LONG DISTANCE TRAVEL TO MANAWATU (2020)
Exhibited at Zimmerman Art Gallery, Palmerston North
Exhibition at Zimmerman Art Gallery, 2020
I am so Japanese that I don’t consider my art work to be “made in New Zealand”, even though it physically is.
The materials I’ve used in my drawings over the years are all sourced from overseas: charcoal from the UK or Japan, paper from Italy, France or the USA, charcoal erasers from Germany and Japan, and stumps and blenders from China. It makes me wonder: if I draw as I do now, and using the same materials when I am in another country, then where is that art work really from? Somehow, regardless of where my drawings are made, they can perhaps be considered Japanese, as this is the background culture and heritage that I carry with me.
Because I live in New Zealand, and make my work here, I wanted to use a tool or material also made in this country. In this sense it’s fortunate that I mainly work with charcoal rather than paint; it would be extremely difficult to make my own paints and brushes from local resources. But charcoal can be more readily produced - if you set fire to tree branches, then you have charcoal (not necessarily of a quality fit for drawing, but the basic material is there).
I experimented with test firings using various kinds of wood, including rimu, oak and cherry, before choosing totara as the material for making my own charcoal. It’s a little less flexible and versatile than the widely used commercial willow charcoal, but it’s good and solid enough to achieve my desired depths of blackness and greyness, and for tonal gradation. And even the less positive aspects of totara charcoal – such as a tendency to be powdery – have posed challenges that have simply motivated me to overcome them, and make it better.
Moreover totara charcoal sounds so New Zealand; this makes me feel confident I’m truly creating “New Zealand art”. My original concept for this exhibition was to produce a series of New Zealand forest drawings, particularly ones with totara trees, using totara charcoal. But as I walked in nearby bush and took photos, I realised it wouldn’t make for a meaningful work to simply transfer natural imagery to paper; it would only be a copied picture. And I always like to create something that reflects myself, even if this is not obvious on the surface.
So I started to place actors on the paper, doing their own ad-libs. And now, with the presence of these life forms, the forests in the drawings seem to have their own life too.