Interview: Mayuko Ono Gray
Luca Curci talks with Mayuko Ono Gray during VENICE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2021 – 14TH EDITION, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Mayuko Ono Gray is a Houston Texas, USA-based artist whose main medium is graphite drawing. Born in Gifu Japan, she was trained in traditional Japanese calligraphy in her young childhood. Later in her teenage, she was trained in classical Western drawing. After graduating from high school in Japan, she moved to the U.S. She earned her MFA in painting from the University of Houston main campus in 2007. Her works are represented by Hooks-Epstein galleries in Houston TX, USA and Galeria 910 in Oaxaca Mexico, and her works have been exhibited internationally in Tokyo Japan (Two-Person), Oaxaca Mexico (Solo x3, Group x1), Rome, Italy (Group), and Berlin Germany (Group).
Luca Curci – How did you get to your current artistic practice?
Mayuko Ono Gray – Growing up in Japan, every Saturday afternoon was spent with my Sensei, a calligraphy master who would assign words for each of us to practice. We would spend hours producing copies of the Sensei’s sample. The goal was to imitate the sample, paying attention to the line quality, the varying speed, the pressure and the angle of the brush movement. The handling of the brush had to become rhythmic and graceful. In high school age, in preparation for the entrance exam to an art university in Japan, I had to take private lessons to learn drawing with graphite and charcoal practicing techniques such as chiaroscuro and sfumato. Saturday afternoons were replaced by a Western-style art studio with pedestals, still lifes, and white marble copies of Roman busts, instead of tatami mat calligraphy studio sitting on the floor. The fluid ink was replaced with malleable graphite and ephemeral charcoal. The wet immediacy of the calligraphic line was replaced with illusionistic volumes meticulously rendered. Instead of going through dozens of rice papers in a session, one sheet of high-quality cotton paper was given to work on.
LC – What are your thoughts while you paint? Do you have any habits or rituals while you work?
MOG – Drawing practice for me is a time of meditation and reflection within myself. It is interesting to observe all kinds of thoughts that come and go. I listen to Audiobooks a lot while I draw, which helps me focus on the act of drawing while my mind is engaged with the content. My favorite authors are Eckhart Tolle and Napoleon Hill.
LC – Do visitors’ suggestions enrich yourself and your art?
MOG – The short answer is no for suggestions, but of course, I love to hear when they tell me they love my work, that makes me happy and feel encouraged to make more work. It is always interesting to hear what viewers think or how they interpret my work, and I believe that is to be expected and welcome. But I think the most important thing for my works is that it stops the viewer to see it and somehow triggers something inside of them.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
MOG – Yes, my style or approach to works has shifted over the years, not drastically yet steadily. I believe that art practice needs to follow its evolution that comes naturally as the practice progresses over time.
LC – Which art themes do you pursue? What is your preferred subject, if there is any?
MOG – I am not sure what art theme my works fall into, but my preferred subjects are my cats! The subjects I incorporate in my works come from my domestic setting or such as self-portrait, based on my everyday surroundings. I follow and explore the idea of “stranger than fiction” to illustrate and contemplate the slightly banal yet awe-inspiring life around in my daily routine.
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
MOG – 知らぬが花 (Emily). I created this work after my cat Emily disappeared. We looked everywhere and made all the effort to find her, but she never returned. I use grids as a metaphor for our physical make up- that we are made up of many tiny pieces/atoms and meant to break apart sooner or later. I use the Japanese proverb “Anything that takes a form will break sooner or later” frequently in my works to contemplate this fact. At the same time, Emily just disappeared as if swallowed up in the air, became a light, which we cannot grasp. The title of this work in Japanese “知らぬが花” translates as “Blissful ignorance of flowers” that it might be actually a blessing that we do not know exactly what happened to her.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
MOG – I appreciated the quick response and staying in touch.