2,500 for the project.