A Conversation with Akira Yoshikawa
A quick-reacting, decisive man, Yoshikawa (b. 1949, Japan) practises a deceptively simple form of art. His early sand-rock-and-paper pieces were composed on the floor and were praised for being Japanese, minimalist, and very Zen. (The Zen description Yoshikawa particularly dislikes because it’s inaccurate.
Inspiration for his floor works actually came from artist Walter De Maria’s revolutionary (1977) New York Earth Room, an “interior earth sculpture” which filled the entire floor space of a New York SoHo gallery with earth.) Often enough the product of chance, Yoshikawa’s mixed media works span the categories of drawing, sculpture, and installation. His art evokes bright moments.
Before going to art school, were you a good student?
… (Smiles) … (silence) … I did what teachers told me to do. I tried to do what I was told. But academically, I never liked to study.
Are you patient?
No. I’m not … it’s not that I want instant gratification . . . but I think I’ve slowed down through the years, and especially where others are involved, I try to leave them alone. And even when it comes to art projects, I tend to slow down and leave it aside for later. With house chores, I take my time, now. I want more time to relax.
Have you ever wanted to do anything else?
Yes . . . cooking! I think I’d be pretty good at it. Or design.
Can art make a better world?
Gee, I hope so . . . otherwise, it has its own problems . . . I wouldn’t be making art if I didn’t believe in it.
Making art is selfish; but, I hope so…
You originally enrolled at OCA (Ontario College of Art) in Interior Design. What made you change to Art?
Basically, a new President in my 2nd year: structured courses were abolished and you were supposed to set up your own course. I met artists—musicians, philosophers, not just visual artists—and luckily, one was Nobby Kubota; and Gus Wiseman and Udo Kasamets made me ask the question, What is art?, and it all started to open me up.
Do you compartmentalize your life?
Oh, I think so. Monday to Friday, I work at AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario). It’s a big part of me. I know how institutions handle art. During the day, surrounded by so much art, it makes me think about my own art. Then, I’m a father and husband, at other times.
Is your own family artistic?
Yes, in fact . . . my daughter is into science, occupational therapy, but her artistic drawing sense is probably better than mine. Son is into heavy metal and kinesiology. A different discipline. And Nancy used to dance. My son and I are in many ways alike.
So there’s a lot to DNA, then?
What have your kids taught you?
They give me the chance to revisit, go over my values. I have to do this, if I’m going to tell them anything.
Where does your art come from?
Now I make art and want to be a better person. I want to share ideas and philosophies with people.
I write down what people say, people’s ideas that are similar to mine, and I try to express these positive ideas. They’re about beauty and appreciating the positive side of life. Before, I was much more interested in formalism—still am—but now it’s more about my view of life—art used as a tool for others to see themselves in, just like the Zen gardens (Ryoanji) in Japan. You find your own mind in the gardens.
Have you ever hit dry periods in your art production?
Oh, yes. Right after school I had a studio on Richmond (Street) and was just starting. Then for four years, in the late 70s, I focused on my AGO job which was travelling and installing art in galleries in Ontario. I wasn’t doing much. Later, Leo Kamen (art gallery owner and dealer) gave me shows almost every year—and really importantly, he directed my work (works on paper and installations) toward the right galleries and institutions. Then, in the 80s, when AGO ran the Artists With Their Works program, this pushed me along. They would give you a gallery show, and with a school board’s involvement, bring busloads of kids to see the show.
We’re quickly changing topic, excuse me, but I seriously wanted to ask how you felt: Should sushi eaters feel they’re guilty of depleting the world’s fish supply?
It’s great that Japanese cuisine is so popular—but perhaps we should look for alternatives. Tuna used to be the cheapest, but no more, especially tuna belly with the fat. Thank god, I like other foods.
I see you’re using an iPad these days. Is your art influenced in any way by the new technology?
I get art information, and information, quicker! and I love it! I don’t know the technology, but I love using it.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming artists?
Be honest with yourself. Continue doing it, if you love it. If you’re not smiling, don’t do it.
To experience Akira Yoshikawa’s art, please visit his website, www.akirayoshikawa.com