Masako Miki’s shapeshifting spirits draw on Japanese folklore

Masako Miki’s shapeshifting spirits draw on Japanese folklore

In San Francisco, Osaka-born artist Masako Miki explores human identity, transformation and the Japanese Shinto concept in a new series of playful candy-coloured bronze sculptures

‘New Mythologies’, is a new solo exhibition of bronze sculptures, watercolour paintings and felt sculptures by Japanese artist Masako Miki. The San Francisco show is on view at CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions’ new location within Yves Behar’s global design firm Fuseproject

These hyper-polished bronzes in explosive pop colours and playful motifs continue Miki’s exploration of the Shinto concept of the Tsukumogami yōkai – shape-shifting spirits that occupy household objects. In this folklore, inanimate objects can become sentient beings. 

Masako Miki, bronze sculptures exhibition in San Francisco
Masako Miki, left: Ichiren-Bozu (Animated prayer beads), 2021; centre: Kuchisake – Onnna (Mouth tear woman), 2021, right: Nyoijizai (Animated back-scratcher), 2021, all painted bronze. Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Miki is best known for her anthropomorphic yōkai sculptures made on a human scale from brightly coloured felt wool. For these new works, in collaboration with Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, the artist tackled bronze casting and pushed the medium to its limits

‘Bronze sculptures have a beautiful presence with a patina finish that offers curvilinear movement in my work. I have combined both patina and very subtle layers of paint to create flickering optical illusions of colour, which emphasize movement and highlight the shape of form,’ says Miki. 

Masako Miki, bronze sculptures exhibition in San Francisco
Left: Connecting Shapeshifter, 2021; right: Contemplating Chestnut Shapeshifter, both cast bronze with automobile paint and urethane. Photography: John Wilson White. Courtesy of the artist and CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

Miki has put a modern twist on the age-old process by densely layering opalescent car paint to create silky, frictionless surfaces. The results are easy on the eye, but it takes work to get under their skin. 

The artist’s spirits occupy liminal and fluid notions: secular and non-secular, animate and inanimate. They also explore the nuances of non-binary spaces: between gender, biracial identities and her own experience as a Japanese immigrant woman living on the intersection of two cultures. 

Masako Miki, bronze sculptures exhibition in San Francisco
Installation view: Masako Miki, ’New Mythologies’ at CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions. Photography: Wyatt Hall, Impart Photography. Courtesy of CULT Aimee Friberg Exhibitions

In addition to the show, Miki recently released a series of her bronze yōkai spirits into the public realm. The outdoor art installation, titled Holographic Entities Reminding of the Universe was commissioned to inaugurate Uber Technologies’ new campus in Mission Bay, San Francisco. 

‘My sculptures have been shape-shifting in materials from paper to felted wool and now, in innovating on the appearance of bronze with new form and materials for a contemporary audience. These evolutions are a natural process because the essence of the shapeshifters is fluidity.’ §

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