The anodization of aluminum—a process common in everything from carabiners to satellites to medical equipment—is yet another factory method to fall under the provenance of fine art. Miya Ando's work, created through a process of dip-dying aluminum blocks in electrically-charged vats, are nothing short of industrial watercolors. "I like this ability for a plate of metal to evoke soft imagery and ephemerality," says Ando. The process hardens supple aluminum, adding to the rigid surface the artist's own subtly colored gradients. Ando explained this process and more during a recent stop at her Brooklyn studio.
The descendent of swordsmiths-turned-priests, the half-Japanese Ando brings her family's unconventional origins into her art. "Furisode Kimono" is a 180lbs sculpture made of steel squares that have been soldered together with sterling silver rings. The process for this work is different from the aluminum pieces, using heat rather than anodization to achieve the gradient. In both, the effect is permanent and established within the properties of the metal. "It's embedded; you can touch it and it won't come off," explains Ando.
When tasked with describing her anodized work, Ando says, "They're paintings that use sculptural materials." The planar works have a texture and visual weight that communicates heft in spite of the light and airy gradients. While the highly finished pieces indicate a degree of precision, Ando's process is largely self-taught. After gaining access to an industrial facility, the artist began to hand-dye plates in anodizing baths—a process that made quite a sight for on-site workers.
Past work from Ando has included skateboard decks cut from diamond-plated steel as well as bioluminescent leaves. She also gained praise for a monumental piece honoring the World Trade Center that was made of steel salvaged from the towers' supporting structure. Her fascination for materials bred the recent release of the "Iron and Silk Scarf", a chiffon scarf printed with the image of one of her metal works. Ando is currently working on a new series will feature buddhist prayers scratched on aluminum with a tungsten carbine pencil.