Chie Shimizu

April 22nd – May 29th, 2022

Opening Reception:
Friday, April 22nd, 6-8pm
For your safety we are limiting the number of people that enter the gallery.

Looking for Clue

The Japanese tea ceremony is an essential element of the nation’s culture. Through the ritualistic serving of powdered green tea, one undergoes a transformative and unforgettable experience of refinement and history (the tea ceremony dates to 9th century Japan). The tea ceremony is also deeply linked to Zen, specifically to the tea master Sen no Rikyū. One of his innovations was the garden, or roji, which surrounds and leads to the room in which the ceremony occurs.

The Japanese-born, New York-based artist Chié Shimizu has taken her inspiration for this exhibition from the roji, with which it shares its name. “In the late 16th century,” Shimizu says, “Sen no Rikyū perfected the style of the tea ceremony, preached the importance of the roji, and established the tea garden with the serenity of a hidden valley in the mountains, a place where the commotion of the city is left behind so that the true nature of human beings or objects themselves can exist there.”

Finding a place with such calmness might be difficult in a city as energetic as New York, but Shimizu sees the journey as more important than the destination. “Seeking the Zen garden in New York City, a melting pot of races and cultures, is a compelling challenge,” she says. “This is my first solo show here, and I aspire to reach people’s inner-most souls by presenting my works of the past 20 years, which embody the thoughts and lives of numerous people that touched and inspired me throughout my life. I do so in a space that resembles a roji, where those stories can be amplified.”

The issue of mortality and the all-important question of “what am I?” inspired Shimizu to become an artist at an early age. Her solution, as a young woman, was to see her great uncle, a sculptor who practiced Zen. She never got an answer to her question, and so the curiosity remained—and has persisted to this day. It is in her work that Shimizu grapples with it. “Looking for clues through art became my life’s journey,” she says. Witnessing her work here, in the quietude of the roji, a space that exists between the bustle of the city and the peace of the gallery, we can join her in her quest for understanding.

Exhibition View

Ultra-cal, plaster, seashell powder, pigments, silver powder, Life size, 2022

Ultra-cal, plaster, seashell powder, pigments, 60”h x 42”w x 24”d, 2019

Ultra-cal, plaster, seashell powder, pigments, white gold leaf, 17”h x 12”w x12”d, 2022


— An interview with Chie Shimizu

What are your earliest memories of appreciating art? What do you remember seeing that made an impact early in your life?

There were a lot of art books in my parents’ house, so I remember making hands out of clay after seeing Rodin’s hands, and copying one of my favorite Picasso paintings, Girl before a Mirror. Those memories are from elementary school. But the biggest impact on me was Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. It haunted me for a very long time.

When did you know that you would be an artist? Were your parents supportive of this ambition?

Probably in the last year of high school. And yes, my parents were supportive.

The figure “standing” on their hair is a repeated motif in your work. What do you think motivated you to invert some of the sculptures?

It was to see things in a different way. A position that is out of the norm creates different viewpoints, which may lead us to see and feel the true nature of human beings. Also, we feel our physical weight because gravity pulls us towards the earth. I thought that if I removed that, what we would have left to feel is perhaps the weight of life.

I see the influence of ancient statuary in some of your work. Is this true? Which eras or artists from the history of sculpture are influential to you?

I admire many ancient Japanese artists, including Unkei and sculptors from the Kei school from the Kamakura period (1192–1333), especially when they emphasized realism over tradition. One of my favorite places to see ancient sculptures is Kodo Hall in Toji (East Temple) from the Heian period (839). The statues inside Kodo Hall were also restored by Unkei during the Kamakura period.

You’ve mentioned elsewhere that you were inspired to become an artist by thinking about mortality. What are your thoughts on mortality today? 

The entire world is going through a pandemic causing immense pain and suffering. And now I am heartbroken by the Russian invasion of Ukraine that is taking so many precious lives and causing unspeakable tragedy. Nothing seems certain; the peace that we have never seems to last, and our lives are transient. It is difficult to confront mortality when living itself is already a hardship. But I would like to think that our limited life spans create depth in our lives and intensify the moments we have so that each unique life is profoundly meaningful in its existence.

Do you have a personal conception of the afterlife?

I think that the body and mind are separate entities but won’t exist without one another, so when I return to earth, “I” do too.

What is an example of some lessons you’ve learned from Zen?

To have a view that breaks free from the constraints of society, to disentangle from attachment, and to discard preconceived notions.

What is the roji’s primary purpose in the tea ceremony? And what are the benefits of taking part in a tea ceremony?

The roji is used as a tool to cleanse one’s heart and mind of the dust from the world, so that what seems to be a simple act of drinking tea is no longer just about drinking tea. Entitling this exhibition Roji does not mean that viewers go through a ritualistic experience. Instead, it represents my experience of creating art as if I have been walking through such a place, a roji, and seeking the true nature of humanity.

I’d like to ask you about a couple specific works if you don't mind. What can you tell me about Untitled No.15, for example?

That piece is from 2015. It shows a struggling man on top of rusted musical instruments, which may stand for peace or people’s voices. They are depicted as dying, though some shiny gold parts suggest they may be still revivable, as hope. It is a song for dying instruments.

And what about Maquette No. 7? 

That’s from 2013. The figures carry stones on their heads, which may refer to the burden of life and express the feelings of hardships as they continue their journey no matter what comes in life.


The Weight of Life

Chié Shimizu was born in Japan in 1971. Shimizu’s art in the 1990s consisted of metalwork and oil painting. Since the beginning of the new millennium, her work has been predominantly in the medium of realistic figure sculpture with Japanese traditional painting, and partially with metal leaf.

Shimizu earned her BFA from Tokyo University of the Arts in 1993 with a major in metal crafts, and received a prestigious Salon De Printemps Prize at graduation. She had several shows of both metalworks and oil paintings in Tokyo and Kanagawa, Japan, before moving to New York in 1996. She earned her MFA in sculpture from the New York Academy of Art in 2001 and received a grant from the HRH Prince of Wales and Forbes Foundation to study at the Château de Balleroy, Normandy, France. Her work has been exhibited in numerous venues in New York, including the Island Weiss Gallery, Mark Miller Gallery, Dillon Gallery, BoothGallery, the Fresh Window Gallery and WhiteBox Harlem. Shimizu's work has also been included in private collections worldwide, from the United States to Germany, Turkey, Israel, Peru, and Japan. She currently lives and works in Queens, New York.

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