”There is a desire for artwork to be permanent, but to try and keep it forever would mean that my painting would become unnatural. When I erase the painting it is sad, but within the context of the natural world, everything is temporary.”
Self-taught Japanese artist Yusuke Asai is a painter with an unusual choice of medium. He creates intricate and sprawling murals in different cities around the world, using natural materials such as dirt, water, cow dung and straw, all sourced locally in the areas that he paints. The ‘earth paintings’ – as he calls them – are entirely improvised, slowly building in layers of thought that flow from Yusuke’s imagination in the moment.
As part of Rice Gallery’s (Houston, Texas) 20th anniversary celebration, Yusuke was commissioned to create Yamatane (Mountain Seed in Japanese). The mural took a team of assistants and just under 2 weeks of working around the clock to cover the walls and floor of the gallery space with Yusuke’s iconic designs. 27 different types of soil were sourced from Houston, which the artist claims is the widest variety of soils he has ever found in one place.
Asai collects the different samples of dirt from surrounding areas, grinds them into fine powders and mixes each with water to make paint. The transient and decomposing nature of Yusuke’s work is one of the many reasons why he chooses to use earthly materials. He also uses dirt because it is cheap and accessible, anywhere in the world.
”Dirt is by nature very different than materials sold in art stores. Seeds grow in it and it is home to many insects and microorganisms. It is a “living” medium. The collection process and digging in the soil is so much fun, and they strengthen my feeling of connection to a place.”
In another of his past projects, as part of The Wall Art Festival (hosted by the non-profit organization ‘The Wall Art Project’), Yusuke was asked to paint the Niranjana School in Bihar, East India. Using soil, ash and straw, he entirely covered the walls and ceilings of the school, much to the joy of the children who attended.
After a few months, the murals faded away, which made them even more special.
Image credits: Nash Baker & Kenji Mimura.