Japanese-born visual artist Takashi Iwasaki creates stunning and vibrant works, each piece is like a dream-like adventure inside his imagination – abstract but not without meaning. After studying English and Fine Art in Canada, he now calls the city home. He tells Bibelot what it was like growing up in Japan, plans of future collaborations, and what he’d do if he could travel in a time machine…
1. What’s the first piece of art you can remember making?
I remember making a lot of origami pieces when I was little, though it probably wasn’t the very first piece in my life. But as far as my memory goes, I remember that more clearly than other things. Some of the instructions on my origami book were too advanced for my age back then, and I didn’t finish some of them, even after hours of struggle. My mom keeps a few of my early drawings from when I was two or three or so in photo albums. I don’t quite remember drawing them, but they’re there as evidence. I drew them on the back of my dad’s blueprints. My dad used to work in architectural projects and brought home a lot of unneeded blueprints, back when “blueprints” were actually printed with blue ink. The paper was very smooth, and sturdier than regular copy paper.
2. You spent the first 20 years of your life in Japan, moving to Canada to study English and Fine Art. Was Japan a creative place to grow up?
Yes and no. My parents usually let me explore the area of my interests, as long as it didn’t harm other people and wasn’t dangerous. There are many factors, but I think my creativity was encouraged by my parents’ open attitude. My parents were both interested in making things with their hands. My mom used to do representational oil paintings when she was in high school and she was quite good at it. She became a sort of cooking maniac (not any more) after I was born and found out that there were a lot of food additives and preservatives in store-bought and processed food, and it wouldn’t be good for her children’s health. So she did a lot of cooking, which I think was a very creative outlet for her. My dad used to design industrial HVAC (air circulation system) blueprints for large buildings, he did more residential designs later on, and loves math and solving problems. He also took some drawing courses, to which I also attended. That’s my parents on their creativity side.
Japan is a creative place in one aspect and is a very restricted and closed place at the same time. It’s one of the leaders in technology, is famous for animation and some entertainment sectors, and known for its old art masters, distinctive cuisine and culture, among many other things to be listed and praised – all of which are certainly unique, outstanding and deserve attention. But these things don’t necessarily lead to the creativity of people at large. Japan seems advanced and innovative, but its people in general, in my opinion, are very conservative and afraid to stand out or be unique. As far as I know, its education system is strictly adhered to the government outline, and teachers don’t seem to have much freedom in being creative in their teaching. I live in Winnipeg in Canada now and I’m invited by all levels of schools to hold art workshops once in a while so the students get to meet the artist, which usually doesn’t happen in the Japanese school system. Long work hours and short holidays in Japan don’t allow them to fully engage in other creative things either. Contemporary art doesn’t have its own place, and exhibitions of dead old masters like Picasso and Van Gogh are sold better than what’s really happening now in the art world at museums. Visual art is to be on posters, postcards, and on T-shirts. My observation here is very limited, so don’t take it as a complete picture. All that said, I’m happy to have been brought up in Japan, and now live in Canada and travel to other places, so I have more options in my life.
3. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people.
I have the most beautiful wife and the cutest baby in the world in spite of my ugly face. That’s what my wife just told me to answer.
4. Your pieces capture moments in time and the narrative in your head. You could say each one is a bit like a diary entry. Do you learn anything from creating them? Which works conjure up the happiest memories?
I usually simplify shapes and forms in the process of capturing moments. In that sense I’m constantly learning how to do the reduction process and how to put things together so it is pleasing to me. There’s a lot more to my work than just capturing moments. I want to enjoy what I do and always look for ways to keep myself interested, curious, and I’m learning how to do that. That’s one of the reasons why I work with different mediums, so I can move from one medium to another, and each medium feeds each other. For me a literal diary is still a good thing to remember certain things, and I use an agenda to write down my schedule and short notes about what I did. I like looking at my old works to recall what I was thinking at that time. I learn about my past in that way.
The happiest memories… I often capture more ordinary moments and ordinary objects than the happiest or unusual events. I like finding something interesting in seemingly uninteresting things. So, there aren’t the happiest memories in my work. But I hope I can make viewers of my work feel happy because that’s one of my goals in making my works.
5. If you had a time machine that could take you anywhere, where would you go and what would you do?
I’m curious about this thought, but I’m happy with my life now, and if doing that changes the future or past, then I don’t think I really want to do that. Or scratch all that I have just said, and find winning lottery ticket numbers. Money is everything in the world. Money money money. Oh, I meant to say love is everything in the world. Never mind.
6. Who/what is inspiring you right now?
I have an eleven-year-old daughter, and she’s been pretty good for the inspiration. She sucks up my time to make things though.
7. You work in a lot of mediums; coloured pencils, paints, collage, and possibly the most striking – hand embroidery. Are there any other creative techniques you’d like to explore?
I want to work with glass, metals, and ceramics, but there’s only so much I can handle by myself. Maybe I can collaborate with other people who work with those. I spent some time learning clay shaping techniques in Taiwan earlier this year. I liked it a lot and want to come back to it.
8. What music do you listen to while you work?
I don’t have particular music to listen to. I just play the radio, watch TV programs, and listen to what I get access to by chance, like recommendations by friends.
9. What’s the last thing that made you say ‘wow’?
A mural painting (width: 21m, height: 3m) that me and another artist worked on together, and finished just a couple of days ago on the interior of the Good Will Social Club (625 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, Canada). I really like working on the large format. It’s satisfying to make something large that I need to stand back to see the whole thing. This feeling is probably because I hadn’t worked enough on large-scale works that many times yet.
10. How would you like to be remembered?
I don’t mind much, as long as it’s in a positive way. I’ll do my best to achieve that!