“The modern world is a lot like the Sengoku period in Japan – anyone can become an influencer with the courage to voice their opinion. ”
― Takahiro Koga, ceramic artist
B-OWND, a renowned fine art goods company and gallery based in Tokyo, is presenting a show which analyzes the cultural and the artistic of Japan’s past and present.
At New York’s NowHere Gallery, a creative hub for multidisciplinary Japanese artists, Classical Mutations brings forth, for the first time, vibrant creations from two of its most popular ceramicists: Takahiro Koga and Hiromine Nakamura.
At the onset, it is an enlightening display of about 100 delicate yet powerful pieces, showcasing a distinct combination of aesthetics and craftmanship derived from the 500-year tradition of Japan’s Sengoku and Edo period. In each of these works, the artists hone in on skill and dexterity to produce a melding of the traditional with the popular, with such topics as anime, sports, and fashion, providing a grand scope of each artist’s own creativity and individuality.
Born in Fukuoka, Japan, and describing himself as a “first generation artist,” Takahiro Koga’s inspirations came about during undergraduate school, when he became a member of a university club that programmed lectures on pottery. His ceramic process began to mirror that of the iconic styles of Karatsu and Arita (rough and earthy / shiny and smooth), making his pieces beautiful, functional and quite different from the norm.
Hiromine Nakamura, also from Fukuoka, came from a long line of ceramic doll makers, or ningyo-shi, a family business spanning 106 years. At age four, while creating drawings, Nakamura decided to apprentice in the family business while also majoring in woodcarving at Tokyo University. Continuing in the tradition of doll making, it wasn’t until the birth of his son that Nakamura decided to change direction: to become an artist who produced traditional crafted figurines with starkly modern depictions of the heroic samurai.
The themes each artist explores is that of breaking away from the traditional family/group dynamic toward today’s modern individual, where the essence is to be and remain healthy and strong — a contrast to the dystopic attitude of Japan’s “Lost Decade” of the 1990s and 2000s.
In each work, one can see intricate details done with the utmost of care and expression, plus the technical process of each work is quite extraordinary and individualistic, presented with exactness, scope, and imagery.
The first work I came cross by Hiromine Nakamura, “Dream Catcher,” a crouching baseball catcher done in clay, has the obvious look of an anime character yet its direct presence is quite that of traditional samurai; the decorative manner of the uniform, a fierce-like gaze and firm bodily stance, presents viewers something more than just a garden-variety image.
Another piece, this one by Takahiro Koga, entitled “Neo Manekineko,” faithfully represents the traditional paw-raising maneki-neko but with heavy spikes protruding through various parts of its body, a facial mask shielding its gaze, and a physical presence that reads more of defiance, power, and individualism than its common notion of bringing good luck.
The third piece, also by Koga, “Spiky Ware Mask,” is a powerful yet entertaining reference to hip-hop. The graffiti-bubble words of “Groovy, Hope and Dope” grace each side of the mask while a large grouping of rainbow and gold colored spikes gather around the vessel — a captivating display to behold any devoted fan of the genre.
The work that stood out the most for me was “Godzilla of Reminiscence,” an homage to the 70th anniversary of the world-famous fictional monster, known in Japan as kaiju. Quite precise was the strength of the work that the artist took the liberty of producing only a limited number of 10 with one artist proof. The hands-on approach was based on the study of actual photos from the original 1954 prototype, thus making this work such a delight to watch in all of its detail and historical grandeur.
After walking through the gallery and speaking with the artists directly, I was amazed at how much great art comes out of Japan and to observe, firsthand, a unique exhibition.
The exhibition is on display till January 14th, 2024 at NowHere Gallery, located on 40 Wooster Street in New York City.