B20 Artist Interview with Chieko Murasugi
B20: Wiregrass Biennial is a juried exhibition that encourages innovative and progressive work and showcases the South’s most talented contemporary artists, illustrating the region’s rich cultural heritage. Selected work utilizes a variety of art forms and media, including paintings, sculptures, mixed media, new media, and installation art. Three jurors chose from a field of over 130 entries for this year’s exhibition — the first virtual exhibition ever for WMA — featuring 39 artists from 11 states.
We’ll be sharing a series of interviews with B20 artists during the run of the exhibition, and our ninth is from Chapel Hill, North Carolina -based artist, Chieko Murasugi.
Where do you find inspiration for your artistic practice?
The primary inspiration for my practice comes from histories: family, art, and social/political. I am particularly interested in how personal and institutional historical narratives are constructed, for this is an active and ever-evolving process.
What is your process for your collage pieces? Do you start with the cutout shapes and build around them or cut the shapes specifically to fit a planned composition?
I start with cutout pieces that I glue onto my substrate in a relatively haphazard manner. Next, I use a sketch app on my iPad to compose my painting. This stage is a lengthy reiterative process for I improvise from the sketches while painting the work.
How does your work explore your personal background and your interest in peaceful resolution to conflict?
My background as a descendant of samurais and a child of Japanese WWII survivors informs all of my work, from its materials to forms. For example, my collage pieces contain marks of violence, such as burns, scratches, and tears. I strive to balance my horror of bloodshed with my wish for peace by containing and integrating these violent marks within enigmatic but harmonious compositions. I, with the late civil rights leader, John Lewis, am a proponent of non-violent resistance and resolution:
“In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way.” John Lewis, New York Times, 7/30/2020
Where do you select the material you will use in your work? Why did you choose to use older works on paper for the Roshambo series?
My materials, such as nori, paper, ink, and origami colors, are traditional Japanese ones. I also use personal archives, such as old diary pages, as well as geographical signifiers such as NC clay. In my Roshambo series I upcycled older works on paper for their marks (i.e. burns, tears) and because they are material fragments from my past.
How does your degree in Experimental Psychology inform your work? Are you tempted to analyze people based on what they see in your abstractions?
My research examined visual perception, specifically how primate brains process visual information. Because of this experience I’m always aware that our brains are tremendous problem-solving machines that resolve abstract and ambiguous inputs. I’m intrigued to learn what different viewers “see” in my paintings. Perhaps not surprisingly, they often detect human figures and faces.
How does living and working in the South impact your work?
The South is so different from all the other places I’ve lived (Toronto, Montreal, Champaign-Urbana IL, and San Francisco) that I feel as though I’ve been transported to a different world. With a sense of wonder I view my surroundings with fresh eyes, and that excitement carries into my practice. I feel even more compelled to experiment with my approaches and materials, an exhilarating process.
What’s next for you? Is there anything new you are working on that you’d like to share with us?
I’m very excited about a new artist run space, BASEMENT, that I, with seven other local artists, opened last year in Chapel Hill. As curators, our mission is to showcase artists from the Southeast whose thought-provoking work engages fellow artists and community members in meaningful dialogue. We curated our first show, Breathing Without a Body, last fall, and were planning our second show when the COVIVD-19 pandemic struck. For now we are maintaining a digital presence and planning in-person events for the hopefully not-too-distant future. One of BASEMENT’s goals is to promote openness to different points of view in a time of national discord, for this is key to fostering tolerance and reconciliation.
Our website is www.Basementartspace.com @basementartspace