Setsuko Ono was born in Tokyo and grew up between Japan, Europe, and the United States. During her 28-year career at the World Bank, Setsuko simultaneously pursued formal art education at the Corcoran School of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., but only began exhibiting her art once she retired in 2003. She has exhibited her art in the United States, Cuba, and Japan and her sculptures remain permanently installed in Baltimore, Havana, and Tokyo and at the Hara Arc Museum in Shibukawa, Japan.
Dreams, happenstance, and music provide profound inspiration for Setsuko’s paintings and sculptures. Three musicians influenced her deeply. In her childhood, her father’s great love of classical music and the piano made lasting impression. Setsuko vividly remembers challenging herself to run faster than her father’s piano playing. As a teenager, she met John Cage and began attending his concerts. One performance, 4’33”, became a major influence, convincing Setsuko that chance, random actions, and happenstance should play integral roles in creation. When her brother-in-law, John Lennon, saw her sculptures, he encouraged her to pursue her deep passion for art.
Setsuko explored working in a variety of media. She now dedicates her time to painting in oil and acrylic and specializes in sculpting in steel. Though the latter is often used in art to suggest heavy weight, significant strength, and dense mass, Setsuko uses steel to complement the environment, celebrate resilience, and delight in the vitality of life by depicting expressive moments of action.
The influences of music and John Cage led to three characteristics in her body of work regardless of media. She does not plan ahead by making detailed blueprints or preliminary drawings. She paints and constructs sculptures by letting chance and happenstance lead her though each decision of color, brush stroke, weld, cut, or bend. This generates an ever-varying style. Furthermore, her figures are depicted in a paused action, as she reveals the movements and liveliness of flora and fauna, often portraying them flying or dancing. Finally, some of her works reflect her fierce sense of justice and her deep sorrow for the victims of wars, poverty, and the destruction of nature.