The Imaginative World of Japanese Sculptor Akishi Ueda
1st Prize Winner Sculpture Award, 2019 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize
When being first exposed to Akishi Ueda’s sculptures, you may experience a sudden grasp of the heart, as if his sculptures are reaching out deep into your inner child’s subconsciousness. His work may seem otherworldly bound in imagined spaces in his own mind but are in fact grounded in a realistic sense full of recognizable creatures, humanoid faces and limbs, and even cities. At first, Akishi Ueda`s sculptures may seem dark and unsettling, however when taking a closer inspection, his work expresses a light whimsical feeling full of hope and wonder.
2019 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize Sculpture Award Winner Akishi Ueda is a young artist from Nagoya, Japan. I am happy to present his first ever interview.
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Actually, for the longest while, I drew pictures mostly. When I was younger, my goal was to be an illustrator or a comic artist. However, I never could seem to get interested in what I was doing, and I could never really get my vision across. During this time, I was interested in doing clay sculptures; so in high school, I chose to be in the sculpture courses. Though, it was very academic learning and I didn’t really find it all that interesting.
It wasn’t until I enrolled in Art University that I was able to really find myself and my style in my sculpture works. I had my first solo show while I was a university student, and this led me to be really invested in the work I was doing.
After I graduated university, I was able to become a full time artist and have been making a living with my art ever since.
As a child, how did you feed your imagination? What were the books, movies, artworks, legends and other images you enjoyed? Can you still see the influence of these and of your inner child in your artworks? 子供のとき、どうやって想像力を養いますか？小説やら映画やらアートやら神話のなかに、何か子供の頃に味わえますか？ そのときから今までまだ影響されますか？
I would say that Japanese animation has had a huge influence on me. Probably the biggest influence is Ghibli. I also believe that Japanese rock bands have also played a huge influence. All the influences I have had since I was a child I have continued loving to this day.
What are the main sources of inspiration for contemporary and ancient art? Do Japanese myths affect you and other cultures? 現代美実や古代美術から、あなたにとってひらめきのさいだい源は何？日本の神話から影響されますか？ほかの国の文化は？
私が影響を受けたものの多くは、形がないもの。実は彫刻から影響をうけたというものはほとんどありません。例えば、映画や、音楽からです。日本の音楽で言えば、BUMP OF CHICKEN。彼らの音楽がなければ私は何も作っていないでしょう。はじめて聞いたのは子供の頃ですが、今でもずっと影響され続けています。絵画で言えば、池田学。大学生のころ彼の緻密な作品を見て、衝撃を受けました。当時は粘土を触ったばかりで。プラスしてその緻密な要素を混ぜ合わせてみようと思いました。それで、今のテイストができあがっています。最近はヒエロニムス・ボスや、北斎を含む日本絵師にも影響を受けています。私は様々なものを混ぜ合わせることで、面白いものが作ることができると思っています。
Truthfully, I am not really sure. However, I have been told Japan has a lot of different souls that dwell here and a lot of artists here use this as their theme for their work. Things that have no shape have influenced me a lot. Actually, I have really taken much influence from other sculptures. Some of my main influences I take with my work have been from movies and music. BUMP OF CHICKEN is by far my favorite. If it wasn’t for their music, I probably would not have made anything. I first listened to them when I was a kid, and still continue to listen to them to this day.
As for contemporary artists, my favorite is Japanese artist named Ikeda Manabu. I saw his finely detailed work for the first time when I was a university student and I was very moved by it. After seeing his work in person, I wanted to incorporate that level of detail in my own work using clay. I also am really inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. Lately, I have been taking inspiration from Hokusai Katsushika. I have been studying carefully the way he treats space and how he arranges his layouts as well as some of the motifs he uses in his works. Mixing these influences, I feel like I can makes something really interesting.
What are the mythological creatures that fascinate and inspire you? インスパイアーと魅了をするの伝説の静物は何ですか？
To be honest, I am not particularly interested in mythological creatures. However, I am very fascinated in ancient creatures like dinosaurs and mammoths. In actuality, I don’t believe myself to be creating fantasy creatures. Furthermore, fantasy is made from our daily lives. So not understanding reality means that fantasy cannot exist. It’s like light and shadow, you can’t have one without the other.
Your sculptures often use textures and elements from nature, either from the vegetal, animal or mineral world; can you explain why and how do you select those elements to incorporate in your artworks? 自然のテクスチャと要素植物、動物または鉱物の世界からモチーフで作品をよく作られてるけど、なぜかそういうことを作ると決めましたか？どんな風に作っていますか？詳しく説明してお願いします。
I embrace the awe of nature. I am enchanted by it. There are such beautiful shapes that can be found in nature. For example, you can see a lot of these beautiful shapes in whales and I try to capture them in my work. In this awe-inspiring spirit, I try to express the longing dream that I feel in nature as well as expressing the fear of living in the vastness of it. Furthermore, in the corners of my own work, I emphasize the mysteriousness and rarity nature has to offer. I like to express the shape of nature through the symbolism and meanings of animal life.
There are elements that are recurring in many of your sculptures: cities, multiple limbs as well as figures of both old men and young children. Do they have a specific meaning? How do they interact with each other? 植田さんの彫刻の中に、多くに繰り返されている要素があります：例えば都市とか複数の手足とか老人や子供でもよく表現しています。これは特別の意味がありますか？そうして、どのように相互作用されますか？
The cities in my work represent memories; not just my memories, but also the memories of the cities themselves. I like to express the memories that are held by these landscapes. There, the ancient feeling of these places is especially fascinating. The children and the old men are a representation of the past and the future. In a lot of my work, a child’s face appears in the front and on the back is an elderly person’s face. This means that the child is dreaming and looking at the future while the elderly person is longing for the past.
More generally, are there stories behind each piece you make? What are they? 具体的に、作品の説明は話がありますか？それとどんなストーリーがありますか？
Most of my work has a story. They are like song lyrics to me. I make my work like I am making music. I have always loved music. To me my work’s exterior is an instrument making sounds and melodies. They need lyrics. So, I make stories to go along with the work. When I do this, I believe it helps convey the meaning behind my work.
What technique is used for engraving? Do you want to create a sketch before? How long will it take to complete the sculpture? 作品を作るとき、彫刻にはどのような技法が使用されますか？製作を始まる前にコロッキをやりますか？完成するまでにどれぐらい時間をかかりますか？
All of my work is mostly made of clay, specifically air-drying molding clay. I get asked a lot on how I make my work, but I can’t really explain how I do it. In any case, I move the clay around, add color, add some accessories, and before I know it, the finish piece is standing in front of me.
I usually do make a simple sketch before I start sculpting a piece. In the sketch, I only draw the very important parts of the piece. Once I figured that out, I start sculpting. It has become a very simple process.
For my bigger work, it usually takes a month to complete.
Have you evolved technique, style and aesthetics since you first started sculpting? Which direction will it evolve in the future? For example, have you considered animating your work?
I have made a lot of work since the time I started. Through this time I have encountered a lot of different tools and materials. One that has not changed is clay because it fits my personality. For now, I will continue with clay as my medium.
Of course, I would love to try animation… especially stop-motion clay animation.
What do people usually say when they see your art? 植田さんの作品を見るとよく発言は何ですか？
People often say that they would really like to see what goes on in my head. But, I am pretty sure my head is pretty empty. Also, I have a lot of people say that they would like to see my work in motion.
How did you feel about winning the 1st place in the Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize Sculpture Category? And what does that mean for your Career? Beautiful Bizarre アートプライズの造形班の優賞者になった気持ちはなんですか？自分のアート活動はどのふうに影響になろと思いますか？
When I heard that I had won, I was so ecstatic. The first thing that I thought of were the faces of everyone who was involved and that helped me get here. I think, along with my work, I would like to see the world. I feel that winning this prize is a huge step in my career. Thus, to all the young artists like myself out there, I’d be happy if you can see that there is always a possibility and hope if you put yourself out there.
You look pretty cautious on the internet and social networks. What is your relationship with this aspect of our world, and does it affect your work? SNSは結構気を使うように見えます。このSNSの世界はどう思いますか？自分の作品に影響ありますか？
It’s not that I am cautious; I am just not very good at social media. I would rather spend my time making my artwork. However, in this day and age we can’t ignore it. These days, the more social media networks grow, the more artists are expected to be proactive and promote themselves. Moreover, many artists in Japan have personalities that are similar to that of a Samurai. They are deeply sincere, and serious, and when thinking about promoting themselves and their work, it isn’t considered a virtuous thing to do on the internet.
However, I will change little by little and be better at presenting myself online moving forward.
According to you, what is the place of magic and imagination in our materialistic world? And what is the specific type of art place like sculpture in our digital and materialized world? What do you think about the connection between these contradictions in your art?
To me, I think magic and imagination are pretty much the same thing. Imagination is magic. In my opinion, imagination is a very strong power to have. It is certainly one that I use with my own experiences and memories. This is why I use a lot of my memories as a theme for my work.
Sculpture is indeed a definite materialistic thing. However, I do believe that it has its part to play in a non-materialistic world. It is especially important in this digital era, because you can hold a sculpture, and feel the strength of its existence. One reason I think this is important could be that from the birth of humanity, many people would depend on sculptures to pray to. So instead of looking at art in a digital landscape, actually going to a gallery and seeing the art in person, one can be moved deeply and think ‘this piece of work really is here.’ In this space, you get a different sense of reality.
I believe that this feeling that can be had when looking at a sculpture is truly one aspect of art. So, I think it is especially important in the current era we live in.
Akishi Ueda’s Upcoming Exhibitions
Solo Show ‘Island’ – March 1 -31, 2020 at Naturalis Historia, Tokyo Japan.
‘Small Works 2020’ Group Exhibition in May at Beinart Gallery in Brunswick Australia.
Solo Show in October in Tokyo.
Group exhibition at Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco in October.