Interview: Mariko Ando
Examining the images from Mariko Ando’s show Rabbit Gravity at the Eastwood Onley Gallery, one is drawn back in time to a pre-internet, pre-digital world, when books—and even paper—were a precious resource. Using a painstaking intaglio printmaking process, Ando creates wonderfully detailed and textured prints that can only be created by hand. As a print maker and illustrator, Ando displays an inventive and whimsical vision. As she noted in a recent interview, “For commercial work, I think about how to create illustrations to suit the story and the vision of the art director. The challenge is in balancing my technique and time and earning a living. But fine art and printmaking, these involve the nastiest art director – myself. I’ll have never-ending fights about my art for the rest of my life. In one sense, there is no difference between commercial art and fine art. Whatever art I’m working on, it just makes me happy and feel like this is what I was born to do.”
Having studied and worked in both Japan and Canada, Ando’s art shows no distinct cultural influences, but is instead a reflection of her own unique vision. Rabbit Gravity, for instance stems from her fascination with the furry, long-haired creatures. “Rabbits are mischievous creatures,” she says. “One day I began thinking about rabbits all the time, and I knew I had to fully investigate their mysterious lives.”
in her own words: Mariko Ando
You were born and raised in Japan. Did you come from an artistic family?
I would say YES. My father has strong mechanic and carpentry skills. He used to work for a robot manufacturing company and he loves creating things. My mother loves working with oil paints, as well as sewing, knitting, singing, and playing piano. I didn’t get any of her genes except for painting. My sister is similar to my mother. But we all love creating!
Did you study print making in Japan?
I studied etching print making at the Shukugawa Gakuin College in Japan, but that was a long time ago. When I arrived in Vancouver I began taking classes at Malaspina Printmakers Studio. I also learned online through websites and through experimentation. There are wonderful artists here at Malaspina Printmakers Studio on Granville Island and we exchange our knowledge with each other, which is great. Also, we have a wonderful studio technician, Shinsuke Minegishi, who also teaches printmaking at Emily Carr. I really appreciate him because I can learn so much from his great knowledge (in Japanese!) of hard-to-understand, complicated printmaking techniques.
How did you end up moving to Vancouver?
It was so hard to make the decision to leave Japan because I have a great family and friends there and had a career as a magazine illustrator. However the man I love, who I met in Japan, is a wonderful Canadian guy. So that was that!
Was it difficult for you to relocate here? How did you deal with the adjustment?
I didn’t know anything about Canada until I moved here. I was so lucky because . . . I love Vancouver! I don’t even mind the rain! Actually, the rain makes me more creative for some reason. However, it was hard for a while. For the first four to five years, I lost myself I think. My husband and his family are all nice to me and I love Vancouver life but I forgot who I was for a long time. The art/printmaking woke me up to who I was. Meanwhile I made many friends and tried to do the things that I used to do in Japan. I also kept believing in myself!
You use a process called Intaglio printmaking, something most people are not familiar with. Can you describe the process?
I trace my sketch on to a copper plate that is covered in hard ground (an acid resistant material). I then scratch the image into the plate using a needle tool. I then soak the plate in acid for 40-60 minutes (depending on the temperature, or how deep I want to etch). After removing the ground and wiping with phone book paper, I’m ready to print using a heavy, massive machine press.
Some examples of your work, like this rabbit series, have an almost old-world feel about them. They wouldn’t be out of place in a collector’s edition of classic children’s stories. Yet others have a decidedly modern feel. I’m wondering if the medium (Intaglio printmaking) is influencing your approach, or if it’s the other way around—you are using the process because it’s appropriate for what you are trying to say?
I would say it begins with my “vision.” I have loved this way of etching, of drawing images, since I started art. Sometime I will put some message in my artwork but mostly I just love to create, like making a gem on the paper. Also, I do respect this old classic printing process where everything is made by a human’s hands, even in this high tech age of digital printing. There is a beautiful embossing and depth of ink on beautiful paper which digital print cannot achieve. It makes me so excited. Time & Hand = Precious. I want people to feel it with their eyes. Then look closer at it. There is a beauty on the paper.
by John Endo Greenaway. Photos by Yuri Kikuchi.
Prints and drawings by Mariko Ando
April 3, 2009, 6:00pm-9:00pm
Exhibition of original prints and drawings
April 3-9, 2009
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6:00pm
Eastwood Onley Gallery, 2075 Alberta Street (604.739.0429)