How can we better understand and improve mental health through the creative arts? To help us answer this question we sat down with LA-based glass artist Kazuki Takizawa, founder of custom glass design studio KT Glassworks, to discuss how glassblowing helped him on his path to healing and inspired his advocacy for mental health awareness.

Tell us about yourself: Where did you grow up, study?

My name is Kazuki Takizawa. I am a Japanese glass artist currently based in Los Angeles, California. I was born and raised in a bubble of Japanese community in Hong Kong, and lived in Bangkok, Thailand in my high school years. Growing up in foreign countries and having language barriers have been a strong force behind me becoming an artist and using art as an outlet for expression.

When were you first introduced to glassblowing and what do you think sparked your initial interest in the medium?

I first saw glassblowing on TV when I was a high school student in Bangkok. I wanted to further my studies in English and really wanted to try glassblowing, so I decided to move to Hawaii on my own to study glass art at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Since then, I’ve been captivated by this molten goe. Aside from the fact that I am inherently drawn to things that are dangerous, glass can be used in so many different ways to tell a story. I especially love the way glass can be fragile and has the ability to fracture and collapse. My past decade of work in glass has been utilizing these nature of glass to speak about my experience with mental health, depression, and suicide.

What has the process of glassblowing taught you as a person?

When glass breaks, it breaks. No matter how much time you spend on a piece of glass artwork, one fracture in glass can mean that weeks of my time will be unaccounted for, and will have to start all over again. Glass has taught me many things, but out of all things, I think it has taught me to be patient. It also taught me to be courageous. As glass is molten and fluid in liquid form, it is always falling towards the ground when it is hot. No matter how much time, sweat and money I have invested in a piece that is on the end of the blowpipe, glass has taught me to work hotter. Through glassblowing, I learned that the more risk you take in life, the closer you are to your goal.

How has this centuries-old tradition been modified to incorporate advances in technology?

Glassmaking has a very long history of tradition from many cultures in the world. All of our modern glassblowing studio utilizes these centuries-old techniques and tools still to this day with an addition of new tools that were introduced as a result of advancing in our technology. In my most recent trip to Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Washington where I had the privilege of working with a new media artist, Reiley Donovan, we experimented on using tools from new technology like the augmented reality HoloLens within the setting of glassblowing. New technologies such as 3D printing, waterjet/plasma cutting, and development of various new torches in the industry has been integrated in many aspects of the glass industry, however, glassblowing is still very much hands-on and relies heavily on the hands of craftspersons.

Tell us about KT Glassworks and how it all started.

I started KT Glassworks back in 2012 with the launch of few of the glass product line that I was creating back then. However, over the years, it has grown so much more than that. In September 2018, KT Glassworks opened its first physical location in a 2000sf space in West Adams neighborhood in Los Angeles, California where we are equipped with the state of the art glassblowing equipment. We now cater to businesses, designers and clienteles with their custom glass needs, teach private, group and corporate glassblowing workshop and rent out our facility to other local glass artists.

Where do you seek most of your inspiration from?

A large portion of my glass sculptures and installations I’ve created is inspired by my personal experience. As an artist who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder several years ago, I have been using glass and other media to speak about my personal experience living alongside this mental disorder in hopes to create an awareness on the subject matter. Personally, I experience more depression than mania. In my past experience, I have these very specific and brief moments when I come out of deep depression and all my senses get revitalized and get filled with inspirations and I start sketching non-stop. Many of my favorite work was born during this period.

Is there an artwork you are most proud of? Why?

In 2015, I filmed a three-minute video recording of a glass installation I made at STARworks Glass Lab in Star, North Carolina. This video installation piece remains one of my favorite and the most sentimental piece I have created. This installation was inspired by a trip I took to Tokyo to help my younger brother through a tough time. He is a much healthier person now, but he was at the time going through mental crisis and demonstrated strong suicidal ideation and actions. A video of this glass installation titled “Breaking the Silence” can be found on my website at www.kazukitakizawa.com, and was created in hopes to reduce stigma associated with suicide.

Your work demonstrates a lot of activism around mental health awareness. What motivates you to use your creativity in this way?

I come from an Asian background, and I knew absolutely nothing about things like depression and mental illness. It wasn’t until I started going to therapy in college in Hawaii that I started to learn about mental disorders and how common it is. I wonder how different my life and my family’s life would’ve been if we knew more about what depression was. I think art and glass is the perfect way I can translate these things that I am trying to tell the world. I have offered public speaking events to speak about my art and mental illness across the US and in Japan, and the experience is so humbling and inspiring. Personally, my health has greatly improved since I opened up about my diagnosis with bipolar disorder, and I think that is one of the main reason why I continue to speak about mental health through my work.

What do you think the role of the artist is in society?

If there is one thing that artists are responsible to do is to express and to voice their opinions in a unique way. In this modern world that is comprised of overwhelming amounts of controversies and trends, I think the creative thinkers are here to be alternative, bold and impactful to direct the current of our modern society.