artnet Asks: Glass Designer Yoichi Ohira

Where Murano style Italian glass meets Edo period color.

Yoishi Ohira- Cristallo Sommerso n. 31- Sclpito vase (2008) hand-blown, cut, and polished Murano glass w/incising Photo: courtesy of artnet Price Database.
Yoichi Ohira Photo: courtesy of Glasmuseet Ebeltoft.

Yoichi Ohira
Photo courtesy of Glasmuseet Ebeltoft.

Although he started out in fashion, Japanese artist Yoichi Ohira has received great critical acclaim for his design work in Italian glass sculptures. While working in fashion in the early 1970s, Ohira was inspired by a television program on Murano-style glass that led him to Venice, starting his education in glass-making at the Academy of Fine Arts. His many years of schooling and collaboration allowed him to hone his craft, leading up to his breakout design series of bottles for Vetreria de Majo in the early 1980s. Since the early 1990s, Ohira has worked in close collaboration with Venetian glass maestros on one-of-a-kind works (so closely that the works are signed by both him and the glass maestro collaborator). His glass designs have been exhibited internationally, including at the Correr Museum in Venice, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and Barry Friedman gallery in New York. artnet News chatted with the glass designer about his life and work with glass since moving back to Japan.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
When I try to think about when I first wanted to become an artist, I cannot find a precise moment. Ever since childhood, I have lived without betraying my identity by remaining true to my nature and who I am. Even when I matured and became an artist, I always kept the same aesthetic sensibility cultivated since childhood.

I always liked art while studying it during grade school and middle school. In high school, I was able to study art with a more specialized faculty. Later, I studied at the Kuwasawa Design School in Tokyo, and it was during this period that my love of glass developed. As a result, in the spring of 1973, I moved to Italy at the age of 26 to study sculpture at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts; and so it was in the world of Murano glass that I first became a designer of glass and then an independent glass artist.

Yoishi Ohira- Cristallo Sommerso n. 31- Sclpito vase (2008) hand-blown, cut, and polished Murano glass w/incising Photo: courtesy of artnet Price Database.

Yoichi Ohira, Cristallo Sommerso n. 31, Scolpito vase (2008)
Hand-blown, cut, and polished Murano glass with incising
Photo courtesy of the artnet Price Database.

What inspires you?
I believe my basic aesthetic resides in my subconscious, and is based on my experiences as a child. In particular, the natural beauty of Japan and the love of my family influenced me. My childhood experiences coalesced in my subconscious and formed my aesthetic identity. The main theme in my aesthetic identity is quite abstract.  If I had to articulate this theme in one statement, one of the main ideas would be the concept of “transparency set in the midst of opacity.”

I lived in Venice for almost 38 years. Venice is a city built with bricks (opacity) in a watery environment (transparency). The aesthetic sensibility I cultivated in Japan and the one I acquired in Venice blended together to become the language of expression for my creations in glass.

Peter Weber, Goico del Fuoco (2000) Hand-blown glass canes with murrine, carved and polished  Photo: courtesy of the artist and Barry Friedman LTD.

Yoichi Ohira, Gioco del Fuoco (2000)
Hand-blown glass canes with murrine, carved and polished
Photo courtesy of the artist and Barry Friedman, Ltd.

If you could own any work of modern or contemporary art, what would it be?
In the course of my creative life, there are, of course, many artists, as well as modern and contemporary art movements, that have influenced me. However, no particular artist or movement influenced me directly. I may like their work, but don’t necessarily feel the need to buy and collect it. After entering the world of glass, my central focus has always remained the material itself. So the external influences were, as always, the fertilizer and nutrients that helped me give birth to fresh works in glass. Even if I don’t personally own work by others, I am happy to use the emotions they elicit as inspiration. Outside of these influences, I have never belonged to an artistic movement to better free myself to pursue my own personal aesthetic sensibilities. I have always been, in this sense, an isolated and solitary artist, both in terms of my private life and in my artistic endeavors.  I enjoy my privacy, and am very content being an “outsider” artist.

Yoichi Ohira, Calle di Venezia N. 6 (2009) Hand-blown glass murrine; carved and plished surface Photo: courtesy of the artist and Barry Friedman LTD.

Yoichi Ohira, Calle di Venezia n. 6 (2009)
Hand-blown glass murrine, carved and polished surface
Photo courtesy of the artist and Barry Friedman, Ltd.

What are you working on at the moment?
In December 2010, I finally returned to Japan at the age of 64. Unfortunately, I cannot continue to work in the same way as in Murano because there are no comparable glass works and virtuoso master glass makers in Japan. So after returning to Japan, my interest has turned to the study and research of the history of Venetian glass instead of creating glass art. In 1987, the Journal of Glass Studies of the Corning Museum of Glass published one of my essays. Today, in Tokyo, I live surrounded by an enormous amount of books specializing in glass, and I continue to study and research with pleasure, always listening to the classical music I like.

When not making art, what do you like to do? 
There is only one life. In two years, I will be 70. My love of glass has resulted in the creation of my many “glass children.” It has also led to many wonderful encounters with people from all over, and has filled my life with joy. I continue to communicate with the material of glass in different ways, and am inclined to say something to this wonderful medium, “Thank you, glass.”


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