Masahiro Sasaki

Masahiro Sasaki in conversation with North Lands Creative Director Karen Phillips.

PROJECT ACTIVITY - glass nexus forum 

PARTNER - north lands creative 

YEAR - 2018

1. Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to work with glass?

My first contact with glass was when I was a University student. I felt a lot of possibility for my future when I learn the glass art. So I decided it.

2. How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?

Since the 70’s Japan has been greatly influenced by the studio glass movement. But not having a well-established tradition in glass, Japan has historically sought technique and knowledge from the west. Considering my art education was Western oriented, I began to question my identity and what it meant to express myself using glass as a Japanese artist. I began to see the working process where concept came first, as in contemporary art, as contradictory. Up to that point, I had learned that glass was simply a material, so it was important to use various other materials as required for my expression. However, in ‘Kogei’ (Japanese for arts and crafts,) material comes first. Through a chosen material, you express yourself. It is almost an act of becoming one with the material and necessarily considering the material as part your body. This process of working has relevance to ideas in Eastern thought where nature and material are considered matters not to be controlled, but to co-exist. In western aesthetic it seems to me that concept comes first. In the Japanese way of thinking, material possesses a soulful character of its own.

From a Japanese perspective, material comes first. So I began to think of the Japanese word ‘Kogei’ where a creative process begins with a material. When I think of using glass it is within the context of ‘Kogei’ and therefore based on a truly Japanese aesthetic developed since ancient times. Japanese and western culture are fundamentally different. Considering this observation is there any need to use the same methodology in the creative process? No! I decided to be more conscious of what is authentic and original in Japanese culture and use that as my starting point.

In Japan, one of our aesthetics about craft is the ‘beauty of usage’. We used to translate Japanese ‟Kogei” to ‘Craft’ with functionality in mind. But that translation is not enough to explain the current situation in Japan. Now many Japanese makers are producing sculpture concentrating on process and materials. This prevalent way of working produces a diversity of forms. Considering this shift from functionality to sculptural form, the word “Kogei” takes on new meaning. When making my work, I always arrive at form through the process of making. I do not have the certain motif or image of the concrete object before I start to make my works. These series of my works are made by picking up the form that was derived from the process of making vessel by blown glass. I decide the shape all of moment and moment by intuition. Initially I do not know what kind of completion shape it become while I am making it. So the final shape is undecided at first. It is not an act that I make all of works by my intention. The pieces reveal their shape as a result of my knowledge of the material along with discoveries and intuition learned in the process of mastering my skills.

‘Kogei’ have developed from context of function and beauty. However ‘Kogei’ which I think about is the molding expression which is derived by material, technique and the making process. It is important that you chose the material and investigate possibility of the material’s expression. The molten glass is shaped by control heat, gravity and centrifugal force with blowing. I realized it is important that how to control these aspects of energy and use them to make works with hot glass. From ancient times in Japan we find and pray God in the universe and natural phenomenon which is fire, water and wind etc. Japanese ‘Kogei’ is culture which is effect on such basis. I feel it is similar act that the shaman in the animism speak words of God and I produce the art works to synchronize with the glass or providence of nature. I derive the form to hear a voice of glass, and it is a kind of collaboration work with glas.

Hot Glass studio at Aichi University of Education

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Masahiro Sasaki demonstrating at North Lands Creative Conference 2018

3. Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has led to what you’re making now?

Yes! Before I got the job in Aichi Education of University, I was running the hot glass studio. I only could make the vessels to sale for getting a money to make a life. It was very difficult to make an art work at that time.

4. You currently work as Professor at the Aichi University of Education? So how did you come to be there? What’s been your career journey?

After I graduated AUE, I kept learning it in Toyama Institute of Glass Art. Then I worked at touristic glass studio for one year. It was my first professional experience as education that I was a studio coordinator at Kanazawa Utatsuyama Kogei Kobo. This is info about Kanazawa Utatsuyama Kogei Kobo.

After 5 years contract at Utatsuyama, I had started running my hot glass studio in Nagoya. During that time I was also a parttime instructor at Osaka University of Arts and Nagoya University of Arts for 5 years. After that I became a Professor at the AUE.

5. How did you get into teaching?

The most important my experience for it was that I was a TA of Michael Rogers when I was a student. It was not certain job position with a contract, but I was enjoying to help him. I was the first student on the glass department. So we could make a direction for the glass studio, and I could learn a lot of thing about how to make a glass department. I could be a parttime instructor at Osaka University of Arts and Nagoya University of Arts when they have just started the glass course. I think they appreciated that kind of my experience to work with them. I guess that kind of experience helped a lot for getting the teaching position at the University.

This is my teaching experience before I became the Professor at the Aichi University of Education.

2003-2007 Osaka University of Arts,Osaka,Japan, Instructor

2001-2007 Nagoya University of Arts, Nagoya/Japan, Instructor

2001-2014 Running hot glass studio”Glass Studio Iemak”

1996-2001 Kanazawa Utatsuyama kogei kobo, Kanazawa/Japan, Studio coordinator

6. Working in education, what does it mean to you?

I have learnt a lot from students and teaching process. It is a part of my art expression.


Working with my student to make my works

The work in the kiln for firing platinum glazing

7. You visited North Lands Creative in 2018 during the ISGNE Glass Nexus Forum as a forum speaker and demonstrator, how did you find your time there?

It was an amazing experience for me. I could present my works to many Europeans, especially UK artists. And I could meet many good artists, curators and local people. It was so exciting to be with them. 

And the most incredible thing is that such small town disseminate information to all over the world. I have known NLC since I was a student. But I had never expected that this place was in such small town

8. In your opinion what does an organisation like North Lands offer for international visitors?

NLC have given the connection for artists to artists, artists to curators and artists to local people. I think NLC can become the bridge for all over the world.

9. What are the similarities of students from Japan and Europe and what are the positive differences?

I have never taught in Europe. So I don’t know European students. Sorry that I can't answer this


10. How would you define contemporary glass in Japan at the moment?

This is very difficult question. I don’t understand what contemporary glass means as Japanese. But I think the trend looks toward the art in USA or Europe. But as I said in second question, my opinion is that Kogei is meaningful to say as contemporary glass or glass art. Otherwise it is only the works which is using glass as one of materials.


Works awaiting cold work

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Masahiro Sasaki demonstrating at North Lands Creative Conference 2018

11. What are your favourite European artists, studios and/ or places?

Andy Goldsworthy, Antoni Tàpies, Anselm Kiefer, Francis Bacon ,Antoni Gaudí

12. You communicate with artists, studios and educators internationally. What is the prevailing mood currently?

Many artists are uncertain of their future prospects. I don’t know so much about business. Especially Glass Art Market. But I have talked with Japanese and American educators about current situation. We all have had a problem with how to get the students for quite some time now. We think that this crisis will accelerate this problem. We think we need to change the shift for our future. But we still don’t how to do it. I will say we’re in a mess right now… But we have known we need to change. So this crisis makes us quick change.

13. The contemporary glass world is built on mobility: artists and their projects are not subjected to national borders, they travel and work in different countries, and their works are exhibited globally. How do you think the international glass scene will change after this crisis?

I think mobility of Glass culture won’t change. But I am sure it will be repressive for a while. We need to wait until we have a handle on the coronavirus. And we will need to make some rules how we avoid this kind of crisis in future. Anyway I don’t worry so much about this situation. But I am concerned that nationalism is on the rise as world prevailing mood currently. It will stop us easily. So we need to think how we stop it..

My studio for the cold working

Working with my student to make my works

Engraving process after making the body by blowing

Detail of the works awaiting cold work

Masahiro Sasaki

Masahiro Sasaki is a Japanese glass artist. He was born and lives in Nagoya. He studied glass art at Aichi University of Education and Toyama Institute of Glass Art. After working at Utatsuyama Crafts Workshop as studio coordinator for five years, he taught glass art at Osaka University of Arts and Nagoya University of Arts for five years. Currently, he is teaching at Aichi University of Education as professor. Sasaki has won a number of honors, including the award of Grand Prix’ from the Exhibition of Contemporary Glass Koganezaki 2009, a merit award from the International Exhibition of Glass Kanazawa 2010, and a merit award from the World Exhibition of Arts and Crafts Kanazawa ‘99. His work was featured in New Glass Review 30 and 31, and has been exhibited and collected nationally and internationally. He has been the Glass Art Society Board of Directors since 2014. He is playing an active part in all over the world to show his works and the technic he has.

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