Local artist speaks about ancient Japanese art form

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Marissa Mizroch/The Daily Northwestern

Amy Lee Segami demonstrates the techniques used for suminagashi, an ancient Japanese art form. Segami spoke on the art form at the Evanston Public Library Sunday.

Marissa Mizroch , Reporter

The leading artist in the ancient Japanese art of suminagashi spoke Sunday at Evanston Public Library about her childhood and background as a mechanical engineer that led her to a life of painting.

Suminagashi is an art form in which the artist uses water as a canvas for ink paintings, before transferring the image onto rice paper. Amy Lee Segami said she has taken the art in a modern direction.

“In the traditional way, you aren’t supposed to do anything,” Segami, who is from China, said. “You are supposed to let it go with the flow. You aren’t supposed to impose any of your will on it.”

Kerry Chambers, who attended the event to learn more about suminagashi, said he appreciated the uniqueness of the ancient art form.

“It’s really mystifying how it comes together,” Chambers said. “Going from a single surface to something that looks so three dimensional is amazing to me.”

Segami said her work stands out because it is so rare to see in the present day.

“No one else is doing it,” Segami said. “There are people who claim they do painting on water, but it is totally different. You say it’s passion, but it’s also to open people’s eyes and open their minds, that they can stretch and reach for something.”

Segami spoke at Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., where her collection “Frozen Dreams: Painting on Water” is on display as the local artist of the month. The title comes from her childhood, during which her father influenced her to study to become an engineer, while she dreamed of being an artist.

“Where I was born, where I was from, they told me I was not worth the price of rice,” she said. “My father told me I was to study and be serious. All along as I was doing that, I had no choice but to tuck away my dream into the freezer.”

Segami eventually got a degree in engineering with a focus in fluid mechanics. After working as an engineer, Segami began taking art classes as a way to stay connected to her Chinese heritage. She eventually left her corporate job to work as an artist full time.

Segami’s friend Jill Morgenthaler, who is married to Chambers, said Segami’s unconventional path to art is what makes her so distinctive.

“Even though she was forced to become an engineer because of her father, it all paid off when she got to live her dream as an artist,” Morgenthaler said. “She’d never be the great artist that she is if she didn’t have the engineering.”

Today, Segami also credits her father and her background in engineering as the inspiration for her art.

“Truly, if it wasn’t him telling me I needed to have something secure, I couldn’t be doing what I do,” Segami said. “Truly, it was all that engineering that made it possible. And I can tell you, when you have a deep, deep passion in your heart, it will never go away.”

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