Local sculptor and painter Yuri Tsuzuki is no stranger to liminal spaces. Her work invites viewers into the often uncharted territory of the places in between, redefining the way we see and interact with both the commonplace and the unknown. Her body of work transforms hard, unyielding steel into lithe, seemingly weightless motion, and paintings seem as though she’s caught the literal movement of the wind within her brushstrokes. Her masterful navigation provides a portal for those who encounter her artwork to enter into these experiences as well.
Well known for her buoyant and colorful sculptures, Tsuzuki’s artistic talents also stretch across mediums, displaying her ability to translate inspirations often drawn from the natural world in steel and into wood, paint, and pastel. In her latest collection, Eccentric Flowers, a prolific series of pastel drawings, she continues her thematic journey of translating the beauty of nature and shifting the way we encounter the outwardly commonplace, adventuring into near-otherworldly depictions of sometimes subdued, often bombastic floral still lifes.
Tsuzuki, who grew up splitting time between Japan and the U.S., often cites traversing between East and West as a significant influence on her art. This aids in contextualizing how one artist could engage so fluently in such seemingly dissimilar mediums. Still, however strikingly different steel and pastel may appear, Tsuzuki eschews that this holds ultimate meaning in her ability to shift between these disparate mediums, sharing that, “There isn’t a transition between sculpture and painting. There isn’t because it’s me. So at the end of the day, there is that fluidity. Having to maneuver between cultures is the same as maneuvering in art, and it becomes second nature. To me, it is about expressing and expression. That’s the commonality.”
However, she does note some differences in creating with pastels. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to do. I am very much just go and do it,” she says. “Probably because it’s also a contrast to sculptural work, which takes months, and every project takes so much longer. So it’s nice to have something that feels spontaneous, versus something that takes a lot more time to actually create.”
Eccentric Flowers Connect Across Cultures
That spontaneity is evident in Eccentric Flowers, featuring unique bouquets whose movement and texture almost seem to leap, three-dimensional and electric, off the page. Each piece’s thick, blended, swirling lines come alive on their neutral-toned backgrounds. The centrality and dominance of each bouquet, prominent in the middle of each piece, create a distinct negative space in form and shape that bears the unmistakable fingerprint of her unique sculptural style. This is unsurprising, as Tsuzuki readily highlights the interplay between the two mediums, often noting the direct relationship between drawings that end up as sculptures and sculptures that end up as inspiration for drawings. It is an interplay that creates a novel experience of color, form, and movement. And one that causes a genuine wish for these ornate floral creations to come to life to be seen and admired.
As an artist whose work deliberately melds influence and meaning from different cultures, perspectives, and mediums, Eccentric Flowers is no less intentional in hitting those touchstones. “The flower has many meanings,” shares Tsuzuki. “I read this quote from Emily Dickinson, and she says, ‘To be a flower is profound responsibility.’ I love that quote, but I would add, ‘To be a flower takes tremendous courage.’ It doesn’t choose to be a flower—a small dandelion growing out of the weeds, and that, to me, is very beautiful. Noticing the smallest of things. And all the while, a flower has to be enchanting and ephemeral.”
Tsuzuki’s pieces attempt to balance the many contradictions innate in a flower’s existence—flowers that contain the multitudes of being, in turns delicate, dangerous, awe-inspiring, and uplifting. Alive in all their glorious contradictions. And in this, Tsuzuki’s assertion that her artwork exists as a continuation of herself is no understatement. Sharing some of her inspirations behind the series, she explains a connection between the work and her own name. “My name, Yuri, means tiger lily in Japanese, which are two very different things. Those two juxtapositions I think about a lot. Not just in Eccentric Flowers, but in my work ethic and my work itself.”
Though Tsuzuki continues to build on these ideas in her Eccentric Flowers collection, she has not been idle in sculpting either. This spring, her most recent piece, entitled Invisible Cities, a laser-cut aluminum installation, was unveiled at the historic Wyche Law Firm. It’s a piece imbued with Tsuzuki’s particular skill in melding and rearranging perspective and meaning. Making it clear that she plans on continuing her invitation for viewers of her work, those willing to journey with her, to step into the in-between and experience all we think we know with new eyes.
Photography by Eli Warren