uiet contemplation. In our increasingly sped-up lives, with so many demands for our attention pulling us from all directions, such moments can be rare.
Yet when we don’t take precious time for ourselves, or allow this gift for our loved ones, the consequences can be dire: a car accident that could have been prevented, the onset of stress-induced disease, even a break-up of a close relationship…all warning signs that living in perpetual overdrive isn’t serving anyone. Least of all ourselves.
And so what happens? We suddenly have no choice but to stop, explore gentler alternatives, life approaches that shuffle priorities. And in time, if we give ourselves enough room, we come up with creative new options.
For mixed media photographer, Yuko Ishii, the solution began with one simple wish: air.
INTERVIEW WITH YUKO ISHII
Cascade Mountains, Washington ~
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Please tell me about what you are soaking up in the foothills of Washington State’s Cascades mountains. What are the tactile nuances you experience as you move throughout your day? How is this leaking into your work?
Yuko Ishil: When I decided to lead a reclusive life in the deep mountains, it opened many opportunities unavailable when living in a large city. It helps me go deep and deeper still within myself to find my voice as an artist. My studio is surrounded by many tall pine and fir trees. I particularly love the fragrant scent of Douglas fir after it rains. Nature develops my inner eye, and I can sense much in this silence.
Without this experience, I couldn’t have pursued my art career.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Have you always lived in the U.S? If not, what are some of the aspects of your heritage that you have chosen to hold onto and maybe even weave into your work?
Yuko Ishil: I am originally from Japan, where I was a poet and a musician, writing songs and playing the guitar in my psychedelic alternative rock band in Tokyo. My favorite bands are Sky Cries Mary and The Nymphs/Inger Lorre – I was very inspired by their music. I have been creative all my life, but I had never been a visual artist in my country. When I moved to the US, I began photographing nature, and then that work evolved just naturally to mixed-media photography.
I truly appreciate the Japanese Shinto ascetics and traditions. I actually use the Japanese calligraphy in some of my work, but I think my soul doesn’t belong to any one culture or philosophy. I prefer to wander and explore, regarding the universe in general as my home.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your pieces are so enigmatic. Does their meaning change for you over time? Offering different gifts to you at different times as you move along your own journey?
Yuko Ishil: My pieces hold meaning for me but it’s a meaning that can’t be put into words. Nor am I able to say what led me to create a piece. I can say, however, that each completed work follows what I consider to be the elusive mysteries. The depth and texture of each piece mirrors the influence of the elements. I see my work as part of a journey, a series of encounters and discoveries, both in my mind, and also in the viewer’s mind.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: I am enchanted by the way you create boxes for each of your mixed-media pieces. What is the symbolism behind this?
Yuko Ishil: I always love to hide something precious and sacred to me in a small wooden box. I am also fascinated with the idea of secret. What is your first reaction when you encounter a closed box with shut doors? You very likely are curious to see what is inside! And if you don’t open the doors, it remains forever mysterious. I also love to encourage the viewer to touch and feel my work directly with their hands by opening and closing the doors of the box. This gives me joy.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Are your dreams very strong for you? When you awake are you able to recall them?
Yuko Ishil: Yes, my dreams are very strong. Most of the time I am able to recall them when I awake. Vivid visions, symbols, and strange stories stick to my mind quite strongly, so I don’t need to write them down. They allow me to fall into a meditative state, where I am in communication with the universe. I believe I am accessing the Akashic Records/the Book of Life when I have those dreams. The Akashic Records are like the DNA of the universe that contain an energetic record of every soul and the complete history of the cosmos.
One of the purposes of my art is to create something authentic with a continuing life of its own. I think the first impulse of my creativity does often come to me from memories experienced in another lifetime. These memories lead me towards a story when I awake. So yes, dreams are my main source of creativity.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: When you’re taking a photograph, do you already have in mind the story you want to tell? Or is the process more organic?
Yuko Ishil: When I am photographing, I am trying to discover something previously unknown spiritually. I like to capture what I don’t know. In the beginning, there is emotion, very primitive and elemental, and there is no vision in my mind at all. As I translate the emotion, vivid visions take shape. Yes, the process is very organic.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Your new alchemy series fascinates! Evocative of a fairytale. What folklore, fairytales or myths have inspired you in your life? What themes most capture your attention?
Yuko Ishil: For me it has been stories of witchcraft, the occult and the supernatural that have always inspired me since I was a child. I have also been inspired by soul psychology and soul healing since I started living in nature in 2001.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: There is such a strong sense of mysticism throughout your work, Yuko. Were you always this way? Or did this grow as your moved deeper and deeper into your work?
Yuko Ishil: I always had a great deal of faith in the highest, Divine self, but it definitely grew as I became more spiritual through my art in the deep mountains. Art can work magic with one’s mind, heart and soul, and provides an inner transformation. It also emanates tremendous healing energy. It makes the impossible possible.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How can we develop more of an artist’s awareness as we move throughout our day?
Yuko Ishil: Art is the power of the great spirit of love and truth which flows through all the universe. We can develop the awareness as we confess what we truly believe at the deepest levels, no matter what the world may think.
I believe art gives us new possibilities and ways of living in society when we are fueled by passion, deep impulse and inspiration within us. We can leap to a new level of consciousness through our creativity.
The process of creating art is also meditation that is healing. I gave myself self-imposed total silence last winter. That was the most critical and profound spiritual practice I have ever had in my life. I meditated on nothingness as long as my spirit needed. And one day I realized that the shadow and the light go together, that my whole being was blessed by the dark as well. There are still many layers and levels of consciousness that need time and space to unfold themselves, but all I want to do now is surrender to nothingness so that I can open my heart fully, heal my soul and be more creative.
There is always more miracle and magic than we ever realize in life.
Yuko Ishii is a Japanese artist currently making her home in the Cascade mountains of Washington State, where she brings together photography, painting, assemblage and calligraphy to express what she experiences both in the lush countryside around her and within.
To view more of her work or connect with the artist, please visit her website.