An interview with Eita Kitayama

Chic colors dyed with plants such as pomegranate seeds, or iron mordant, simple and elegant forms backed by a delicate aesthetic sense, high practicality with glass coating finish. Eita Kitayama's wooden works are a combination of these elements. When I visited his studio for the first time, he paused in his work and welcomed us into his studio with a smile covered in wood shavings.

Kitayama was born in Tanba Sasayama; Hyogo prefecture, a castle town rich in nature. His family owned an ironworks and used to make swords until the end of Edo period (around 1870). His grandfather, who played with him when he was a child, was a dexterous man who could make anything with wood, such as bamboo-copter, bamboo stilts, and fishing rods, and Kitayama naturally came to love making things.

After studying sewing at a clothing college in Osaka, he worked for a while at a local housing company and at his parents' ironworks, but he decided to move to Tokyo, and worked for a company that made display fixtures. On his days off, he liked to visit French antique stores. Once, he started making antique style small boxes using scrap wood from his workplace. Eventually, on the recommendation of others, he began to exhibit his works at a craft fair. After holding a two-person exhibition in Kichijoji with a candle artist who became a close friend, his connections with people who make things expanded, and he was often asked to make display fixtures for them. Although his life in Tokyo exposed him to the world of artists, he had not thought of becoming an artist himself at that time. After that, he returned to his hometown and started a boutique store while working as an interior decorator. One day, he wanted to make the legs of the store's tables by himself, so he got a wood lathe, which opened the way to becoming a wood craft artist.

‘After about a year of trial and error, I was able to make legs with a lathe, and when I posted what I was making at the time on my blog, an artist contacted me and asked if I would be interested in showing my works as a guest artist at her exhibition. I exhibited compotes at her exhibition at a gallery in Harajuku, and that was the first time my name was mentioned as an artist. That's when I decided to make a living as an artist.’ 

He quitted all the jobs he had been doing and devoted himself to improve his lathe skills. He describes those six months as the most intense period of his life so far. He started making cutlery out of wood to see if it could be made to look like the French antique cutlery he liked , but at first it broke easily and he had a series of failures. By continuing to study the techniques and materials, he gradually came to be able to make products that were both strong and beautiful.

'At that time, I was thinking about what only I could do, and I came across dyeing. When I saw the vessels of iron mordanting by other artists, I wondered if we could dye dishes with plants and trees. So I went to the mountain behind my house and started researching dyeing with various plants I had collected. One day, an idea came to mind to try using camellia flowers that my grandfather had carefully grown. It turned out to be an amazingly beautiful color. I was convinced that this was what I should do.'

The cutlery, 23cm and 29cm plates that he completed a short time later were unlike anything he had ever seen before, with beautiful colors of pomegranates and other plants harmonized with the beauty of the classic forms. While he felt a sense of accomplishment with the finished works, Mr. Kitayama had an image of a simpler dish in his mind. Very simple and beautiful plate. The image was clear in his mind, but he could not make it with the level of his technique at the time.

‘It's really just a small difference of the angle. However, no matter how many times I've tried, I could not come up with the one I was satisfied with. In the end, it took me four years to get it right.’

When the plate was finally completed, Kitayama gave his work its name for the first time. The plate, "la norme," which means "standard" in French, is very simple, yet it has a definite presence, and is one of the achievements of the beauty that Kitayama has been pursuing.

Kitayama says that trees and plants have become closer to him since he moved to Miyagi; the northern part of Japan, about two years ago. He says that his daily routine is to drive to the beach before sunrise, enjoy surfing, and then start to work. He says that being in the ocean clears his mind and gives him a lot of ideas. Surfing, letting himself be in nature and catching a good wave when it comes, is somewhat similar to Kitayama's journey so far. Finally, we asked him what he would like to do in the future.

‘I would like to master dyeing. For that purpose, I want to grow all the plants for dyeing by myself. I have cuttings of camellia that my grandfather planted, and I am growing them here. Dyeing has infinite possibilities, and I would like to encounter colors that I can say "this is it’’, again.‘

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