News Environment This Massive Mural of Mythic, Wild Forms Is Painted With Mud Soil is the humble material used to paint this incredible artwork. By Kimberley Mok Kimberley Mok Twitter Writer McGill University Cornell University Kimberley Mok is a former architect who has been covering architecture and the arts for Treehugger since 2007. Learn about our editorial process Updated August 20, 2021 07:06PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Share Twitter Pinterest Email Yusuke Asai, Courtesy of ANOMALY News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive Mud is known to be a simple material: perfect for pottery, luxurious mud baths, building designer-worthy buildings, and even for creating low-tech air conditioners to cool yourself down. But it's not often that we see mud being used in a more artistic, free-flowing way, as Japanese artist Yusuke Asai has been doing for over the last decade. Best known for his sprawling murals adorning walls from India to the United States, the Tokyo-born painter uses local soil as a painting medium, much like how a conventional painter might use watercolors or acrylic paints from a tube. One of Asai's recent works is this incredible mural done for the Wulong Lanba Art Festival in Chongqing, China. Rising up from ground level and up to more than two stories high into a dome, the impressive work is titled “The earth is falling from the sky” and features a mythical-looking female figure with her arms outstretched. Yusuke Asai, Courtesy of ANOMALY Upon closer examination, we see that the walls are festooned with various organic forms, some resembling imaginary animals and plants, while other shapes and lines are more fluidly tribal or geometric in nature, creating the impression of a blank wall that has suddenly come alive. Yusuke Asai, Courtesy of ANOMALY Asai, who is a self-taught artist, often uses the soil found right at the local site for his painting technique, typically mixing the soils with varying amounts of water, as soils differ in their color, texture, particle size, viscosity, and composition, depending on the location, climate, and terrain. Thanks to this site-specific technique, Asai is able to get a wide array of different tones for his murals—from deep browns, burnt oranges, brazen reds, to neutral beiges. Yusuke Asai, Courtesy of ANOMALY Asai's first use of soil as a material dates back to 2008, when he took part in a group exhibition in Indonesia, creating a mural with water and soil found on site. He instantly took to the technique, as it's a humble, readily available one that doesn't require any specialized supplies to prepare. Yusuke Asai, Courtesy of ANOMALY Asai has since experimented with making art and other different installations with other non-conventional mediums like dust, flour, masking tape, pens, and in one case, even animal blood—all of them exhibiting that same predilection for a somewhat tribal-primitive aesthetic. Yusuke Asai, Courtesy of ANOMALY Filled with swirling forms that seem to nest in and sprout from each other, much of his soil-based work seems to suggest a kind of "universal ecosystem" that is not only depicted as an image but resides in the soil medium itself. Asai's work seems to be saying, "Soil is alive!" Yusuke Asai, Courtesy of ANOMALY Asai's preference for simple materials goes back to his childhood when he would "paint" with his food, or even now when he "paints" with soy sauce at Japanese pubs. He explains this artistic tendency: "[What] mattered to me was being able to select painting materials and a location that matched my urgent desire to paint -- right here and now. I started to gradually notice that I considered whatever responds to this desire as painting materials, not necessarily limited to what’s sold at an art supply store. [..] I wasn’t deliberately trying to do something strange, but rather as I walked around looking for the most appropriate material in an environment, the soil around me, masking tape, and white road marking paint all became my strong allies, and that feeling turned into a conviction in the course of working as an artist." Yusuke Asai, Courtesy of ANOMALY Asai's work is often temporary in nature and is only installed for a limited period of time. But in challenging our views on how soil can be used, and interacted with, Asai is suggesting that we open our minds to the vastness of what soil can be, and also what art can mean: "There is a desire for artwork to be permanent, but to try and keep it forever would mean that my painting would become unnatural. When I erase the painting it is sad, but within the context of the natural world, everything is temporary." To see more, visit Yusuke Asai's Instagram, as well as Anomaly and Anomaly's Instagram.