Etsuko Ichikawa plays with fire in Bellevue

By Emma Sargeant.
Swallowing visitors’ attention at the entrance of Bellevue Arts Museum, in downtown Bellevue, an ethereal scroll depicting the consequence of fire on paper directs viewers to explore Etsuko Ichikawa’s first show in Bellevue. Born in Tokyo, Ichikawa studied the art of glass blowing at the Tokyo Glass Art Institute in Kanagawa. Her interest in creating a piece of art using glass attracted Ichikawa to relocate to Seattle to attend the Pilchuck Glass School summer sessions in Stanwood. The artist uses a technique called pyrography, which means to literally paint with the fire and smoke released from the hot molten glass which acts as a paint brush, on to paper.
At the Bellevue Arts Museum, scrolls are aligned vertically to surround a small, circular room with large-scale images of fire moving on paper. The images encapsulate the short time Ichikawa has to think of how she wants to capture the fire to create a successful piece of art. She is interested in investigating what lies between the temporary and the eternal which is explored by experimenting with the elements to create the paradox of a simple yet thought-provoking image.
The images are calm and minimalistic. They offer nothing more than the shadow of the artist playing with fire. However, the dimension of what is essentially burnt paper, like a bored teenager making paper look interesting after they invest in their first lighter, is more than just a result of fire burning scroll. There is depth and light depending on the pressure of the molten glass swiping quickly over the surface. Consequentially, Ichikawa’s works capture movement, and the element of fire looks like a swirl or wave of water.
Hanging in the middle of the exhibition is an installation of glass balls hanging in an even, circular formation. Ichikawa blew each glass ball to hang from the ceiling and to sit one foot above the ground. Illuminated by flickering blue video images of shadows and flames, the colors play a role of contrast against the vertical and flat scrolls displayed on the perimeter of the space, completely different from the bulbous surface hovering above the floor by threads above.
The scrolls are more powerful and moving with their simplicity compared to the overwhelming installation which, for the artist, represent what the Japanese call “kokoro,” which, roughly translated, is the in-between feeling that connects one person to another, filling seemingly empty space with personal spiritual meaning. Ichikawa’s goal is for her work to capture “moment and memory, absorption and evaporation, light and shadow.” The artist’s use of elements creates the reflective ambiance to push the viewer to explore the idea of time behind something unpredictable, like fire.
The show is cleanly presented to compliment the minimalistic style of Ichikawa. Hanging on the walls of the second floor of the Bellevue Arts Museum, viewers escape to the exhibition from the metroburbia hustle outside to get in touch with thought and with nature.
The show is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, 4Culture, Artist Trust, Pratt Fine Arts Center, the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, and the Museum of Glass. It will be on display at the Bellevue Arts Museum until March 8, 2009. Tickets cost $7 for students with ID and $9 for adults. For more information about the exhibition, visit: