When I was young, my mother purchased a collection of classic Western children’s books translated into Japanese from an uncle who was not having much success at selling them door to door. I was captivated by stories such as Louisa de la Rame’s “A Dog of Flanders”, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl”, and Oscar Wilde’s tale of the “Happy Prince”. I often re-imagined these books with happier endings or conjured up new characters and new plots.
I was reminded of the happy memories of these captivating stories and the animal characters that appeared in them when I discovered the metalwork of Muranaka Yasuhiko at a craft fair in Japan last year. Muranaka-san had an array of animals on display that were light-hearted in their appearance and that exquisitely captured their essence. His animals all looked as if they had stories to tell, perhaps along the lines of my childhood fantasies.
Very few metalwork artists show their work at craft fairs in Japan, so I was delighted to come across Muranaka-san. He is a rare artist who has the skill and expertise not only to make the small pieces that I saw but also to create large sculptural metal installations. His work has won numerous prizes and some have been shown at the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition (Nitten) and the highly respected UBE Biennale International Open Sculpture Competition.
When I asked Muranaka-san why he made both small and large pieces, he explained that his approach was to regularly alternate between working on large and small pieces. Keeping this rhythm allows him to “create new work with vigor” because he enjoys creating small work just as much as making large installations.
Muranaka-san’s love of metal began when he saw molten steel at school for the first time almost 40 years ago. He was mesmerized by the beauty of its color. “It was so beautiful and so I decided to major in metal casting”, he said.
But his career as a metalworker did not begin immediately after graduating with a Masters’ degree in metal casting from Tokyo University of the Arts. He initially took on a job at a home economics department in a woman’s university.
“My regular job was not in my area of study, so I continued to create work in my spare time by belonging to a craft group”, he said. “There were people in the group who were working full-time as metalworkers and they finally inspired me to become a full-time maker, just a couple of years before I turned 40” he reflected.
“When I switched to making art full-time, the joy of completing a project or when someone purchased my work intensified. I enjoy the challenge of being able to decide how to make my work and to introduce them into the world,” he said like a proud father.
Muranaka-san’s stainless steel hooks are made using the lost-wax casting method, in which a metal form duplicate is created by casting the original sculpture. “In lost-wax casting, even the fingerprints on the original sculpture can show in the duplicate form, so it is a very intricate process. But the detail must be balanced with the form because delicate details next to a mass of metal do not cast well.” He explained. “When I create the original sculpture, I always think about the suitability of the form for casting. It is difficult to explain in words, but I feel that there are shapes that are more fit to cast,” he added.
The animal motif works are only a part of the wide range of works that Muranaka-san creates in his two studios in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures. However, he feels that his animal works are the most interesting for smaller utensils like hooks that are used inside the home.
Studio KotoKoto is happy to be able to bring these adorable hooks by Muranaka-san to our customers in the U.S. There maybe one or two in the collection that can bring back memories of your favorite childhood book animal characters.