Handmade Clay Sculptures that Connect Nature and Life, NYC-based Artist Miwa Neishi

Miwa Neishi is a Tokyo-born, New York-based artist, whose sculptural works draw inspiration from abstract expressionism, prehistoric clay figures, and Japanese calligraphy.

Each one-of-a-kind work is hand-built, and entirely able to function as a water-holding vase, part of the artist’s desire for people to connect with the elemental forms of life—earth and nature—in their homes. The placements of the openings of each work are playful, sometimes challenging, gently nudging us to consider new ways of looking at arrangement.

Group Shot for Exhibition in LA, 2022

Thank you for joining us, Miwa. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you for having me! My name is Miwa Neishi, born and raised in Tokyo Japan. I have studied sculpture since college in Niigata University in Japan (2013) and pursued my M.F.A at Kent State University in Ohio (2016). Then I came to NYC to work as an assistant at an art studio and galleries, and now I am focusing on making ceramic sculptures based in Long Island City, NY.

What brings you to art? What ideas are you exploring in your practice?

Originally it was my elementary school teacher that recommended my parents to bring me to art. I had a difficult time communicating with new friends and I had better focus while practicing painting and calligraphy as a child. During my MFA in the U.S., I explored foreign materials and also began tracing back my childhood memories as I sought to define an identity of being raised in Japan. I came to realize my art is about communicating with others through making art, just like Jazz players using instruments or poets using words. Calligraphy is a great influence on my practice, and its history also encourages me to keep being creative and find shapes of connectivity beyond words, cultures, and nationalities.

Guardian Vase, 2021

You’ve been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting project you’ve done or accomplished so far?

All of the projects were uniquely exciting and I was so happy to meet great supporters along the way. Especially showing my Moji Vases at the Noguchi Museum Shop was the best accomplishment. Isamu Noguchi is one of few historical artists that introduced the mentality of merging East and West from an Eastern perspective, and I was very excited to find my artwork along with his Akari sculptures (Japanese lanterns designed by Noguchi) and other designers’ work curated in the shop. This presentation really portrayed my idea of bringing East and West together in contemporary society.

How do you define “success” in art?

To be content with what you make and be able to share the feeling and vision with others.

Collective Shot, 2021, Photo credit: Kevin Yoo

What does “community” mean to you? Has your local community inspired you as a creative?

Community is like being in water. I think depending on how you react to it matters, the community reflects and changes.

As I am more aware of the local community, the more I find good things about them, the better it becomes, I think.

Definitely the local environment inspires me as a creative – I subconsciously reflect the mind state from the environment into my artwork. Since I started living in NYC, Sculpture Space NYC – the ceramic studio, has given me the best experience of continuing my art life and meeting artists from all over the world to share the creative time and inspiration. 

Osa, 20x17x4.5in, 2020, Photo by Bryan Anton

Is there any advice that you would offer to others?

Not to be afraid of defining what you like and don’t like – and to dig deeper into the reasons why to those questions.

This practice eventually brings a person to the ultimate inner self and really cuts out the anxiety over social norms.

I have once felt burdened to carry the stereotype of Japanese culture as an artist, but from this practice, I found a more pure reason of why I interact with my upbringing and share it with others. If the art reflects this fact, it can also speak beyond social norms. 

Lidded Moji, 2022

text & photo courtesy of Miwa Neishi

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