Artist Interview: Mai Ryuno

posted on April 3, 2020 by

We're so very pleased to introduce our newest Artist Interview with the amazing Mai Ryuno of Play Full Ground! Mai embodies creativity in all of her endeavors, from her social art practice, to her business, to her work as an educator, and to her life in general! We were so thrilled to have Mai at our LiveArt last year, and look forward to having her back when we aren't sheltering in place! Find out more about Mai's art studio and business online at on Instagram at @playfullground or on Facebook at

Tell us about the subject matter/content of your work.

My work is about people, community, and collaboration. I care deeply for communities and seek to find new ways to use creativity to engage them, build stronger bonds, and explore artistic practice and experience.

Tell us about how you work/your process.

As a social practice artist, I look at the community as a creative studio. There I receive inspiration, think of ideas, play and experiment with materials, which include people, natural and built environment, history and culture in the community and create art. My creative process is concept driven, process oriented, and playful. I use a combination of traditional and non-traditional media such as printmaking, textile, food, etc.  It is also important for me to think deeply and create playfully. As a result, I create delightful, reflective, colorful and playful artwork, which often involves the audience’s participation in completion of the work as well.

What medium(s) do you work with?

My original art background is printmaking; however, I have also used food, sea water, waves, rain, and recycled materials, etc. to make my art. Recently, I use textile to sew dresses and soft sculptures, and do performances for which I use my own body as a medium, too.

About how many hours/day/week do you work?

Pretty much all the time. I try to spend time in my studio anytime except for the time I teach (and eat/sleep). Even though I am not in my studio making art, I am always thinking of ideas for next creative projects.

How do you navigate the art world?

I am not sure if I am navigating the art world well, but I am always looking for a meaning/purpose to be in this world. I am pretty good at finding ways to be creative in things that I do may not seem to be related to “making art”, and for me, it is more fulfilling to be creative in various capacities than to just make art. I can easily get tired of doing the same thing over and over, so having an ownership to take action and make changes in the process of creating both my art and life is a great reason to be an artist who navigates the world with creativity. (although it certainly comes with a lot of struggles, too…)

What is your definition of success?

Success for me is that I become a catalyst for individual’s discovery of creative abilities and collective use of them for a healthy, resilient, and vibrant community. Not everyone may recognize themselves as an artist; however, everyone has creativity within them. I would like creativity to be recognized as an essential human functionality, not something that is only entitled to artists. If I can inspire people to think and act with confidence for their creative capabilities with which we collaboratively make the community good for all, that will be my definition of success.

What inspires you? What do you read, listen to, look at, watch, eat, smell…?

Life is full of inspirations. I learned the process oriented and participatory art practice from books like John Dewey’s Art as Experience and Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics. Sir.Ken Robinson’s “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” TED talk and his books about creative education are inspiring for me as a creative educator. Anything/anyone, whether or not it is famous, that bridges between creativity and life inspires me. And also, conversations with people and their real stories are inspiring - I enjoy watching and reading documentaries more than fairytales, I think. Love sharing food, drinks, stories, and memories with others, too!

What else would you do if you weren’t an artist (or what do you do when you aren’t making art)?

I would still try to have a creative life in general. I may be an artist in a context of contemporary art; however I may not look like an artist in a traditional/more commonly understood way. I have seen people perplexed when they ask me if I paint after I say that I make/do art and receive my answers that they can’t easily associate to art: social practice, process, experience as art, what? Is it art? I don’t have clear borders between art and anything else that I do in my life, so it is hard to think what else I would do besides art… maybe nothing.

What are you working on now?

My social and creative entrepreneurship, Play Full Ground (PFG). It is a hybrid of a social practice art studio and business in Monterey. I found that doing a business is a creative project like my other art projects, which I enjoy doing and learn from except for dealing with numbers… Also, in the time of the shelter in place order/social distancing, I decided to do something playful daily and share cheerful moments with others online. I have played games like music chairs, a tug of war, and arm wrestling with PFG’s colorful sardine pillows at the studio and home and posted videos on Instagram.

How do you get yourself through dry spells, self-esteem fluctuations, deep shyness, general low periods, inertia?

I think that it is ok not to be always so confident, productive, and active. When I was a teen, I spent a lot of time and did a lot of things in bed: eating, watching TV, doing homework, etc.  At one point, my mother thought that I had some type of illness. I was probably depressed, but depression was not a subject for people’s normal conversation in Japan then. So, she was wondering what was going on with me. I don’t remember how long it lasted, maybe a year or so(?). The time is gone now, but I still enjoy spending sometime indoor/in bed and taking a nap with our cat Taiyo without seeing people and doing anything special. I think that it is totally normal to have ups and downs in our mood with/out reasons, yet I will seek others for help if I can’t take it all by myself.

Tell us about your education and background. Self taught? Mentors? Art college? Lessons? Internet? Combo?

I moved to Monterey from my hometown Fukuoka, Japan after completing my undergraduate degree in English at Doshisha University in Kyoto to attend Monterey Peninsula College as an international student in art department. After taking art classes at MPC for a few years, I moved to San Francisco to go to a graduate school at San Francisco Art Institute where I received my MFA in printmaking. Also, teaching is learning and my current work as a teacher has given me the opportunity of learning about art both conceptually and technically for and from my students.

Any feedback on the value of YAC.

It is a wonderful resource for young people in the community to meet like-minded people, practice art, and find their own way of expressing themselves; I am jealous! I used to work/teach in Young Artist and PreCollege Programs at San Francisco Art Institute and met a lot of creative youth who should be the heart of a creative community now and in the future! I was super happy when my former student at Hartnell asked me to write a letter of recommendation to join YAC and become a YACster!

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