New and old stories about Japanese Crafts.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) has a stunning exhibition of famed fashion designer Rei Kawakubo’s work. Of course, she is synonymous with Commes des Garcons, and The Met has put together a really intriguing exhibition that looks at opposites in her work. It blurs the lines of what we think opposite means and looks at what’s in between. It is the essence of what she has done since founding Commes de Garcons in 1969 -- embracing two Japanese principles: mu (emptiness) and its relation to ma (space). The concept of opposites blurring invokes the space in between.
As always,we were really impressed by Kawakubo’s body of work as well as the great manner in which the exhibit was curated and designed. We’ve been to other shows in the Costume Institute at The Met that were stunning, but they were typically staged in dramatic setting with more direct lighting, to great effect. But Kawakubo’s work was portrayed entirely different. The staging was white with a matrix of overhead lighting from the ceiling and no spot-lighting on the displays. It emphasized the bold shapes of Kawakubo’s work, reflecting the colors and theme of the exhibit as well as her design ethos..
There are several concepts of “in-betweenness” portrayed in the exhibition and we could go into great detail about each, but I think the visuals tell the story.
New York City and graffiti are synonymous, if not so much now, certainly in the latter part of the previous century. So, the back courtyard at Jane Lombard Gallery in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood was an appropriate setting for Japanese-Italian artist Enrico Isamu Oyama to showcase his talents live. We liked watching him work organically in the outdoor setting framed on three sides by brick walls and on the fourth by the iconic Frank Gehry IAC building.
Oyama was born in Tokyo to an Italian father and Japanese mother. The family took trips every summer to northern Italy, which provided Oyama with two key inspirations. The dichotomy of the fast pace of Tokyo life and the relaxed vibe of rural northern Italy gave him multiple perspectives of the world. The other defining moment for him was his discovery and immersion into “graffiti culture”, which was especially active in Italy at the dawn of the new millennium.
Oyama explains how that inspiration influences his art. “In graffiti culture, a name, composed of stylized letters, represents writer’s alter ego”, he says. “I remove letter shapes, extract only the flowing line and repeat it to maximize its dynamism. By doing so, I create an abstract motif. Instead of having a new name for myself, I gave a name to the motif: Quick Turn Structure (QTS).
“QTS has its own life. Its physical manifestations are channelled into unique art pieces from one specific moment in time. The pieces are called FFIGURATI, a term referring to the word “graffiti” and the Italian expression “figùrati” — literally translated as “figure it out yourself”.”
Oyama, who now calls New York City home, has collaborated with such iconic Japanese brands as COMME des GARÇONS and Shu Uemura. And speaking of COMME des GARÇONS, the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in NYC has just opened a comprehensive retrospective of Rei Kawakubo’s avant garde designs. We will be checking it out in a few days and will have much to show and say on here very soon.
One of our favorite things always in New York is to visit art shows, and we met the new spring season this year with a very cool photography show held by AIPAD, the Association of International Photography Art Dealers.
The show this year was big and impressive. The location had moved from Park Avenue Armory to Pier 94, which made room for 115 galleries from around the world as well as 30 book sellers/publishers.
With the number of countries participating came a great variety of vintage to contemporary, classic to experimental with a vast array in terms of medium and techniques. Not surprising given the state of our current world, a great variety of the art displayed political messages. Some pieces, we don’t necessarily call photography, but related or derived. We were impressed by the potential of photography as art more than any of the shows we visited recently.
And of course, we were drawn to talented Japanese artists works. Here are a few that caught our eyes!
Particularly we had a great conversation with Ibasho from Antwerp, Belgium, which literally means “a place where you can be yourself.” They are collectors of Japanese prints turned dealers. We felt their love for Japanese photographers sensibilities and unique explorations.
One of the artists they presented was Motohiro Takeda, who is fascinated by camera obscura and the idea of being inside the camera. One of his series titled “Another Sun” is a dramatic, large scale print of an inverted sun, which started as a result of the fortuitous accidental representation of the sun on a piece of photographic paper on the wall of his apartment.
Here are some of the other artists with connections to Japan that we were also quite impressed by.
By the way, this was one of the most instagrammed booth at the show.
On our last day in Kansai, we sadly said goodbye to our new favorite neighborhood of Naramachi and our amazing hosts, Akie-san and Akira-san, at Kamunabi Guest House. We loved our stay there and the easy conversations and camaraderie we had in the front cafe over drinks after a day exploring Nara.
But we were also excited to head out to visit Kiyooka Kodo, one of our original artist friends and the man known in some circles as “The Frying Pan Man”. We took the train to Shiga outside of Kyoto, and Kodo-san met us there. We took off on an yet another of our interesting rides up the hills and mountains of Japan where the roads are barely wide enough for one car, let alone two. It was like being in the backseat of a movie, while Ria and Kiyooka chatted in the front seat. I was amazed at the skill of his driving -- a stick shift, of course -- while calmly talking and pulling over to let delivery trucks pass by with what seemed like millimeters to spare, while I gazed at the ever-receding, but gorgeous countryside below.
We’ve known Kodo-san since early in the Japan Suite days. We had just started presenting his creations when the Huffington Post picked up on the story. We remain surprised (and pleased) at the response from the article, so we were really geeked to go see him at his new studio in the hills of Shiga. We were not disappointed. The only regret was that we wished we could spend more time with him there -- but alas, we had a train to catch back to Tokyo.
Kodo-san was a gracious host, full of knowledge, giving us free run of the place and describing all of the processes and different work that he is doing. He now has a much larger, industrial-size kiln at his new studio, and he is still experimenting and working with the nuances of the larger kilns. Here is a glimpse at what we saw that fine morning, which started in Nara and led us to Kodo-san in Shiga.
On our recent trip to Japan, we spent an amazing week in Kyoto and Nara, traversing the streets and alleys of the two famous old capital cities so rich with tradition and culture. We visited ancient shrines and temples, ate incredible food and enjoyed a few of the local beverages that go so well with them.
While there, we also spent time visiting a few of our artist friends, including Kotaro Ikura who comes from a family tradition of creating beautiful ceramics. Ikura-san’s father is a famous ceramic artist, and he could have followed that path, but he has chosen to go in a new direction, following his creative instincts, and we love what he is doing. We visited his new studio in the hills outside of Nara at their vibrant peak of autumn’s colors so revered in Japan.
His new studio is an old sake distillery full of original character and new touches Ikura-san has brought to the rustic space, which he has converted into a working space, showroom and living quarters for his family. It was quietly breathtaking inside and out. As he showed us around, Ikura-san pointed out the black coloring on the tan walls, which is caused by inhabitants of the previous owners -- the spores of the Koji cultures, vital to the making of sake. The past still lives and watches while the present continues and grows.
We will be showcasing Ikura-san’s translucent works in the months to come, but we wanted to lift the curtain a bit to give a sneak peak, and yes, maybe a tease, at what’s to come.
Coming soon! We are happy to introduce beautifully understated ceramic pitchers by talented artist Ryota Aoki from Gifu, Japan. He is an artist who has made his mark in Japan, and is now beginning to make waves globally.
We now have gorgeous Kiriko Rock Glasses and additional Bamboo glasses by Horiguchi Kiriko. Please contact Japan Suite for details.
We are preparing to introduce some beautiful ceramic works by Masako Niimi from Chiba, Japan. Niimi has been focusing on the crystallization of glaze, and we love the small universe in her tea bowls and sake cups. Please stay tuned!
Warm wishes from Japan Suite during the very snowy day...! We had a good Matcha tea with Tea Bowl by Masako Niimi, and chrysanthemum plate by Maiko Miyaoka.
We recently went back to Japan for an incredibly enjoyable and inspiring journey to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Shiga. While there, we made some great new friends (which we will write more about in another post), visited many shrines and temples — and met with several artists we have featured on Japan-Suite already — or will be featuring very soon.
On our first full day there, we headed to downtown Tokyo, which has a different vibe from the more well-known areas like Shibuya and Ginza. It has small family businesses that have been in business for generations. There, we paid a visit to Toru Horiguchi, who is an award-winning Edo Kiriko glass artist we have showcased here previously. He graciously showed us through his workshop, detailing how he works, and what his philosophies and aspirations are.
Horiguchi's all white studio looks like a science lab. He wished to distance his new space away from his family business of 3 generations, so he can realize his own unorthodox creations. This new space that started from scratch, nothingness, was born.
He is extremely committed to showcasing traditional Kiriko glass to a wider audience, an idea we fully agree with and support. Horiguchi-san recently returned from a successful trip to London and intends to be an ambassador for the Kiriko glass tradition.
This time, we discussed the new products Japan Suite will feature in year 2017, please stay tuned!
Some more views that caught our attention :)
In this Holiday season, we want to give our heartfelt thanks for your interest and support this past year.
We are looking forward to continuing to find and showcase the best Japanese crafts and artisans.
Sending best wishes for a very Happy Holiday and a rewarding year ahead.
— from Japan Suite
The Buddha shown here represents the Amida Buddha who, while a monk, prayed for five aeons for human mortals, for so long that his hair grew to this length. This representation originated in the Song Dynasty in China and was imported to Japan during the Kamakura period nearly 1,000 years ago.
We would like to share some of our experiences from Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara...!
Hello, and こんにちは！
We will be headed to Japan for the second part of November to visit family and friends. While we are there, we will spend time meeting some of the artists on our site in the Kyoto and Tokyo regions. And of course, we will also be looking for new ideas and new artisans to present.
While we are in Japan, we ask for your patience if you would like to order any of the items on our site.
Ria & Pete
Recently we had the great fortune to see a presentation and talk with Japanese-Brazilian artist Oscar Oiwa who was discussing his new book, The Creation of the World, in a great NYC setting with an herb-filled rooftop garden.
Oscar’s art is varied and stunning. Most recently he created a fantastical world called Oiwa Island 2 inside a large, inflatable dome at the Setouchi Art Triennial in Japan, which is held every three years on a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea (Setonaikai), the sea which separates Honshu and Shikoku.
Much of Oiwa’s work could be said to fall somewhere in the pantheon of magical realism with hints of a darker edge. This probably makes sense as he was born in Brazil to Japanese immigrant parents. He moved to Tokyo after graduating from University in Sao Paolo and then to New York City in 2002 where he currently resides. He has said he chose to embrace new countries in order to expand his work (and life) as an artist.
The Creation of the World compiles Oscar’s work from the last decade or so and is an amazing journey to experience, full of poignant social commentary. In his opening, he talks about the creation of the world (or a world) in artistic terms. The allegory could go either way in my opinion — the creation of art reflecting the evolution of the human spirit. He talks about a blank canvas, an empty world — the creation of a first dot. The dot started everything. Subsequent dots created a line, a form and things grew from there. It’s an apt allusion and in Oscar’s amazingly talented hands, the evolution is mesmerizing.
September signals the waning of summer and the inevitable change in seasons. It’s a profound time for all who love summer. In NYC, the days remain warm and mostly sunny. It’s a nice transition to what will follow. September is also a time when sake brewers everywhere debut their newest offerings. And for past five years, it’s also a time to welcome in a new batch of sake to New York City by a bevy a sake brewers who come to our fair city and show their latest wares at the NY Sake Expo. We happily accepted the task of checking out the Expo (as we have done the past few years) and enjoyed talking to many of the representatives and brewers from sakaguras all over Japan as well as some in the U.S. Please join us in recognizing and enjoying the magic that is sake...
We adore Japanese packages. We'd like to share Part one of our packaging study.