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Vol. 1: Master who Evolves Bamboo Arts — Takayuki Shimizu

We can find bamboo crafts in any cultures that can source the vital plant as raw material. Durable, flexible, light, and beautiful by itself, bamboo has traditionally been made into various lifestyle items, such as basket, shades, tableware, strainer, furniture, closet, to name a few. The bamboo products were indispensable in daily lives in olden days, but today they are mostly enjoyed as arts, fashion accessories, and interior decorations. Japan is not an exception in this sense. 

Takayuki Shimizu, the youngest “dento kogeishi” (certified master of traditional fine crafts) of Beppu bamboo art (as of August 2019), is currently creating his bamboo arts as an artist in residence at J-Collabo in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Utsuwa Magazine had a chance to visit his temporary studio to get to know more about his style of bamboo art. 

If you think of Japanese fine art artisans, you may think of strict, rigid and taciturn guy, but Master Shimizu is totally opposite to that stereotype. He is easygoing, elusive, outspoken, and definitely unbound by any rules. “Please excuse me working on bamboo while talking. It’s not because I’m busy, but I am just not good at staying still while talking,” he said. Then, he started cutting bamboo into thin strips, soaking them in water in a bucket, and weaving them while answering to our questions. 

His answer to our first question about his encounter with bamboo arts is somewhat unexpected. “After graduating from college, I was doing an online search for a school for arts and crafts with no tuition, and the Beppu bamboo art school appeared on the top of the search list. Then I applied to the school.” He admits that the entry to the school was coincidental, but he had always liked handiwork and he was once amazed with the bamboo crafts when traveling around Southeast Asia. So it might not complete coincidence for that he was dragged into the world of bamboo art.

Asked about his style, he says, “I make any kinds of bamboo arts—traditional, contemporary, practical, creative, large and small. And I love them all! So, I don’t have my definite style yet, but as compared to other Beppu bamboo artists, I tend to use more vibrant colors.” (The bamboo art he won a scholarship for this artist-in-residence program is a set of objects called Kinkaku Ginkaku, woven with dyed bamboos and decorated with gold and silver. ) He also reveals that he keeps evolving as he is exposed to the world outside Japan. For example, when he had an exhibition and workshop in New York last year, he noticed that many audiences appreciate even unfinished works—ends of bamboo strips are loose and flying as they move, for instance. “In tradition, the ends should be tucked into somewhere and make a some kind of closure. But through the audience reaction in New York, I thought it might be okay even if I don’t make any closure. So, I am working on pieces incorporating that style, and I will show some in the upcoming exhibition.”  

Since we could only visit his temporary studio in Brooklyn, we could not help asking him what was like making bamboo art in Beppu. “My studio in Beppu has only 200 square feet, so 4 times smaller than this space. But I don’t need so much space actually.” Then he shared his recent adventures in Washington Square Park and Empire Fulton Ferry Park. The other day, he intuitively brought his bamboo art making kit (bamboo strips, bucket with water, and bamboo knife) to the parks, and started making bamboo art there, communicating with people gathering around him. This not only tells that you need only small space for making bamboo art, but also assures that he is adventurous, playful and curious to new things. He enjoys staying in New York and absorbs what this city can give without a doubt. It is exciting for us to see how his experience here will influence his future bamboo art.

You can meet Master Shimizu and enjoy his works—baskets, accessories, ornaments and installation—at the exhibition from Aug. 30-Sept. 8 (Thursday-Sunday) at OSSAM Gallery/J-Collabo. Exhibition hours are from 1-6pm and opening reception will be held on Aug. 31 from 4-6pm with Calligraphy Master Taisan Tanaka’s calligraphy performance. Also held in this location is a 2-hour bamboo basket making workshop, offered on Aug. 31, Sept. 1, 7, and 8, from 2-4pm each day.

OSSAM Gallery / J-Collabo

300 7th St., Brooklyn, NY 11215

Takayuki Shimizu Instagram: @takayukishimizu_bamboo

*Beppu bamboo art: Beppu, located in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu Island, produces more than 30% of bamboo used for crafts and arts, and in the city bamboo art making has been observed for centuries, dating back to 8th Century. Since Beppu has been a major onsen hot spring resort, attracting people in high society, since Edo Period (1603-1868), it develops elaborate bamboo arts in addition to simple crafts for daily life.


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