Text by Akemi Okumura Roy
Paper-making techniques were introduced to Japan from China in 610 A.D. Over the centuries they were developed in a very refined craft. Typically produced from the long natural fibres of three Japanese native plants, each giving a different quality of Washi in which the common features are smoothness, resistance and the visible fibres. Washi is traditionally one of the four elements of which Japanese households are made, together with wood, earth and reeds. The paper obtained with this process is also still used in many traditional arts, from Origami to Ukyio-e, and to produce writing paper and fans, umbrellas and kites, lamps and kimonos. Paper-making is an Important Intangible Cultural Property of Japan, and as such protected, safeguarded and transmitted to future generations.
Osaka-born paper artist Tetsuya Nagata has mastered this traditional craft, turning it into the centre of his eccentric production. Nagata graduated from the School of Fine Arts of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1985. He learned the technique at University, where he discovered this art form that «comprises all natural things, bringing them together in a formative beauty and a function of nature, that becomes a point of view, a perception, ultimately representing how people feel».
When I create Japanese paper moulds, behind each mould there is a history, a story and memories which make it unique.
“I would like to leave a memory of Japanese beauty and tradition that people have forgotten"
Ten years ago, he started using wooden moulds with which Japanese traditional sweets are made. “Visiting an antique market, I found a Japanese confectionery mould in the shape of a sea bream; I was very attracted by it, because the mould is a negative shape and the positive comes out upside down after it is filled with the candy. So I began to study the epidermis, which has a front side and back side. In the shape of the ground, it gets upside down. The epidermis is the visible side of the ground. Through it, we can see the other side of the world. So when I found the moulds of old Japanese sweets, I started to develop this project, to revive the memories of our history, combining them with a playful element. When I create Japanese paper moulds, behind each mould there is a history, a story and memories which make it unique.“With Japanese paper I have been copying the shape and memory of various objects such as excavators of construction sites, the ruts of Mazda three-wheeled trucks, the old manhole and plate nearby Tokyo tower. Objects that are significant in the history of men. Objects that are the memory of a person, like the epidermis of the well-worn shoes of retired office workers. I have also made placemats, lampshades and greeting cards copying the surface of Yakusugi trees, the World Heritage Yakushima cedars.”
The theme is “Memory of Time and Space”. By making full use of Japanese traditional paper, Tetsuya Nagata collects “the realistic epidermis of things, created by three-dimensional solid or embossed work that expresses the relationship between visual and tactile image memory.”
Tetsuya Nagata uses Nishinouchi Washi, specifically designated intangible cultural asset, made from the best mulberry trees, which has a silky, shiny texture. “I like to revive old Japanese sweets by Japanese paper, as Memories of Japan. These celebrative moulds are inherited from Edo era, Meiji, Taisho, Showa to Heisei. I use these designs to expand into the space of everyday life, interiors, gifts, and fashion. They have a meaning as memory of Japan. Something that can feel nostalgic.”
“I would like to leave a memory of Japanese beauty and tradition that people have forgotten. I am fascinated by the beauty of Japanese design that has been put into wooden moulds. Those moulds have in themselves the history of each craftsman’s work."
“Sea Breams, Treasure Ships, Mount Fuji are considered to bring good luck and are used as ingredients in foods for happy events and celebrations. To consecrate the encounter of people and love. There are many different wooden moulds from Hokkaido to Kyushu in Japan, from different times and different places. My work starts with finding those sweet moulds, that I collect at my studio, where I have more than 2000 pieces from all over Japan. To create my work, I overlay about five Japanese papers to the wooden moulds. They represent good luck with seasonal things, vegetables, and fruits which are colourful and have amazingly sophisticated structures. I consider myself an artist of designs.”
Tetsuya Nagata’s works are exhibited at shows and galleries. They are sold at selected shops in Japan, and he also has a concession at Isetan Department Store, entirely dedicated to his art and products.
Laura Inghirami, journalist and advisor specialized in the jewelry sector, and Founder of Donna Jewel, interviewed, for the Cologni Foundation, the Master artisans who have been awarded as “MAM – Master of Arts and Crafts”, in the category: Jewelry - Silversmithing – Goldsmithing.