About a 20-minute drive from Toyama Station, a glass artist Takeyoshi Mitsui’s production base, the "Toyama Glass Studio," is located. It’s surrounded by lush greenery that stretches as far as the eye can see. And a vast expanse of sky is inviting you to take a deep breath with arms outstretched.
Mitsui is from Hiroshima Prefecture, and currently works in a corner of a studio in Toyama Prefecture, famously known for its glass production. "I’m not sure if I can say things like artists are supposed to say. I'm just an ordinary person," Mitsui describes himself. After the interview, it became clear that his insistence on the extreme duality is reflected in his works and in the process of creating them.
After graduating from high school, Takeyoshi Mitsui entered an art university filled with students who shared a passion for their dreams. However, during his first year, he felt insecure about himself, who lacked ambition among his peers.
"I was only interested in art and PE classes when I was in elementary school. I felt pressured to go to college and ended up studying at an art university, but I didn't have any big ambitions, like wanting to create large sculptures or draw pictures. Simply, I just liked making things so I decided to major in crafts." Mitsui explains.
While studying ceramics, glass, design, and textiles, Mitsui was drawn to the complexity of glass. In his second year, he specialized in glass and spent three hours each morning from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. at a studio which offered space for free, and devoted himself entirely to his craft. It was during this time that the prototype of his "Bottle People" series was born. The style was completely different from his current work, using opaque glass with multiple colors and various materials and techniques.
"I felt like I had to create something weird because I had to be something different from others. The Bottle People I was making at the time were garish with bulging eyes and opaque colors. It was more about my own feelings than the artwork. But the more I made, the more I realized that I wasn't being natural. I didn't want to get a job, so I went to graduate school as an escape route. Through writing my final thesis, I learned to objectively look at my own work. One day, I suddenly felt like I didn't have any talent, and it actually made me feel so much better. I stopped forcing myself to work so hard to be someone I’m not. Then, little by little, I began to change my approach to making things by subtraction."
After graduating from graduate school, Mitsui joined the Toyama Glass Studio. He made a transition from making glass for himself to making glass for others. It was a valuable four years for him to take a step back and face design from a different perspective.
"Having experience in designing practical items helped me develop an objective perspective. It was also when I realized that I couldn't become a craftsman who makes the same thing over and over again, but I cannot be an artist. This uncertainty was a huge source of my complex."
He struggled to find his place until he discovered the "silence" series of glassware. It was when he learned to embrace his uncertainty instead of knowing what’s right and wrong.
"The pieces are one of a kind object, but they're also functional. I hope to create a landscape-like scene inside the glass. The process of using two-tone colors or carving lines into the glass creates unique marks that can only be made by the human hand. I like how my vibrations are reflected in the lines. The size of the pieces varies, and since they will ultimately be handed over to others, I don't want to limit their choices for sizes of hands, preference to shapes, and colors."
Although his meticulous use of color and handcrafted techniques may seem additive, the impression conveyed by "silence" is one of tranquility, just as its name suggests. The answer to his shift in approach from his time in art school lies in this additive mindset.
"I'm actually color-blind. I can't really tell the difference between yellow and yellow-green, for example. But if everyone sees colors differently, who's to say what’s correct? I just choose colors randomly since there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to personal perception. However, I make sure that no matter what color combination I use, the overall mood remains consistent. Using too many colors can make things look like toys. But monochrome can give a cool impression, so I use glass to neutralize the colors by carving it away. Although it may appear to be an additive process, it's more like a neutralizer. By carving the glass, the impression becomes slightly softer, giving off a feeling of rainfall."
Combining opposing elements and neutralizing them to find a pleasing gray aesthetic is his approach. Another work he creates is the "Bottle People" series.
"When I was in college, I saw bottles that looked like human bodies, and that's how it all started. At that time, I created something like a garish monster with strange titles like 'staring' or 'dancing.' I thought it was great back then, but now it's embarrassing to think about it." Mitsui laughs.
The Bottle People have a bold and confident presence. Despite their tiny heads, they have a modest appearance that grows on you over time. While silence has a sense of elegance even though they are tableware, Bottle People bring out comfort and relaxation.
"I always try to create an impression that is opposite to their original purpose for both silence and Bottle People. The Bottle People are art pieces, but I want them to have a rustic presence that can blend into any space, like a vessel. This is the same idea with the color scheme of silence; adding a face to the Bottle People can be risky and could easily make them look like toys. However, without a face, it's hard to tell what they are. The moment you put a face on them, they suddenly become alive, and that's what makes it interesting. I've been trying to find a way to soften the impression of human shape into something comforting. Past few years of this exploration led me to the current form of Bottle People." Mitsui explains.
"I think I just like balance in general. Glass has a nature of moving and changing with gravity because it's made from melted raw materials. My blowing technique, physical condition, and my whole body, including my experiences in PE and Art in school, all influence the final product."
Creating Bottle People requires a certain level of flexibility and high creative freedom. It may seem like a complete opposite process from creating silence, but each work represents something unique about him.
"One of the good and bad aspects of creating something is the way it can betray your efforts. Just because you put a lot of time into something, it doesn't necessarily mean that it’ll turn out well. So I try to be smart. Silence is like a game where you have to work within a set mold and avoid making mistakes to find the one right answer. With Bottle People, there is room for exploring and making mistakes, and I can even take advantage of the mistakes. Sometimes you blow without thinking and it turns out surprisingly well. Only sometimes, though! When I feel stressed with working on silence, I take a break and work on Bottle People to balance things out. Both of these are a part of who I am."
The key to Takeyoshi Mitsui's gray aesthetics is to listen to his own voice and curiosities. This approach has helped him strike a balance in every aspect of his creative process. He admits to being an ordinary person who just expresses what's inside of him. His honesty and self-awareness are what make his works so powerful.
Photo by Asuka Ito
Text by Rei Sakai
Translation by Kuki Akaeda