Inspired: Sculptor Yuri Tsuzuki

October 19th, 2020

This is an excerpt from the Fall/Winter 2020-2021 issue of the Upstate Advocate, Upstate Forever’s twice yearly print newsletter. To read the entire newsletter, click here. If you’d like to be added to our mailing list to receive future issues, please email athacker@upstateforever.org


South Carolina has been my home since the 1960s when I moved here from Japan. My grandfather and father traveled here from Nagoya to build the first of many textile mills in the South. As a child shuttled back and forth, my only constant were the two trees in my respective gardens: A magnolia tree and a cherry tree.

I believe that the way we see and interpret the world is imprinted upon us as a child. Having been brought up between Japan and Greenville, the way nature is experienced and appreciated in these two cultures greatly influences and informs how I work as an artist.

Japan taught me to see the beautiful spirit residing in every tree, stone, and stream — to find beauty in the most humble and simple of things. This notion expands from nature into my art and life. From childhood, I was taught to respect and acknowledge the fleeting moment and its beauty, that only change is a certainty, and, this certainty expresses itself in my art and how I think about my art. To find the essence. To abandon preconception. To thoughtfully let go. The material — whether paper, wood, or steel — is approached with humility and an understanding of its innate properties. Paper tears. Wood rots. Steel is too heavy to lift.

I want my art to be sensitive and alert to the changes of light, shadow, growth, decay. The lifeblood of nature is where I seek energy, inspiration. Many of the traditional art forms — shodo (art of calligraphy), ikebana (art of flowers), sado (art of tea) — are each a lesson in self-restraint and deference. Their methodologies infiltrate my work and my person. To delve.  To reflect the light and shadow within. To recognize the intimate interplay in nature. The sound of wind and water, the intangible shadows of night and day. To acknowledge the beauty and reality of contradiction, opposition, and dichotomy.

A few years ago, I had an exhibition titled, “Forest Meditation.” The gallery was filled with paintings and sculptures of trees. On the floor, I placed a path of stones to give a sense of walking through the forest. In Japan, there is a practice called “Shinrin Yoku” — Forest Bathing.  It is the practice of walking or wandering mindfully in nature to recharge our senses and to reconnect with our sense of well being, a meditation through the forest. Greenville offers an enviable number of settings for this very practice. Yet, surrounded by such natural beauty we oftentimes, tend to take it for granted until we journey elsewhere.

My art has taken me to far-flung places around the globe. For five years, I lived in Bogota, Colombia. Bogota is a chaotic place, a city that is not easy. But it was there that I found my calling: My love for steel. I learned to weld with motorcycle repair guys. These guys were tough and their Spanish, rough. But they taught me basic welding. I know they were amused by my presence in their environment of dirt, grit, and grease. But I found a place, a place to create, a place to learn, and I loved their company. They never asked me what I was making — if it was art. They never asked me if I would be back the next day. We all lived in the present.

Places like this remind me how important it is to live in the present. And nature is all about being present. My art takes so much from nature.  And, being an artist is about keeping all the senses engaged and alive. Whether it be the lakes, the mountains, the quiet stream, the Upstate offers us places to look inward. Some places I return to over and over again, going deeper — a relationship made of layers of time. Greenville is one such place I return with open heart and spirit. Thank you Upstate Forever for making Greenville my “forever” place.

View more of Yuri’s work at YuriTsuzuki.com or on Instagram @YuriTsuzuki.

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