Alone with Materials

Vol. 9 YASUE MAETAKE, at her studio in Ridgewood, Queens, NY, Feburary 5, 2021

Welcome to the studio of Yasue Maetake, a New York-based sculptor known for her eclectic materials both urban and earthy.

In this video interview with Ellen Knechel, Yasue Maetake looks back on her experience in West Africa, where she first worked with natural fibers. From this experience, using an intricate and laborious process, she developed a unique sculptural form that combined natural and artificial materials. Ellen, a filmmaker, has been recording Yasue’s life and work since 2018.

YASUE MAETAKE (b. 1973, Tokyo, Japan)

Yasue Maetake is a New York-based sculptor and holds MFA at Columbia University. Her work deals with the environment and nature’s interaction with the man-made. Yasue deems her art-making process “un -preconceived.” She takes found objects and raw materials, breaks them down and recombines them through casting, welding, and/or exposure to chemicals.

Yasue Maetake, Lineal Fetishism II, 2020, assorted animal bones, seashells, bronze, steel, brass, found stone, polyester resin, synthetic clay, 22 x 29 x 14 in. Courtesy Microscope Gallery, New York and Artist, © Yasue Maetake

In 2015, during her residency at El Anatsui’s studio in Ghana, West Africa, she learned to work with mulberry barks and cotton fibers, natural materials that she had hesitated to use before. At a paper-making workshop she observed the chemical reaction between broken cellulose and water and realized the nature of the fibers didn’t change, only their external qualities did. This discovery drastically changed her approach and method for sculpture over the next several years.

Yasue Maetake, Printed Oxidation on Fiber Relief VII, 2016, 25 x 24 in. Steel rust on boiled and beaten cotton linter and mulberry bark, © Yasue Maetake

She sprinkles vinegar or ammonia on the fibers and lets them absorb a variety of color pigments from rust-causing metal scraps, as if making an abstract painting –copper corrodes and turns the fibers green, steel turns them brown. To appreciate colors not only as visual perception but also as something tangible, Yasue lets a fiber drape be controlled by gravity until it turns into a three-dimensional sculpture. Unlike real corrosion which keeps changing, she saturates the erosion deep into the paper, capturing the corrosion and printing it on dried paper. In this way, she transforms patina into permanent material.

Yasue Maetake, Printed Oxidation on Fiber Relief V, 2020, 10 x 10 in, pigmented cotton linter with steel and copper patina © Yasue Maetake
Yasue Maetake, Specks of Green Rust Before the Wind I, 2017, 96 x 46 x 38 in, copper patina on kozo and cotton, cane steel, © Yasue Maetake

Maetake Yasue's work has been shown in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Berlin, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Puerto Rico among others and has been reviewed in important publications including the New York Times, Artforum, Flash Art, and Art in America. Her current show Transmutations features works made in 2019 and 2020 and is currently on view at the Microscope Gallery in Brooklyn through March 19, 2021. For further information, please contact She is living in Ridgewood, Queens, New York with her husband David Lee and her 4-year-old daughter Ai.

On view at Microscope Gallery through March 14, 2021, © Yasue Maetake