Mr. HARA Satoshi, a metalwork artist and professor of the Department of Crafts at Kanazawa College of Art, and winner of the 6th TAKIFUJI Art Award (1985, now the International TAKIFUJI Art Award), has a favorite word, “God is in the details.” He says that precise technique and expressiveness are the minimum requirements for craftsmanship, and that the strength of a work comes from the result of creating it by keeping every nerve in every part of the work.（Interviewer: SHINOHARA Tomoari, Date of interview:Augusta 2019, First appearance “The International Takifuji Art Awards 40 year’s Anniversary (published in 2020)”）
Various techniques created through research
——When I first saw your work, I was amazed. I couldn’t even imagine how they were made . . .
For example, there is a technique called “Mokume-Gane.” To create a wood grain-like pattern on the surface of metal, various sheets of metal are layered. Copper, silver, alloys, etc. are layered while considering the color of the finished product. Metals do not stick together when layered normally, but there is a phenomenon called diffusion bonding, which occurs when the temperature is raised to 720 to 750 degrees, causing the metals to bond together. Then I beat the material to make thinner and I shave into shape. Then a laminated pattern emerges.
For this technique, a special fixture was created in collaboration with Niigata University. You can beat it in the old-fashioned way, by fixing it with steel wire, but it often fails. The fixture we invented calculates the difference in thermal expansion coefficient so that the proper pressure is applied to the laminated metal.
——It makes sense when you hear it, but the amount of work that goes into a single piece is extraordinary.
This kind of work is the result of my research. The “Tankin*¹ Oboro-hen” is also the result of research to create patterns in a different way. The shape is made of copper, and silver is welded here and there. Depending on the amount of silver and copper in the mixture, the color can be black, light gray, or other colors. I first tried it when I was in university to see what would happen if I melted it down, so that was 30 years ago. People around me said, “That’s not going to work,” but I studied it.
——Your recent works use a technique with very fine patterns, don’t they?
It is Zogan (metal-inlay decoration). I carved a groove 0.3 mm wide, inlaid silver lines, and polished it. The dotted were made by embedding a hemispherically inflated piece of silver in a hole. I named this technique “Nanako Zogan.” “Nanako” is a technique that has been used since the Nara period (710-794). It is so called because the finely lined round patterns carved in succession resemble fish eggs.
——They are incredibly detailed.
It gives off a density. It’s like a nested pattern that is getting finer and finer, with fineness within fineness. I would really like to take it to the level of a microscope, but there are limitations to the characteristics of the material and the tools. On a piece of about 30 cm in size, there are about 50 m of inlays with a width of 0.3 mm and a depth of 0.5 mm. There are four or five steps to insert a single line, so I have to work on roughly 200 m of work while tapping, tapping, tapping, and tapping. If you make a mistake with metal, there is no way to fix it, so you cannot make a single mistake from start to finish. It is a very simple and stoic process that takes a very long time.
——The work is beautiful from a distance, but when you look at it close-up, it is truly astounding.
At an exhibition, it doesn’t really stand out. However, I used to make 8 m, 9 m sculptures, but the way I use my awareness has not changed much. Regardless of the size, it is the same to work quickly and accurately. When I sublimate these various phenomena in my own way, such as the deformation that occurs when metal is struck or melted, it becomes a technique.
*1 metal hammering
The Importance of Feeling Through One’s Own Hands
——What made you decide to become a metal craft?
I have loved making things and drawing pictures since I was a child. Even when I was in elementary school, I used to make sketches of plaster casts at the children’s house. I didn’t think it would be a good way to make a living, but when I was in high school, I met a friend who was aiming to go to art school. Realizing that there was such an option, I started drawing in earnest and decided to study hard and set my sights on Tokyo University of the Arts.
My first teacher at the prep school was a metal crafts teacher. In metal hammering, force is transformed into form. I was interested in the fact that the force I used to beat, the metal was put into the form. After entering the university, I was helping Mr. MIYATA Ryohei, a metal crafts teacher, and had experienced coloring and modeling since my first year, so when I decided on my major in my third year, it was a natural decision.
What I was somewhat unsure about was “Shitsugei (Urushi, Japanese lacquer art).” The color of lacquer has absolute strength. It is called “Shikkoku (jet black),” but it is not just black; it is that blackness that seems to absorb you. I was also interested in “Maki-e (sprinkled picture),” the process of drawing pictures on it. I was also attracted to it when I was a student at a prep school, helping the head lacquer teacher with his work.
——Do you like it when you experience it?
Yes, I do. The basis of crafts is materials and techniques, so it is very important to feel them through your own hands. So if I had experienced ceramics earlier in my career, I might have done pottery. But in my case, I think metal get on well.
——What made you apply for the TAKIFUJI Art Award?
Mr. MIYATA, who was my instructor, asked me if I would like to try. The works I submitted to a competition were “Do Ichimai Shibori (copper spinning)” and “Tetsu Tanzo (iron forging),” which I created in my third year. I don’t think I gave the works any particular names. The copper piece is one of the basic techniques of forging, in which a shape is created from a single sheet of copper. The iron forging was done by striking and deforming the piece, creating a piece similar to a sculpture. At that time, I didn’t have the technique and didn’t know about the materials, so it was very experimental and testing.
Copper and iron are completely different when struck, and iron is by far the harder material. Although they are harder, when they are tapped and stretched, a sense of resistance or the strength of the material comes out. After that, I used iron for my university graduation work and graduate school completion work. I still use iron today, and it is my favorite material.
——What was your style when you were a student?
I often made objects by welding, forging, and combining various techniques. It was a time when I was experimenting with metal craft techniques to see how I could express myself. However, I had been thinking about making a living in this world from a rather early stage. In that case, I would need an atelier. No matter what I did, I would not be able to work without an atelier. So, I rented an atelier with friends, and after graduating from graduate school, I used it as a base for my work.
——So, you made your debut as a craftsman right away?
At the time, outdoor sculpture was very popular. There were competitions all over the country, and if you applied and were selected, you could create what you wanted. I was actively challenging myself. The first time I built a large sculpture was the year after I graduated from university. From my 20s to the end of my 30s, I created many objects, such as monuments at train stations and sculptures for parks, once or twice a year.
——It must be very busy if you created large-scale works once or twice a year.
It was very busy. I had to devote my intellectual, physical, mental, and financial strength to do it. I had to meet deadlines, so time was limited. Since everything was being expressed for the first time, I had to rack my brains to figure out how to create it. It is not difficult to create the shape, but how to build the structure, the strength, and the procedures are difficult. I am also concerned about safety, such as whether it is safe for children to ride on.
For example, we placed one in a subway station, which was about 8 m long and weighed about 300 kg. The station was already completed, and the only way to get it down was to take the stairs. We had to bring it in in pieces and assemble it in the site, but we had to think about how big we could handle it, whether we could manage to carry it weighing 80 kg, and so on, all in accordance with the location.
——You must have had a hard time making a living, even if the competition paid for your work.
I believed in it. You had confidence, but it was an unfounded confidence. I thought that as long as I did my work properly, I would be fine. While teaching at universities and prep schools, I worked as hard as I could without taking a break.
Kanazawa is a place where crafts and citizens are close
——When did you come to Kanazawa?
When I was 40 years old. It has been 16 years since then. In Kanazawa, I had a lot of opportunities to see the crafts in use, and I wanted to try out what kind of expression I could achieve with the techniques I had. I have been making many craft-like works since my late 30s, but since coming here I have been expressing myself more with classical techniques.
——What do you mean when you say that crafts are “alive”?
For example, there is a class in which elementary school students are asked to make “kashikiri (pastry cutter)”. Instead of using ordinary materials, they beat and sharpen sterling silver to make a proper piece. Once they have made their own, they eat Kanazawa’s Wagashi (Japanese sweets) with it. The students actually use what they have made.
——I see. This shows the crafts in our daily life.
There may be no other city where crafts and citizens are so close. Kyoto is close, but Kanazawa is more intimate. You can approach the crafts without feeling self-conscious about it. Flower vases are commonly sold in the Chaya District, there are many people who practice tea ceremony and flower arrangement, and there are many opportunities to use tools in daily life. The government is also making efforts to nurture them, for example by teaching elementary and junior high school students about “monozukuri (craftsmanship)”. There are also connections such as these children taking art school and eventually becoming in a position to teach.
The Kaga clan*² has been a strong appreciation and education of “monozukuri” since the time of the clan, and there must be a high level of awareness. In Tokyo, for example, there is no opportunity or need to measure the distance between oneself and ceramics, so one is not even aware of it. In that sense, Kanazawa is a great city.
Among Japanese culture, crafts are a genre that is well accepted in overseas. Recently, I have had more and more opportunities to visit foreign countries, and the reaction has been very positive. Things built on tradition are strong. For the past 10 years or so, I have been exhibiting my work at traditional craft exhibitions, although I am still a young artist in the Japan Kōgei*³ Association.
*2 The Kaga clan was based in Kanazawa, Ishikawa County, during the Edo period (1603-1868), and its territory covered most of the three provinces of Kaga, Noto, and Etchu.
*3 Kōgei = Japanese craft
Always confirming my position in society
——-You have won the Governor’s Award and the Japan Kōgei Association Award at the JAPAN TRADITIONAL Kōgei EXHIBITION almost every year.
It is important to know how my work is perceived in society. It is good to present my work in a solo exhibition, but I think it is also important to check my position through the eyes of a strict third party, and that is why I try to submit my work to craft exhibitions. It is important to receive criticism. I often think about “within society” so that I don’t end up doing whatever I want. You can’t do anything too lax in society.
——Where do you get your ideas for your works?
I think about it during production. Mentally, I concentrate on the work in front of me, but when I am working with my hands, all sorts of things come to mind. I think about what I should make next, how I should express myself in this way, or what would happen if I combine this and that in terms of technique, and I write them down when they come together.
——Do you start from a figurative image or from a technique?
It depends. Sometimes I have an idea of what shape I want, sometimes I start from an abstract concept, and sometimes I want to experiment with the reaction of the materials.
I believe that an artist’s sense of style is proportional to the amount of things their sees. Of course, I often go to see art, but it is important to see not only the artwork but also natural phenomena and many other things. I once made a work of art of ripples that a water strider makes on the surface of water.
My favorite word, “God is in the details.”
——An actual usable object, like an incense burner or a plate, and an object-like form. What is the difference as a work of art?
There is a quote by YANAGI Muneyoshi*⁴ that says “beauty of use.” This is often misunderstood, but it is not “functional beauty.” It is similar, but slightly different. The “beauty of use” includes the nuance that even if you don’t use it, it is beautiful just by being there. That is the kind of beauty I am aiming for. I am not trying to create a perfect vase or incense burner, but rather, I am searching for something that is beautiful as a form while fulfilling its function. In that sense, they are similar to objects.
——Is it like an object while being a practical product?
The power of an object is that it changes the space around it when it is placed there. My ideal work is one that quietly shakes the air around it. When I complete a piece, I place it in my studio and see how much it changes the surroundings. Even if it is in a cluttered place, it emits a different atmosphere. It is a bit abstract, but that is important, and I use it as my standard. However, I am not interested in something that is passionate and heats up the surroundings; I don’t like hot and bothered. I personally like that kind of work, where it makes me feel as if the temperature has dropped one or two degrees.
——How can you produce that kind of power?
This is just my case, but in terms of craftsmanship, I think precise technique and expressive power are the minimum requirements. And then you have to be careful about every possible part of the work, and you have to be very careful in everything you do. Mies van der Rohe*⁵, an architect, said, “God is in the details,” and I love that saying. How much passion can you put into every part? It is not enough to say, “It is fine because it is detailed,” or “It is fine because it is invisible.” I believe that as a result, the work will have strength. That is why I don’t want to compromise.
——How do you usually work?
I get up at 4 or 5 in the morning, work for a couple of hours, and then go to the college. I get up as early as possible because I can concentrate best in the quiet early morning hours. On weekends, I work all the time. I guess I like it, because the most stressful time for me is when I can’t work. For me, production is a hobby that I put my life on the line for, and when I tell my wife about it, she gets angry. I feel that way about it. I can’t do it unless I love it.
——What kind of work do you plan to do in the future?
I don’t want to make the same thing as much as possible. Sometimes I am asked to make the same thing, but I politely decline. If I am going to spend the same amount of time, I want to try something new.
The series I am currently working on is an incense burner of the Four Gods*⁶. I made the Seiryuu and the Genbu, and they are pounded out of a single piece of board. I don’t know how long it will take, but once I make the Suzaku and the Byakko, I will be finished. I am willing to do anything, but first I would like to focus on what I am interested in.
*4 A leading Japanese thinker. He coined the neologism “mingei” (folk art) to extol the beauty of folk crafts and started the mingei movement.
*5 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. A German-born architect who represented modernist architecture in the 20th century. One of the three great masters of modern architecture.
*6 In Chinese mythology, four spiritual beasts that control the four directions of the heavens. Seiryuu:Azure Dragon of the East, Genbu: Black Turtle of the North, Suzaku: Vermillion Bird of the South, Byakko: White Tiger of the West
Born in Kanagawa prefecture in 1962. Received the 6th TAKIFUJI Art Award in 1985. In 1987, he graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Fine Arts. Since 2003 he has been working at Kanazawa College of Art and is currently a professor at the Department of Crafts. He is a councilor of the Kanazawa City Crafts Association. He has also given intensive lectures and workshops at colleges of arts and crafts in China, Korea, Taiwan and Denmark. He received the Harada Prize in 1984, the Salon de Printemps Prize in 1987, the Tansuiou Prize in 2004, the World Craft City Declaration Memorial Prize in 2005, the Japan Kogei Association Prize in 2013, the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Prize in 2017, and the Sekido Museum Prize in 2019. Received many awards.