Reinterpreting the traditions of Japanese bamboo craft, Yonezawa Jiro creates imaginative sculptural forms that have established him as a leading innovative and inspirational artists working in the Japanese contemporary arts and crafts movement.
Born in Ōita Prefecture, on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, during his formative years Yonezawa gained a deep knowledge of bamboo crafting skills through his close relationship with master bamboo artisans and his studies at Ōita Technical College’s Bamboo Craft Department. In his early thirties he left Japan and moved to Portland, Oregon, in the United States, where he lived and worked for eighteen years. This extended period away from his place of origin exposed him to a different natural environment that encouraged the development of new artistic possibilities and alternative ways to apply his Japanese traditions. After receiving numerous awards and being collected by prestigious institutions that include the American Craft Museum, New York, and the California Crafts Museum, San Francisco, he moved back to Japan and his home town of Saiki in 2007. There he established a studio and expanded his experimental and highly original bamboo working practices.
In April 2015, while on an NGV Elizabeth Summons Curatorial Scholarship in Japan, he travelled to the traditional bamboo-producing region of Ōita to research contemporary bamboo artists. A highlight of this trip was a visit to Yonezawa Jiro’s studio gallery. Set at the foot of bamboo-covered hills, the experience revealed the peaceful environment and atmosphere of ‘oneness with nature’ that the artist uses as a base for his creativity.
Yonezawa’s workplace is a contemplative space, with his sculptural works displayed in a most intimate and thoughtful manner. An installation of interlocking, finely woven tubes twists across the floor like forest vines, and large, sculptural forms stand upright and reach towards the ceiling. Eccentric three-dimensional sculptures are masterfully crafted to playfully resemble organic forms that suggest objects from a primordial landscape or marine organisms flourishing in a weightless underwater sea-scape. Bamboo’s qualities of strength and flexibility are central to his creations, and although his works are sturdy, they give the appearance softness with the illusion of fluidity and movement.
Featuring as one of his most recent and authoritative works Fossil, 2015, is constructed from randomly woven wide straps of bamboo and takes the form of a large bean or distorted spherical shape that appears to have grown from nature rather than something handcrafted. Not disturbing the natural rhythm of the weave, a small opening to accommodate a bamboo cylinder for water has been left at the top. This subtle inclusion displays the artist’s practice of preserving the traditions of bamboo weaving to produce functional vessels for flower arrangement, while also establishing new possibilities to create unpredicted contemporary sculpture.
Two works by Yonezawa Jiro are part of a major collection of bamboo art purchased with funds donated by Mr Baillieu Myer AC and Sarah Myer for the NGV Collection and will feature in the exhibition Bamboo: Tradition in Contemporary Form, July 2016 – February 2017.
Wayne Crothers, Curator, Asian Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2016)