Etsuko Ichikawa
Photo Credit: Lincoln Potter

By Sarah Shirazi | Asian Avenue magazine

Etsuko Ichikawa is a Tokyo-born, Seattle-based artist who works in a variety of media including film, sound, drawing, sculpture, installation, and performance. Growing up in Tokyo and working professionally as an art project coordinator there, art has always been a part of Ichikawa’s life. Still, she thought it would be difficult to make it as a professional artist.

A trip to the doctor over twenty years ago changed everything for Ichikawa, when her blood work came back with potentially alarming results. This caused her to seriously ponder what would happen if she only had a month to live. “It was a wake up call,” says Ichikawa. Shortly thereafter, visiting a bookstore to flip through art magazines, the first page she opened was an advertisement for a glass blowing class. She attended the class on Noto Island outside of Tokyo in the summer of 1991 and fell in love with the art of glass blowing. After that, Ichikawa says, “everything started moving really quickly.”

After more tests, Ichikawa was deemed healthy. Soon after, she left her job in Tokyo to study English at the University of Washington and attend the Pilchuck Glass School in Standwood Washington, founded by world-famous glass artist Dale Chihuly. Ichikawa went on to work for Chihuly in various roles for eight years, where she learned what she describes as, “the practical and philosophical elements to glass blowing.” In addition to Dale Chihuly, Ichikawa also admires visual artist Ann Hamilton.

Ichikawa’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Ueno Royal Museum in Tokyo, the Seattle Art Museum, the Bellevue Arts Museum, and the University of Wyoming Art Museum. She is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades including the Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and National Endowment for the Arts.

The concept of healing is a reoccurring theme for Ichikawa. “I’m a very spiritual person and I think creating art is energy work: you are delivering or transforming some sort of energy,” she says. “I love being in my studio and making things. Healing is very much a part of my lifework. Maybe that is why people sense it. People feel like my artwork makes them feel calm.”

Ichikawa describes the most memorable response to her work being at the University of Wyoming Art Museum in Laramie: “I had a solo show in 2011 called NACHI. It was one of the most complex installations I’ve ever done in a 4,000-square-foot gallery. It was also my first time in Wyoming and I might have been the only Asian person, or person of color in sight the whole time I was there. I remember a gentleman in a cowboy hat and bolo tie telling me, “I had no idea about Shintoism, but I have a good understanding of what it is now.”

The gentleman told Ichikawa that he was a Christian. She says, “I remember feeling that it was a rewarding experience to be a part of the country, talking with someone from a completely different background about my work. That stuck with me and I still talk about that after four years.”

Ichikawa shares that the best practical advice she has ever been given was from an art mentor over twelve years ago. She recounts being guided through an exercise where the teachers instructed them to close their eyes and think about their dream world. “What are you doing in your dream? What makes you most happy,” asked the teacher. Ichikawa says, “After that we had to write down what we want to accomplish in ten years to make this dream come true, and then in varying increments, three years, six months, one month. I still do this every year.” She pauses and adds, “This is the best tool I have in order to pursue where I am going.”

Etsuko Ichikawa’s artwork is available through Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver. Her work is also on display at the Republic Plaza Lobby on 17th Street in Downtown Denver through November 19, 2016.