Ritsue Mishima was born in 1962 in Kyoto, Japan. She moved to Venice in 1989, and began visiting the glass workshops of the Murano islands. Mishima collaborated with the glass artisans there beginning in 1996. In 2001, she was awarded the Giorgio Armani prize for Best Artist at Sotheby's Contemporary Decorative Arts Exhibition held in London. She makes large, organic forms often inspired by nature, and is one of the few artists in Venice working almost exclusively in clear glass.
Mishima's major exhibitions in recent years have included the Venice Biennale in 2009, a solo show at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, the Netherlands in 2011 and as part of a project, ‘Spring at Palazzo Fortuny’ in Venice in 2014.
How can I convey my emotions?
Thanks to the glassblowers, minerals and fire blend to form glass in a race against time, everything comes together and shape grows from the inside out.
The continuous rhythm of matter and action in making glass works never fails to fill me with excitement and passion.
I started working with a glass factory on Murano Island in 1996. After learning about it from a stranger I met at a waterbus station, I happened to visit and my path to glass opened. The traditional glassblowing team or piazza consists of a maestro and two serventi (assistants). After first working with maestro Livio Serena, as of 2001, I have been collaborating with Andrea Zilio.
In some cases, my concept determines the shape a piece will take, at other times the form is born out of the glass-blowing process itself.
I show Andrea my sketches and, with a clay model in hand, we bounce opinions off each other. If there are times when he says "Proviamo!" ("Let's give it a try!"), there are other occasions when the excitement is all in my head, and we have to abandon a plan because idea and material don't mesh.
In any case, all our decisions are made via open and lively discussion.
Working off a rough sketch, likely one I've done on the spot, tacked onto a sizzling-hot steel screen to the left of the kiln, a team of three, or four for difficult pieces, create the piece. Entrusting fabrication to Andrea, I watch over the proceedings with a steel rod in my right hand, and like a conductor following the rhythm, try to guide my vision into life.
"Soffia ancora un po" ("Blow a little more!"), "schiaccia qui" ("Push it in here!").
As the piece takes on light and contour, the mood grows tense and the rhythm ticks by moment by moment. Andrea spins the 900°C ball of fire into shape. Sweat lines his brow and he shoots powerful looks in my direction.
I send back blinks and nods; we hardly need words.
The maestro's assistants - his hands and feet - can read his slightest gesture.
No energy is wasted in their movements.
Andrea's swift commands, "Gira" ("Turn"), "Bon" ("Good"), "Vieni" ("Come"), "Pronto" ("Ready"), "Soffia" ("Blow"), quicken the workspace tempo.
At the end of the steel pole, the globe of hot glass honey rotates in the fire, swelling and contracting, in tune with the pulse of life. In the glass factory, grimy with soot and dust, the kiln-fire burns with a dazzling heat. The sounds of the present flow from the radio by window, but the roar and heat of the kiln fills me with sense of the primeval.
Every fragment of the day has gone into the piece.
The molten glass, the movement of the serventi, the maestro's mood and focus, my decisions, the flow of work and form, all become one - fruit of the fire.
The above passage was written by Ritsue Mishima for the publication, Glass Works Venice, published by Seigensha Art Publishing, Inc in 2007 (p 235).