How L.A. artist Kelly Akashi’s work tackles impermanence

Kelly Akashi provides new that means to the phrase “learning by doing.” The Los Angeles-born artist was initially educated in images, however has since taken up candlemaking, glassblowing, bronze casting, and, most just lately, stone carving. Her sculptures and images evoke tangled emotions about time, impermanence, our bodies and our relationship to nature. For her, these lofty themes are rooted not in philosophy or faith, however within the course of of constructing issues — and the “conversations” with supplies that end result.

Akashi, 39, is having fun with her first museum retrospective on the San Jose Museum of Artwork. (It’s on view by way of Could 21 after which travels to the Frye Museum in Seattle and the Museum of Up to date Artwork in San Diego.) Dressed casually in a brown T-shirt and denims with giant holes within the knees, she is pleasant and welcoming as she sits down for a chat in her studio, a transformed storage in a quiet Altadena neighborhood.

On a big desk to her proper are two brilliant pink sculptural items solid from her personal physique: an armless torso and an stomach with legs dangling as if it has additionally simply sat down for a break. Akashi’s work typically combines such casts with different pure or handmade objects, mixing “fine art” supplies like marble and bronze with “craft” media like glass or candles. Glass vessels could have breasts, sprout hair or dangle perilously from ropes. A bronze solid of her personal hand presses evenly on a deflating glass globe, or gingerly cradles a thorny thistle. Candles that counsel physique elements or mutant slugs curl throughout a shelf and remodel as they burn. Her pictures additionally make use of uncommon combos of supplies; for one collection she used glass objects, organized solely by really feel in whole darkness, as “negatives” to create coloration photos that resemble nebulae or blood cells.

Artist Kelly Akashi holds a piece in progress.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Occasions)

Though her works may seem spontaneous, Akashi says they’re the cumulative results of many fastidiously thought of selections. “I don’t tend to do a drawing of a finished form,” she says, “I do different steps in the process, and then I want to see what that leads to.” She admits that typically the result’s failure, like a glass work that shatters, or a chunk that isn’t prepared for prime time. “You don’t know if it’s going to end up in a show or like, in the garden,” she laughs.

Her eyes gentle up when she talks about her newest fascination: stone carving, which she picked up in the course of the pandemic. She describes how carvers are sometimes attuned to what the stone is telling them, however as well as, “I realized I was projecting things into the stone, and then it’s sort of showing me something in my own mind,” she says, “That’s the kind of material conversation that gets me really excited to continue with a medium.”

Shifting outdoors to a concrete patio lined with tall bamboo, Akashi lifts, with some effort, a lump of lifeless, pinkish stone concerning the measurement of a giant child. “To be frank, there’s, you know, physical limitations in stone carving that I need help with because I don’t have the physical strength,” she says, “but I’m trying to bulk up, so it doesn’t matter.”

A piece depicts a hand holding a stone.

A completed work by Kelly Akashi.

(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Occasions)

She notes that chiseling and sanding away at stone can also be a a lot slower course of than working with different media. “You obviously can’t really add something back, so there’s a lot of looking that happens,” she says, “Looking at it from different perspectives, looking at different light, especially when you’re outside: different times of day, different times of year that will reveal things that you didn’t see last month, or the year before.” She carries the pink child over to a backyard hose and sprays it with water. Out of the blue the boring, matte rock transforms right into a luminous, fleshy mass crisscrossed with thick, white, tendon-like bands.

This respect for the method displays her religion in craft traditions: strains of data handed from one era to the subsequent by way of dialog, instructing and demonstration. She studied images at Otis School of Artwork and Design and obtained her grasp of high quality arts from USC however didn’t be taught different craft methods till later, when her mom taught her to make candles. “That was the first time I really entered a way of making where I was consciously thinking about the fact that it was an oral history,” she says. She additionally enrolled in a glassblowing class at Santa Monica School, the place she observed that visiting lecturers, in contrast to these in artwork faculty, all the time gave a demo after their discuss. “There’s things you learn from seeing somebody work that they could never explain,” she says.

This type of intergenerational transmission took on new significance in June 2020 — the early days of the pandemic — when Akashi started making journeys to Poston, Ariz., the place her Japanese American father was incarcerated along with his household throughout World Conflict II. “It was like a weird time to be in that region, because everything was shut down, so it was very isolated,” she says, however “that gave me the time to maybe have the slowness to work with these topics and these locations.”

She started by photographing the principally barren website, desirous about the passage of time on a bigger scale. She was drawn to the bushes round Poston, which had been probably planted by Japanese American prisoners who had been farmers and knew coax life from the desert. “For me, the site became maybe this connective tissue,” she says, “Geological time is so vast that when my father was there, and when I went to visit that site, it’s a very short amount of time, actually.”

Making this connection was particularly necessary as a result of Akashi’s grandparents and father didn’t communicate a lot about their wartime experiences and had handed away earlier than she started the venture. She does have some household pictures taken within the camp, a few of which embrace bushes. She chosen a number of of those to breed within the exhibition catalog alongside photos shot throughout her visits. Tree branches and pine cones from Poston have additionally discovered their approach into her sculptural work as bronze casts, witnesses to the incarceration and the a long time which have unspooled since.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about mystery,” she says, “and how to keep space for that.” Maybe private histories left untold are usually not in contrast to conversations with stone that solely reveal themselves over time. “The memories of people before us are kind of embedded in our tissue,” she says, including that you just may assume “you have no access to those people, but maybe, somehow they are a part of you, or you are hearing them.”

Kelly Akashi: Formations

The place: San Jose Museum of Artwork, 110 South Market Avenue, San José, CA.
When: Thursdays 4–9pm, Fridays 11am–9pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11am–6pm. Closed Mondays-Wednesdays. By Could 21, 2023.
Price: $8-$10
Data: (408) 271-6840,