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Interview: Katsutoshi Yuasa, from photographic imagination to woodcut reality

Katsutoshi Yuasa is a Japanese artist who has revitalized the original idea of photography, thinking about its early techniques, and bringing the digital production close to ancient Japanese printmaking practices. His detailed and lengthy artistic process starts usually with a digital snapshot. Eventually the image finds a new life as woodcut print or relief work, which the artist carves and prints all by a hand. In this production the original alters into something else, depicting a feeling or experience. Katsutoshi Yuasa was born in Tokyo. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, and has exhibited internationally for over a decade now.

For Katsutoshi Yuasa, the photography contains several layers of meaning. The complexity of the medium implies that the production cannot be perceived as pure images.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your woodcutting is based on photography, did this practice in your mind transform the idea of photography?

Katsutoshi Yuasa: Yes, my process of making art works is a way of thinking about an origin of photography. Or it is about image-making. How we understand and transform an image in front of our eyes to our mind.

I start from a photographic snapshot, but re-emergence of a photographic image is not my goal. My purpose of using a photograph is to make visible something which is perceived but no one sees.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2014, After a long pause  60cm x 150cm  Oil-based woodcut on paper

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2014, After a long pause, 60cm x 150 cm, oil-based woodcut on paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in the arts, how did you end up choosing woodcutting?

KY: I studied painting at first when I was a student. But I gave up my paintings because I couldn’t find a good future in my paintings. So I participated in a short printmaking course, and then found positive possibilities in the printmaking. Even that time my interest was photography, so I was thinking photo etching or screen print technique as my primary expression. At first, woodcut print seemed to be too far from photography. But later I concerned carving lines on wood as a similar process to making lights in the dark room. Now I’ve been making woodcut prints and works related to wood for over 10 years. Basically, woodcut print includes questions about light, image, water and colour.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In how many countries have you exhibited so far, including art galleries and art fairs?

KY: Maybe about 15 or 16 countries.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Coming from Japan, do you find that there are common approaches to making art in Japanese and Nordic cultures, asking this also because your art has been showed in Nordic countries quite often?

KY: My main subject is woodcut print but it is about light, image, water and colour. So I made a project with an idea of these and created a concept from a place where I stayed. When I visited Norway with the art project “20 Coastal Stations”, my subject was water & colour. I’m going to have a exhibition in October 2016 with artists who traveled together in Norway last year (see info here  http://www.sfk.museum.no/nn/node/48).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You spent also some artist residence time in Finland, how was this experience like, did it change your artistry, how about finding new influences?

KY: I spend a really good time in Finland. During the artist residence in Finland, I searched Scandinavian myths and poems. I’m interested in how myths are made. I made woodcut prints titled as “Illmatar” and “The world without words”. Also “Listen, Nature is full of songs and truth” is a phrase that I borrowed from Finland.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2013, The world without words, water-based woodcut on paper

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2013, The world without words, water-based woodcut on paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that many of your photographs carry nature imagery, what is your artistic philosophy about nature and how does it change in the process of making your works?

KY: I am not interested in making just beautiful pictures. My interest are words, stories and myths behind the nature and the landscape. The topics are words, images, art, nature, politics and beauty. I would also like to show and include ambivalence in my works.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In recent years, you have made a series of works that imply thematic concerns about what is happening in the world. You did a series titled  “The Colors of the Innocents”; the theme is based on events in the Middle East adopting Syrian crisis. How did this project come about?

KY: Everyday we see many shocking images on TV or on a screen. There are too many images around us via the internet. I have the works titled as “We lost something but we don’t know what we lost”. And, we can say “We see anything but we don’t remember what we saw” and also “We know something is happening in the world but we don’t know the smell and temperature”. These topics are about cruelty and colour.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, The colours of the Innocents #4  60cm x 90.5cm  Water-based woodcut on paper

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, The colours of the Innocents #4 60cm x 90.5cm. Water-based woodcut on paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The result of these prints is quite amazing. Tell about the aesthetic choices of making “The Colors of the Innocents”? They are quite different from your other works, which are more representational.

KY: For these works, I was more interested in making colourful works because colour is getting more important in my practice. One colour work is following up from my CMYK printing system. So I made 4 wood blocks with different lines and printed with 4 CMYK colours.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You can see that in 2015 there are new lines and shapes emerging, and result is perhaps more geometry and color. The prints titled All is Vanity, CMYCYMMCYMYCYCMYMC, and Nordlys, to name a few, have this form. Can you say that there is a fine line between design and art in the project that you are doing with these shapes?

KY: The most important idea for these works is “A Throw of the Dice Never Abolish Chance”. My interest is making an Image by a chance. Especially the I Ching is very interesting. There is a question that we choose something by a will or a chance. So my latest solo exhibition was titled as Colour/Numbers. How we choose numbers or how a number was chosen by us.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the “Beyond assumption” exhibition, which you had in Copenhagen in 2011, you kind of wanted to create an oppositional imagery of disaster, could you tell about this background, and what did you choose to be part of the imagery beyond assumption?

Yes, the exhibition “Beyond assumption” is a word from the Natural disaster that hit in Japan in 2011. Artists want to make their art works beyond assumption in the end. And of course Nature is always beyond our assumption. But we made a system under an unstable base. So here art connects to nature.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The works from 2016 also are experimenting with different shapes, reflecting pattern explorations, and bringing forth new influences. It seems that you have a flux of going between geometry and nature, to create and implement beauty?

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, Observation point  95.5cm x 190cm  Oil-based woodcut on aluminum leaf paper

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, Observation point 95.5cm x 190cm Oil-based woodcut on aluminum leaf paper.

KY: Yes, I’m very interested in geometry and patterns. It is about image-making. History and culture are included behind an image.

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2016, Aesthetics of 12 #1  28cm x 45cm  Oil-based woodcut on paper

Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2016 Aesthetics of 12 #1 28cm x 45 cm, oil-based woodcut on paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are you heading next with your art and career?

KY: My next exhibition will be in Norway in October. It includes works from 20 Coastal Stations project. So 6 artists will be showing together, presenting the project. Also, I will have a group exhibition with young Japanese artists, who make water-based woodcut prints, in Melbourne in October.

Artist website: http://www.katsutoshiyuasa.com/

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