Shun Kumagai (b. 1983, Akita, Japan) graduated from Akita Municipal Junior College of Arts and Crafts in 2007, before staying on as an assistant. He refined his distinct approach to his material through working as a glass artist at Toyama Glass Studio between 2012 and 2015, before moving to Akita Arya Glass Studio in 2017. Since 2020, Kumagai has run a private working glass studio in his hometown, and has exhibited internationally in various cities such as London, Paris and Kyoto. He lives and works in Akita City with his wife Aki Sakaida, an contemporary glass artist in her own right who we are honoured to also represent.
Kumagai creates his beautifully anachronistic artworks from glass, soil and metal; conceptually bridging glass art and earthenware. Each piece is created by pouring molten glass into a handmade gypsum mould and allowing it to cool and harden - this is Kumagai’s own unique casting technique which employs coil building with wax, a process traditionally associated with clay. In order to conceive his gypsum moulds, he firstly figures a form in wax before placing it in a box and pouring liquid plaster around it. After the plaster has hardened, the wax inside is melted and removed. The gypsum mould is then filled with molten glass which Kumagai colours with natural metal oxides such as copper, iron, or cobalt, alongside traces of clay and earth, creating intriguing surface textures through this amalgamation of materials. After a little over a week, the mould is removed and the solidified glass is cleaned. While the moulds can be used many times, sometimes their complicated forms require the mould to be broken, in order to retrieve the glass vessel within. In this case, each piece is a one-of-a-kind, alongside the unpredictable chemical changes in their making which mean the finished results are largely unexpected, creating rich expressions in the glass through irregular and anomalous changes which Kumagai relishes compared to calculated plans. While their production is in this way a kind of magic, as the phenomenon remains hidden from view in a 1000°C kiln, it requires many operations before revealing the final shape of each piece; works of deep beauty and telluric, almost chaotic, strength. The appearance of Kumagai’s work is not only determined by his unique casting technique, but also by the infinite ways in which light falls on the objects. In morning light they seem to glow from within, as if the object itself casts its own distinct light, but after the sunset they grow dense and still, more akin to the appearance of earthenware. Shun poetically describes his process as a “repetitive series of actions reminiscent of a prayer”. Kumagai's pieces evoke the history of the earliest discoveries in glass craft in Ancient Rome, and Greece, while also sharing the modesty of Japanese ceramic traditions. The unique form of each vessel, alongside the metal oxides and traces of clay that embellish them with alchemic colouring and an earthy satin finish, reveals again and again another poetic detail of material phenomenon with each look. Above all, the beauty of Kumagai’s work lies in how they capture and filter light through their layers of bold colour and unassuming texture.
“If you have one of my art pieces, I would like you to enjoy feeling the changes of time throughout the days and seasons from it” - Shun Kumagai