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/

VOLTA NY 14: art speaks back from the walls

Jennifer Wynne Reeves creates collages on boards that some include wire, some hair or feathers, and some thick applications of paint. This approach could by no means represent flat wall art. The dimensionality makes the art continue in space. Objects and paint are not decorative art either, but there is something folk-art in them; or retrospectively ”American” influences. These works suggest, as one work is titled, voluptuous meanings that are material, sensuous and touchable. Reeves writes as part of her artistic practice. Writing collide with personal meanings, and is symbolic in nature.

Her statements, or poems end up being part of the artwork itself. The artist was presented at the VOLTA by New York City gallery BranvinLee programs. The art presented at the art fair spoke about her illness, which is also reflected in her writing:

I think I might not be alive to go to my opening next September. I think I should rush to finish things. I wonder why my body is doing this or that. I think Christmas will be long. I think I won’t be able to save enough money for old age with all these bills, and that an imminent death would be preferable. I wouldn’t have to look for even more powerful galleries. -Jennifer Wynne Reeves 2013, Callicoon, NY

VOLTA art fair offers a chance to get in touch with art that promotes freshness and openness of ideas. The fair is relatively easy to access. It should be, that art fairs can be walked-in-to, so the art can be discussed and shared. VOLTA is like one big gallery space, where multiple stops lead to curiosities, comprehension, and even comparisons. Perhaps art displayed with this many references has a better chance for new perspectives.This year, the amount of techniques was compelling. Among the artisans of art was definitely a Japanese woodcut artist Katsutoshi Yuasa. For him, woodcut is a new way of seeing images and photography. The long process gives refinement of light, and adds the personality. Yuasa works on the printing process and reliefs based on his own digital photography. He uses traditional Japanese printmaking technique, which takes time. Carving and printing are all made by hand. For Yuasa, printmaking out of a photograph has a deeper meaning that what could be expressed in photographs. He thinks that photographs are more like a fictional two-dimensional surface. He says, that carving on the plywood, and the printing on paper, will add another dimension. The result is an abstract reality, which implies both subjective and objective perceptions. Yuasa also worked in Finland in an artist residence. The work ”Ilmatar” is based on his photograph of Finnish forest. He was presented at VOLTA by YUKI-SIS gallery from Tokyo.

Pius Fox is a young Berlin-based German artist, whose works are influenced by modernistic means. Not only the color-scheme, but the meticulous, minimal and graphic output is reminiscent of styles before his own era. His works move between painting and drawing, figurative and abstract, lingering between form(alism) and context. Multiple layers of paint create an idea of space. Fox makes small works that together are like an installation. One can only think how many different ways to place them on the walls. Small works communicate with each other. When separately, the scale still holds a lot of energy and tension. His color schemes represent past times, giving nostalgic vibrations. As if an old gramophone was playing tunes, light curtain had moved to let air inside the room. Colors are contrastive, some of them pale and pastels, some dark and more graphic. Indeed, Fox uses interiors of his own work studio for inspiration, including windows, doors, curtains and so on, to introspect atmosphere. Yet the works have an appeal of formality and outwardness. He was presented by Patrick Heide Contemporary Art from London.