Masutani May: Building Glass Worlds

Glass artist Masutani May expresses herself through intricate sculptures

6 October 2023, Written By Stephanie Peh
Photographed by Kiyoshi Nishioka

Almost anybody who handles a glass object treats it with the utmost care, like something to be cherished and protected, lest it shatters. Glass is as strong as it is brittle, as enduring as it is fleeting. The work of Masutani May, a Singaporean glass artist based in Toyama, Japan—a coastal city a couple of hours away from Tokyo known for glass art—expresses the contradictory quality of the material. In One With, 2020, tiny glass rings form a cascading sculpture, evoking lightness and strength. Each ring, approximately two centimetres in size, was painstakingly handmade: A one-shot process that involved pulling glass in its molten state before shaping it to a consistent thickness. The completed rings were then joined using a torch.

“It's rewarding to be good at what you do. I’m only at the beginning,” says May who primarily creates her work through the technique of flameworking using borosilicate glass—a material with high resistance to heat that has the capacity to withstand temperature variations without breaking easily. This gives the artist more freedom to shape and mould the work to a desired form. However, the window of time to manipulate glass is relatively short compared to other materials so May spends significant time ideating and sketching her ideas out before executing her artwork.

Formerly a graphic designer and illustrator, May cultivated an interest in three-dimensional forms, sculpture and space while working in a multidisciplinary design studio in Singapore. Admiring the work of Japanese sculptors and craftsmen, she kept up to date with the blogs of Japanese galleries. Gradually, she started gaining interest in glass and its quiet elegance, leading her to pursue a new journey. “There is something about clear glass that is so honest and moving,” she says. She would then dedicate her time and resources to learning more about glass and the Japanese language. In 2017, she quit her job and moved to Japan, attending a yearlong language course in Tokyo before completing a two-year certification programme at the prestigious Toyama Institute of Glass Art, which only accepts up to 16 students a class annually. Rather than being discouraged by the possibility of failure, she followed her heart.

Today, she has built a glass practice in Toyama. Apart from making sculptural art, May dabbles in everyday homewares. She enjoys engaging with people and the local community through her daily wares, which can sometimes resonate better than sculptures and the highbrow world of art. Being a part of local handmade markets creates many opportunities for her to connect with the local community and have light-hearted conversations about her work. “Being based in Toyama, it brings me great joy to be able to contribute to the community here,” she says.

Beyond work, she strives for balance in other aspects of her life. For May, self-care is about maintaining a daily routine. No matter how busy she gets, she wakes up early every morning, feeds her pets, and then goes for a run. After which, she makes coffee, has a substantial breakfast and writes in her journal. It may seem trivial but these habits keep her grounded and contribute to a healthy mental state.


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