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.

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.

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 “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.

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”?

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.