Mai, a graduate of Nihon University in Tokyo, worked as a set designer for many years in Japan before moving to the UK in 2002. Once in the UK, while continuing to design sets, she broadened her art practice to include freelance design and illustration. Mai published a book about British church architecture illustrated with her own watercolours.
Her interest in architecture led to a growing interest in printmaking. She also started to spend more time in Chichester looking at the city’s old buildings. Her drypoint etchings are often her response.
“I started off my career as a set designer when I was in Tokyo,” she says. “I had never been to Britain before, but building sets I felt I needed to study stone buildings. In Japan, it is very rare to see a stone building. When I came to Britain for the first time, I was really taken by the stone buildings.
“I came here to study theatre design. The design I was doing in Tokyo was more TV sets which wasn’t my most passionate job to do. I was looking more for the opportunity to do theatre design, which I was doing to some extent in Tokyo, but I wanted the opportunity to get more knowledge. London was the best place to come. When I was a student in Tokyo, I was always wanting to come to London, and I had that chance in 2002. I did assistant design jobs and productions and direction, and I was really involved for two years. My plan was to go back to Japan and carry on designing jobs there, but that didn’t happen. I decided to stay on in London and haven’t really been back to Tokyo apart from for visits. Eventually I was building up my designing and drawing, mainly British buildings. The more I studied British buildings, the more I was fascinated by medieval buildings. I started drawing and I started using water colours as my materials. I had a chance to come to Chichester, and I loved the buildings.”
The city became a key inspiration: “I love the cathedral. I was fascinated by it. I love stone buildings and I love the history. I think it is unique that in this country you get different eras added to the buildings so you get the whole history. I think England is very good at doing that and at conservation – and at not destroying old buildings!”
During her year-long residency in Guildford, Mai, who lives near Guildford, expects to continue to visit Chichester frequently as she builds up a new body of work: “I will keep coming to Chichester. With my stage design background, I love the Festival Theatre, and I also love Pallant House and the Cathedral. All the things that I am interested in are in Chichester.”
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