Yoichi Ohira

There's a certain duality of culture and artistry in the graceful glass vases of artist Yoichi Ohira that blends like a composition for two voices. In fact, there are two well-trained voices behind each of these pieces—the Japanese-born-and-trained designer Ohira, and Italian master artisan Livio Serena, considered to be one of the finest glassblowers in Murano. "My vases," says Ohira, "are born in a collaboration of the highest professional level."

In 1973 Ohira moved to Venice, where he took sculpture courses at the Accademia de Belle Arti; later he worked as artistic designer at a Murano glass company before going off on his own. Initially, he attempted to reproduce only the characteristics of traditional Venetian glass, but gradually he gave in to his own cultural heritage. Thus, the 150 pieces a year Ohira now produces employ a brilliant, swirling palette of Venetian colors to enrobe the gently rounded vase forms inspired by classical Japanese ceramics. "I would like to create work using my Japanese sensibility that is always a true reflection of the history of Venetian glass," says the artist, who divides his time between Italy and Japan.

With Metamorfosi, one of his latest collections (on exhibit at New York's Barry Friedman Ltd., March 2-April 15), Ohira has held fast to the techniques and colors of Murano, but here in a monochromatic style. Subtle gradations of white color some pieces; others are infused with lipstick reds and pale yellows. "Ohira's pieces look conservative because of their classical forms but they're actually quite flamboyant," says collector Howard Lockwood.

The wild geometrics, wavy bands, and even the small transparent glass "windows" cut into Ohira's vases are produced using glassblowing techniques that Livio Serena's family has practiced since the 15th century. "He has become my inseparable right hand," says Ohira. To begin each piece, Ohira cuts or slices the colored canes (long strands of colored glass fused at high heat into elongated shapes) and then arranges them on a metal frame that rests on a base of heat-resistant clay. Serena reheats the canes and lays them out according to Ohira's design, then gathers them up on the end of his blowpipe and forms the vessel as Ohira, at his side, directs the process. On some pieces master glass-carver Giacomo Barbini, also from Murano, incises the surface of the glass with decorative designs, augmenting the collaborative artistry. "This conducting of the masters on the part of the artist is comparable to the direction of an orchestra," says the angularly handsome Ohira, who always designs while listening to music. Among the composers who provide a note of inspiration: Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1556-1612), not surprisingly one of the Venetian School's most eloquent artists.

Yoichi Ohira's works range from $3,500 to $7,500. Barry Friedman Ltd.,
32 East 67th Street; 212-794-8950; fax 212-794-8889.