Transformative Steel Art, Los Angeles-based Artist Kento Saisho

Kento Saisho (he/him) is an artist and metalworker currently based in Los Angeles, CA. He makes vigorously textured and tactile sculptural objects, vessels, and contemporary artifacts in steel that utilize and push the material’s potential for transformation. Born and raised in Salinas, CA, he graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2016, where he was a Windgate-Lamar Fellowship recipient from the Center for Craft in Asheville, NC. Following this, he completed the Core Fellowship at the Penland School of Craft from 2018-2020. He was also a recipient of the inaugural Emerging Artist Cohort from the American Craft Council (ACC) in 2021 and the 2022 Career Advancement Grant from the Center for Craft. He has exhibited nationally and internationally and is currently represented by Citron Gallery in Asheville, NC. 

Installation View: WITNESS | holding time, Courtesy: Penland Gallery

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

Hi, my name is Kento Saisho, I am an artist and metalworker currently based in Los Angeles. I am from Salinas, California, and I mostly make sculptures, objects, and wall pieces in steel. I started my metalworking practice during my undergraduate studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and continued to hone my skills during my time in the Core Fellowship program at the Penland School of Craft from 2018-2020. I moved to LA from North Carolina in 2020 and have maintained my studio practice here since then.

Crucible Form No 1, Steel, paint, patina 7.5″x7.5″x10″, 2023, Photo Credit: Kento Saisho

What ideas are you exploring in your practice? Is there a specific topic or theme that you are interested in?

I primarily work with steel and my process often starts with rethinking the possibilities of the material. In my practice, I am trying to harness and push steel’s immense capacity for transformation to expand the language of the material. Steel is deceptively malleable: at high temperatures it can feel as soft as clay and can be squished, bent and deformed almost just as easily. It holds marks beautifully and can be transformed into a limitless variety of textures. Utilizing these properties, I’m trying to reach new material expressions in steel. When people encounter my work, they often think that it’s glazed ceramic, stone, or even leather.

A lot of the things I make I think of as contemporary artifacts. I am always looking at objects from the past, primal vessels or burial objects from antiquity and the sorts of objects and forms that I am drawn to reflect this. I’m interested in how these objects and materials reflect and accumulate history.

Footed Vessel, Steel, graphite, 7″x7″x11.5″, 2022, Photo Credit: Kento Saisho

You have been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting project you’ve worked on so far?

I had my first solo exhibition last fall which was very exciting, but I also have to mention this group show that I was in at the Penland Gallery titled Witness | holding time. I was able to send around 11 pieces and they were presented as a dense installation on a few tables. I feel like these pieces really came alive in their dense presentation and it inspired future directions in my work, possibly to more installation work. It was also an honor to be showing with other artists that I really admired.

Round Vessel, Steel, 12″x12″x15″, 2022, Photo Credit: Kento Saisho

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

Community is top of mind to me because I recently came back from a residency at the Haystack School in Maine. The studios were completely open, and there was such an intensely collaborative energy. You could walk into any studio and learn a new skill at just about any time. I love working alone in my studio, and because of that sometimes it’s hard to realize how lonely you can sometimes be and how you can really yearn for a creative connection or some feedback. I love doing studio visits and have been doing more of them here in LA, and some of the most exciting and unexpected discoveries in the studio happen in the collaborative space between making and life. It’s harder to encounter these moments of profound and unexpected connection working in solitude.

Tablet 2, Steel, paint, graphite, patina, 10.5″x2″x14″, 2022, Photo Credit: Kento Saisho

What are you working on right now?

This summer I have been mostly drawing and making works on paper. Drawing was really my first love in art and informs all of my other work, so it has been so fulfilling to be able to devote so much time and energy to reconnecting with drawing. I’m sure this will lead to something with my sculptural work, but right now I am trying to remain connected to it as a process in itself rather than as something to lead to something else.

Object With Stand, Steel, paint, patina, graphite, 10″x6″x16″, 2022, Photo Credit: Kento Saisho

Is there any advice that you would offer to others?

I am an advocate for putting as little as possible energy into social media and focusing on studio work. Obviously, a lot of great things and connections can come from social media. However, by and large these platforms do not value us and take up so much time, energy, and headspace that devaluing them can do a lot of good and free up a lot of space in your mind and practice.

Shell, Steel, patina, 14″x16″x3″, 2022, Photo Credit: Kento Saisho

text & photo courtesy of Kento Saisho

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