An interview with Kazuto Yoshikawa
ーDo you have any particular memories of your childhood ?
There is a mountain just back of my house, and I used to do what boys play in a forest, like shaving wood to make bows, making tree houses, and playing like Tarzan with hanging strings between trees… But the forest is not just for fun. There, I saw carcasses of animals and fishes, swarmed by bugs, and moths were swarming for sap of trees. It is the place where plants or animals are living and dying everywhere. I was fascinated with seeing the cycle of life and death. Also I remember stormy nights when I felt scared to see big trees shaking and to hear sounds of wind. I heard cries of the pheasants and owls in my room faced woods. At night, the woods became a dark unknown world, I didn’t feel that deeply in the daytime though. And woods change its colors, smells, and sounds every season.
ーWoods were the place where you learned life and death too.
Yes. And trees are the center of life of woods. They feed other animals and insects, then its leaves give nutrients to the ground. In that sense, tree is an awe-inspiring existence for me. Although I played with trees in the daytime, I always felt the greatness of their being. So I feel that the difference between other product designers and me is how to treat. I mean, for me, each wood is graphic and not just a material, while they use wood just as one of materials to make products. Wood is, so to speak, corpse of tree. I treat dead bodies of trees that once lived. In this meaning, this is one and only existence. Once burned, it turns to be ash and is brown away by wind, then it can be for next generations…I like its upright position. I’ve always liked designs and products, but I’ve seen wood in a different way. Many woodworkers tend to get rid of rotten parts, irregular grain wood or knotted ones because they make product structure weak or out of balance, but I use these ones for my works because I think these parts are also the nature of wood. My way of thinking about wood likely comes from the experiences of my childhood.
ーYou said, in your childhood, woods was playground and the place to learn life and death. Do you think the two different aspects of wood reflect to your works?
Yes, I think so. For example, I use a plane wood for daily ware and one with symbolic power for artistic pieces. I believe these are both necessary. I can say these two types reflect day and night of woods.
ーWhen did you start woodworking?
When I was in third grade of primary school, I made a wooden spoon for a gift of mother’s day. At first I did it as a hobby, and I was around 35 years old when I thought to be a professional woodworker. I started from making spoons, because I originally liked sculpture and spoon is the most familiar sculpture. I consider the spoon an object of which function and form are beautifully integrated.
ーWe see the unique curves in your works. Your liking for curve comes from your experiences and observation of nature and woods?
Yes. For example, I got a hint for the shape of my butter knife from that of a plant seed like propeller. I like egg shape and form of round stones on the river side. They are initially lumps of uneven weight and hardness , and they have been scraped off for some reasons and get balanced form finally.
The shape of water drop comes from the balance between gravity and surface tension. When I was a student of woodworking school, my teacher, he was originally a sculptor, taught me ‘everything on the earth is under the influence of gravity, and also shapes cannot be out of its effect.’ I thought it was interesting when I heard this, and thought the most beautiful lines are the balanced ones influenced by natural force such as gravity or expansion force. Speaking a little more about design, the best hint is human bodies. It has various structure to move while being pulled by gravity, and fat is on it. The shape of body is balanced with natural force, so I often observes the forms and moves of human bodies, especially waist lines and curves from neck to shoulder. I also like to observe shoulder lines of birds and animals.
ーLet me ask a little more about you before becoming an artist. You started to work for a company after graduating from university. Didn’t you want to be an artist from the beginning? What made you leave your position in a company and decide to be an artist after several years?
I originally liked making things, and I was a member of the art club at university, but I thought I couldn’t do it as occupation. I thought it was impossible for me. So I joined Cassina ixc. (a manufacturing company of high-end designer furniture) because I liked design. I thought I wanted to live around product design. But there was the earthquake disaster in 2011, and I considered my life. I was 35 at that time, it was time to make decision of life then. I decided to challenge what I like because life is only once and not so long. I quitted my job and entered a woodworking school in Gifu prefecture.
ーPlease tell me about your current projects. Recently you also made a new base here in Mie besides the atelier in Tokyo.
There is a huge forest here owned by Toyota Motor Corporation. I applied for the project to effectively use the forest while preserving it. My project is to develop and sell some products using the forest trees and circulate the process by buying the local tree with that money. Another project is for education using wood at local schools. It is about one year and a half since it started, and in education, woodworking class at a local school is in progress. As to the product development, it has just started since I rent the space in this May. This space was originally a factory site. I have a plan to establish a production line to make products using forest trees, and I will hire local people after the business is on track. In addition, I want to make it a place where people gather, and want to share the fun of making things with trees by moving hands with people.
ーThat sounds exciting. You have holding workshops in various places successively. What do you think about your workshops ?
When I left the company and decided to be a woodworker, I had no idea what to do first, nor what equipments to have either. So I want to let it easier to make things of wood, and want to offer occasions where people can easily enjoy making things. Moreover, I believe that making wood pieces has a power to cure a person who have difficulties in his life. People can have a sense of self-affirmation too. In fact, there are some who seriously need it. I was the one before. So this is another mission to reach these people. In my workshop, I don’t say OK to participants until they come up at a certain level of completion. They feel glad when they finally made a nice work. It is the reflection of what they did in the two and a half hours. I hope they realize the value of their existence. This is simply for yourself to enjoy, and for finding yourself again. It means what to do in your life ultimately. My message to children and younger generations is that, in any case, this world is worth living. You’ll meet lots of good things while you live. I want to convey that making pieces of natural material for themselves or someone else can bring on self-confidence and it’s fun.
ーYou teach in schools and workshops, and here you are going to start up business to use forest effectively, besides making your own artistic works. It’s a very wide range of activities. How do these things unite in you?
All activities I do might be the same at last. It’s fun to make something by shaving wood, so I do it professionally, and I want to share it with other people. Everything is done with that idea. I call myself as an artist overseas, and woodworker in Japan, but I don’t think it’s necessary to fix the title. Currently, I only write ‘ Kazuto Yoshikawa ‘ on my business card.
Interviewed at Yoshikawa’s new atelier in Mie prefecture in Sep. 2019