Small Interview with Japanese Metalmaster Creative, MIKAMI SHINICHIRO

Mikami Shinichiro is a Japanese creative who is breaking with the traditional utilitarian nature of TANKIN. He uses traditional Japanese metalworking techniques and tools to deliver a more intimate look into what I call, “Japanese Soul”.  Mikami finished his studies at Tokyo University of the Arts, and he now teaches there as an Assistant Professor. He is also the owner of the art studio, MIKAMIn Works. He has participated in many exhibitions including the Spiral Independent Creators Festival.

One’s first thought of Japanese high art might be “the haiku”, but TANKIN has been a highly revered craft since the Yayoi Period (300 BCE). Could you explain for those who don’t know, what is TANKIN?

MIKAMI-SAMA: TANKIN is affecting metal using small hammers. TANKIN has two basic techniques; There are called SHIBORI and TANZO.

MIKAMI PIC IV
Traveling Bird “in the Rain” | 2017

MIKAMI-SAMA: In SHIBORI, A copper sheet with a thickness of 1.2mm is usually used. First, we cut the flat copper sheet into a circle. Then, we heat it up to about 800 degrees, so that the copper sheet becomes soft, and shape it. It is called NAMASHI in Japanese, and in English, Annealing. After that, we shape the more malleable metal into a bowl by hitting it with a hammer and using ATEGANE (traditional TANKIN tools for metal manipulation). We put the copper sheet on the ATEGANE and hit it with the hammer to create various shapes.

MIKAMI-SAMA: TANZO is metalsmithing. In this case, we usually use an Iron bar. We heat the Iron bar to 800 – 1000 degrees with a burner or a furnace. At those temperatures we can bend, twist, thin, and also inflate the iron by hitting it with a hammer or using other techniques.

I usually create my pieces using SHIBORI techniques.

How did you become interested in TANKIN?

MIKAMI-SAMAAfter high school, I watched a video which showed a crafts artist making a cup with TANKIN techniques. I really awestruck that the flat metal sheet became a cup, and I was very intrigued. I decided to learn TANKIN in university at that time.

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Traveling Bird “Outside of Me” | 2017

Your piece “Outside of Me” features stunning colors, yet depicts a scene that is reminiscent of traditional Japanese art. What influences your art and how do you balance tradition and modernity?

MIKAMI-SAMA: “Outside of me” is one of the artworks in my series “Traveling Bird”. I have been working on this series in recent years. It was made to imagine several scenes in which a bird takes a trip. When creating the pieces of this series, I am influenced by Japanese traditional gardens.

MIKAMI-SAMA: I also use Japanese traditional techniques, so the proportion of tradition in my output is high. However, when I conceptualize a piece, I associate modern scenes, culture, and people. I conceive, primarily from a perspective of modernity, and then I incorporate traditional techniques.

Gasha-Dokuro
Gasha-Dokuro “Eat thoroughly !” is an earlier work of Mikami-sama’s. The influence of Murakami, and therefore Ukiyoe, is clear. In Mikami’s earlier works there is a similarity to the works of Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

You were born in Saitama near Tokyo, right? Tokyo is especially known for traditional Ukiyoe art. Are you influenced by this style of art, storytelling, and music?

MIKAMI-SAMAThe lines of my pieces were influenced Ukiyoe and old Japanese paintings. In addition, but my composition was influenced mainly by traditional Japanese gardens.

MIKAMI PIC II
Traveling Bird “Mountain of the Mind”

When you first began making TANKIN, who were some of your major influences?

MIKAMI-SAMA: Takashi Murakami’s artworks really influenced me. But, perhaps now, this influence is less noticeable.

Birds are a commonality in your pieces. Could you explain the significance of this reoccurring “character”?

MIKAMI PIC I
Traveling Bird “Elements and a Bowl”

MIKAMI-SAMA: The bird is me. When I came back Tokyo University of Arts as a teacher, I met many first-year students. They were so excited, and they tried to learn from everything. They reminded me of myself. And I thought I was like a migratory bird. They talked with me and thought I had a lot of great experiences, even though I thought they were embarrassing experiences. I was really interested that there are two views on the same thing, so I decided to create “Traveling Bird” series.

Are you open to collaboration? If so, who would you like to collaborate with? Your dream collaboration?

MIKAMI-SAMA: I have been showing my artworks in displays at Japanese department stores for the last few years. I also participate exhibitions organized by my university. I’d like to do an exhibition overseas, but I am waiting for the right opportunity.

You just finished an exhibition at TOKUSHIMA SOGO. What do you see as your next endeavor?

MIKAMI-SAMAI’m preparing the next exhibition in Shanghai. It’s called SHINGIGEI, which means new craft art exhibition. It is going to start in December. Over 100 craft artists will participate in this exhibition.

Please stay tuned for more information! Learn about Mikami Shinichirou here.

All photos of Mikami-sama’s work were taken by MARUKO nariaki.

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Small Interview with Takashi Murakami understudy, Oyaizu Haruka

Featured Image is a self portrait by Takashi Murakami “Self-Portrait of the Distressed Artist”  2009 (photo: Achim Hepp)

Last week, when I visited The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, I noticed that there was a Murakami exhibition set to open this week. (Most people wont know Takashi Murakami by name, but will instantly recognize his Louis Vuitton collection.) I rushed to the top floor to see if I could get a glance of anything, and was promptly turned away by the tight security.

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村上隆の五百羅漢図展 |    Takashi Murakami: The 500 Arhats   |   2012

I decided not to give up and came back a little later and watched the crew debate the positioning of the pieces. What happened next was more than surprising. There he was, Takashi Murakami, standing right in the doorway just behind the roped off area. At first he didn’t notice me, but then he looked my way and gave a nod and quick smile. After that I was more than happy and ready to leave, but then a young woman came out of the roped off area carrying a paint brush and guard. I asked if I could interview her briefly and she obliged.

How did you come to work with the world-renowned Takashi Murakami-sama?

OYAIZU-SAN: I went to an arts school near Tokyo, and naturally Murakami-sama’s work caught my eye. Being in a big city made Murakami-sama much more accessible to me, so I did all that I could until I made my dream come true. The competition was tough. Many people want to work with Murakami-sama because they want to use his fame as a platform for their own creative endeavors.  Others work with him because they have a deep respect for him and his work.

Oh. You are an artist yourself, with your own style and interests. Are you saying that becoming famous isn’t your goal?

OYAIZU-SAN: Although I understand the feelings of those who chase fame, personally, that’s not why I do it.  I respect Murakami-sama’s work and I am proud to support him. Of course I would like my own talent as an artist to be recognized, but I am happy knowing that I can help Murakami-sama to share his creative visions.

What are your thoughts on Chicago?

OYAIZU-SAN: This was my first time visiting Chicago. I have been to New York many times for exhibitions before, but Chicago seems to have a completely different vibe to it. In New York there are a lot of immigrants, so you really get a feel of cosmopolitanism – not unlike Tokyo. However in chicago, when I got here, I felt like “this is America”. With that said, I’ve been working very hard to help Murakami-sama have a successful show, but I like the people here. They are very friendly.

Well, I don’t want to keep you any longer. Thank you for your time!…and if you have some time go out and enjoy the city!

OYAIZU-SAN: Thank you.

Oyaizu Haruka studied Spacial Production Design at Musashino Art University.
The interview was conducted in Japanese, and unfortunately not recorded (I didn’t think I would get the opportunity and was not prepared.) The preceeding english was translated by me from memory and some small notes I took of the conversation. I apologize if there are any inaccuracies.