In her latest body of work, jewellery artist Mariko Kusumoto expands on her theme of ocean-inspired pieces with smaller-scale necklaces, bracelets and rings, made from delicate fabric in an array of colours.
It's an ongoing experiment that looks at the possibilities of the soft polyester material, using a heat-setting process on various moulds to create different shapes – ones that look as though they were plucked from a coral reef. "Sea creatures are artwork by themselves," Kusumoto tells Creative Boom.
"I'm always blown away by their beauty. Whenever I have the chance, I enjoy watching documentary films about the deep ocean. I'm constantly amazed by creatures that I've never seen before, and there are still so many creatures that haven't been discovered yet. The ocean is full of mystery, that's why I’m very attracted to it."
It was in junior high school that Kusumoto decided to become an artist, opting to major in fine art. During her education, her main focus was oil painting and printmaking with a focus on metal-etching. "Metal has been a familiar material to me since I was a child," she explains. "Growing up in a Buddhist temple that was founded 400 years ago, I was always surrounded by the beauty of nature and ancient things, like the faded paint on wood and stone steps with hollows created by centuries of raindrops dripping off the roof.
"I was also fascinated by the elaborate metal and wood ornaments made by skilled craftsmen that were throughout the temple; polishing the ornaments in the altars was one of my chores. So I was always interested in metal."
Kusumoto continues: "In class, I learned photo-etching techniques, and I found myself more fascinated by the metal than by the images printed on the paper. After I took a small metal sculpture class, I began making three-dimensional metal sculptures using photo-etching techniques. After that, I worked with metal for about 18 years and then started to work with fabric about eight years ago."
Metal was, in fact, her main focus until 2013. "After completing a very involved and technically challenging metal piece, I felt the need to move away from using purely representational imagery and do something more abstract and organic, and with a different material. The result has been my fabric work," she says. "Fabric is the complete opposite of metal. I like the softness and gentle texture of the fabric I use, as well as the atmospheric nature of its translucency. The full potential of what I can do with fabric is still unknown to me. I’m on a journey to explore the endless, unlimited possibilities of this material."
Today, she crafts small wearable jewellery pieces, as well as larger sculptural works using fabric. "I believe that to express certain things, the scale of the piece has to be appropriate," says Kusumoto. "To suggest subtlety, fragility, intimacy, or something you want to embrace, a smaller scale like jewellery is better, but if it's too big it might lose these kinds of qualities. By wearing the piece, it becomes part of you versus a large installation work, where you feel like you are part of the piece. Different sizes have different roles and purposes. I like to work on both."
Amongst her many beautiful jewellery pieces, people opt for those that have a "positive and wh whimsical atmosphere with vibrant colours" such as the 'Bubble' brooch. And the ocean-themed pieces are also popular.
Did the pandemic change her practice at all? "I mostly like to stay home and work on my pieces, that is my priority, so the pandemic didn't affect my lifestyle very significantly," Kusumoto says. "The only thing that changed was my shows and exhibitions were postponed. But I still got a lot of contact from people who were interested in my work, which fortunately kept me busy even during the pandemic."