Now on View: Hiroshi Yamano

Lauren Wolfer, Associate Curator of Special Collections & Archives

If you look back to our post on Jun’ichirō Sekino, typically when we think of Japanese art, woodblock prints are the first to come to mind. Today, we will be taking a closer look at Hiroshi Yamano’s Fish Catcher Bag #3, now on view at FWMoA, and how he incorporates traditional Japanese themes in a contemporary context.

Born in 1956 in Fukuoka, Japan, Hiroshi Yamano began working with glass in 1975 after seeing an exhibition of Scandinavian glass in Kyoto. He studied under master glass artist Martin Lipofsky at California College of Arts and Crafts, where he learned the creative aspect of glass, then took classes at Tokyo Glass Art Institute, where he learned the technical aspects. Yamano went on to obtain an M.F.A from Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. He has instructed at several prestigious studios and universities, including Pilchuck, Penland, Tokyo Glass Institute, and founded the Ezra Glass Studio in Ohtsuki, Japan.

Looking at traditional Japanese art, the attention is almost always focused on nature; a popular theme is the changing seasons, which Yamano portrays with a strong awareness of the natural world around him. He says, “I value the simplicity and quiet that I encounter in nature, surrounded by the beauty of the Japanese landscape. My artwork is a reflection of that beauty; nature is the source of my creativity.” Birds and fish are a reoccurring symbol in Yamano’s work, representing his travels between his two homes: Japan and the US, traversing the oceans. Being an island, Japan’s identity is deeply associated with the ocean; both a bridge and barrier to the West. Contrasting identities are common themes used by Yamano in both his imagery and technique; tradition vs. contemporary, isolation vs. exposed.

A Japanese woodblock with a mountain in the far background, a body of water with boaters in the mid-ground, and a woman and her daughter in the forefront. Wearing loud fabrics for their kimono's they carry tea trays with fish on them.
Kunisada Utagawa and Hiroshige Utagawa, Japanese, 1786-1864; Japanese, 1797-1858. Hiratsuka: Ferry at the Bany River; Serving Women at an Inn with Food from The Fifty-Three Stations by Two Brushes. Woodblock print on paper, 1854. Mrs. Ora Brant Collection. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Previously considered a craft-based art, glass is now a serious contender in the art market, with more museums collecting and exhibiting glass art than ever (including FWMoA!). Glass, alongside other craft-based mediums like textiles and ceramics, are experiencing a shift in the public view, gaining more appreciation. Usually considered functional mediums, artists are experimenting with their art practice, always seeking something new and fresh. In comparison to Japanese woodblock prints, around for hundreds of years, glass is the new kid on the block.

Hiroshi Yamano, Japanese, b. 1956. Fish Catcher Bag #3. Blown and hot sculpted glass, 2002. Gift from the collection of Carl and Stephanie Beling, 2021.253.a-d. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Yamano pushes the boundaries with his glass, incorporating silver leaf engraving and copper plating into his glass. From the outside of Fish Catcher Bag #3, the silver leaf fish etchings look beige and flat, but inside they glow a deep gold, emitting energy. The fish etchings also look similar to gyotaku, a traditional Japanese fish printing method since the 1800s; fishermen used it to record their catches!

Hiroshi Yamano, Japanese, b. 1956. Fish Catcher Bag #3. Blown and hot sculpted glass, 2002. Gift from the collection of Carl and Stephanie Beling, 2021.253.a-d. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

The “window” in the middle of the vase, the circular purple glass with a ripple effect, is reminiscent of waves. Being surrounded by water heavily influences Japanese everyday life, and the use of it in imagery is common. The optics of looking through the purple window and viewing the fish are similar to that if you would see fish in a body of water. The simplicity of the purple window balances out the energy and movement of the fish etching. The golden color reflecting out also stirs memories of the sun setting on the ocean, a stark contrast between the golden sky and dark waters.

I love this piece for its beauty and elegance, as well as its ties to traditional Japanese art through its symbolism. Come see it now, installed in the Summer of Glass!

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