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Fall art season kicked off in New York City, and over the next few weeks our blog will spotlight some of the most innovative and consequential shows featuring Japanese artists.
First, we’d like to report on Lumina, Ritsue Mishima’s first solo show in the city. Born in Kyota in 1962, Mishima moved to Venice, Italy in 1989 and now splits her time between the two cities. Her quest to find the perfect vase for a flower installation led her to Italy, where she began to experiment with glassblowing herself. Ritsue’s large, heavy vessels translate colorful Murano traditions into a contemporary and uniquely Japanese aesthetic that features bold, colorless glass objects.
Collaborating with Venetian master craftsmen, Ritsue weds thousand-year-old glassmaking techniques with a modern sensibility that emphasizes spontaneity. She does not plan or design her sculptures ahead of time. Instead, she creates clay models that are transformed into sculptures by Venetian craftsmen.
This collaboration results in intuitive, abstract, and energetic forms that allow her to trace the ephemeral interplay between light and glass. Her installations are carefully designed to showcase the interactions between her objects and the environments in which they are placed. More than anything else, Ritsue treasures her collaboration with the glassblowers. In her words, “I’ve learned the unpredictability about glass making from the craftsman, and I taught them to dare to take the creation to the extreme.”
Award winning craftsman Ryuji Iwasaki was born in Osaka in 1980, where he still lives and works in his studio/home, shown below. The contemporary and simple design of the house tells us a lot about his unique point of view for the traditional crafts.
He has won more than a dozen crafts awards all over Japan.
“I create something from an undefined shape and make an object the user will find special and unique. I find great satisfaction in the bond this stimulates between the creator and the end user.”
I’ve always liked to make things since childhood, but not something standard or mass-produced like a plastic model. I’d rather make something without plans or instructions, which I can use to express my vision freely. I believe that is the key to becoming a potter.
When you see videos or photos of potters, they are turning the wheel. Some potters don’t like that part so much, but I really enjoy it. It takes me to new places while I create.
I think color is the most important element. The color of the ceramic is determined not simply by the type of glaze, but also by the proportion of the mixture, its flow, and firing. You become an alchemist by combining a very complex mix of all these elements and make one nuanced look. Therefore, I will spend the rest of my career searching for the various elements – call it a recipe if you like – on a quest for beautiful combinations of colors.
The most exciting moment during the creation process is when I open the kiln. Even if I have a very clear expectation of what I think the image may look like, I never know for sure if it turns out the way I expect. It goes the way I expected sometimes, and fails sometimes. But time to time, it turns out more than I was hoping for, and I fall in love with the exact work I made myself.
When I create something, I am always inspired and fascinated by the depth and beauty of Japanese traditional crafts and ceramics. I want the world to know and experience the depth and the charm that I cannot express by the words. It would be great if I can inspire the world through my work.
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.
Today is a special day all over Japan where people celebrate Tanabata, the Star Festival. Tanabata is celebrated to commemorate the romantic story of two lovers represented by the stars Vega and Altair who are only allowed to meet each other once a year as long as the skies are clear. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, which is July 7th in the modern calendar. Some places in Japan celebrate Tanabata on August 7th in accordance with the older Chinese calendar, which is where the legend originated. The most famous of all the Tanabata festivals is celebrated in Sendai on August 7th, but most of Japan recognizes Tanabata today (July 7th).
On Tanabata, people write wishes on small pieces of colored paper called tanzaku and hang them on bamboo trees. These become beautiful wish trees. On the following day, the decorated trees are floated on a river or in the ocean and burned as an offering. There are many celebrations all over Japan, which also include parades, food stalls, colorful decorations, and fireworks.
Tanabata originated from a Chinese legend called Qixi and was brought to Japan in the 8th century. This is the story of two lovers. Princess Orihime, the seamstress, wove beautiful clothes by the heavenly river, represented by the Milky Way. Because Orihime worked so hard weaving beautiful clothes, she became sad and despaired of ever finding love. Her father, who was a God of the heavens, loved her dearly and arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi, the cow herder who lived on the other side of the Milky Way. The two fell in love instantly and married. Their love and devotion was so deep that Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi allowed his cows to wander the heavens.
Orihime’s father became angry and forbade the lovers to be together, but Orihime pleaded with him to allow them to stay. He loved his daughter, so he decreed that the two star-crossed lovers could meet once a year--on the 7th day of the 7th month if Orihime returned to her weaving. On the first day they were to be reunited, they found the river (Milky Way) to be too difficult to cross. Orihime became so despondent that a flock of magpies came and made a bridge for her. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata, the magpies will not come, and the two lovers must wait another year to be reunited, so Japanese always wish for good weather on Tanabata. There are many variations of this story, but this version is the most widely held.
We hope for clear skies on Tanabata so the lovers can always be reunited.
Right now is an exciting time of year for green tea (ocha) lovers and that includes us here at Japan Suite. The first new crop of Japanese green tea is now being picked and is going on sale for a limited time. It is called shincha (新茶), which comes simply from “shin” (new) and "cha" (tea). These are the first new leaves of the year, and a small batch of the first picking is used for shincha--a lightly processed tea that has a wonderfully delicate and unique flavor.
Shincha should be enjoyed in the next few months (May-July) to fully appreciate it’s enticing aroma and light sweetness that invigorates the taste buds with a refreshing subtlety. It is less bitter and lower in caffeine than other green teas. I love good ocha, and shincha has a special place in my heart.
Shincha is made from tea leaves that have been very lightly steamed immediately after harvesting. During the winter, tea plants store up life-giving nutrients, which nurture the growth of spring shoots and new leaves. The first growth shincha leaves are full of these nutrients.
Japanese celebrate this special, delicate and fleeting new tea of the year -- and we encourage you to do the same if you are in Japan or fortunate enough to find shincha in your city. I know I am planning to head out this weekend in New York City to search for one of my favorite things of the season. Oishisou!