Kiyoaki Shinzato: Bridging Generations
For Okinawan artist and designer Kiyoaki Shinzato, artifacts are vessels that carry ideas from long ago to the present. He holds that in Okinawa, during the Second World War, many of these artifacts were lost; and consequently, in the chaos of post-war reconstruction, numerous vessels from abroad haphazardly entered the island’s social space to produce a cacophony of messages and a townscape that mirrors this discord.
Shinzato's artistic response to this post-war reality is Abstraction. He channels the life energy found in those things that he considers authentic — artifacts and nature unscathed by the war — to produce 'art-artifacts' that combine modern aesthetics and materials with the philosophical heritage of his ancestors.
Cotonoha Could you talk about the moment you decided to be an artist?
Kiyoaki Shinzato Long before I was an artist, I wanted to express myself through art. I've always felt confident about learning new things, but becoming an artist, at least when the idea first came to me, seemed daunting. Nevertheless, it was a challenge that I wanted to embrace.
Cotonoha When exactly was this?
Kiyoaki Shinzato I was 23 years old and living in London. I spent my days visiting art museums where many of the works on display highlighted the rich cultural heritage of England.
There, I was inspired to study jewelry design. However, not content with only creating jewelry, I decided to experiment with other mediums. I'm always on the lookout for things that broaden the possibility of self-expression.
Cotonoha You're now in Okinawa, so how did you end up in London?
Kiyoaki Shinzato My sister brought me. She had plans to fly to London and had an extra plane ticket. She offered it to me, and I gladly accepted. At the time, I was enjoying life in Tokyo with no interest in living outside of Japan. But after arriving in London, I soon found the city to be a wondrous place, so I decided to live there awhile.
Cotonoha What mediums do you work in and why?
Kiyoaki Shinzato I'm fascinated with materials that contrast and appear unbalanced, yet once they're brought together, can coexist to produce aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking pieces. Furthermore, though many materials tend to lend themselves to a particular creative process, I don't favor one over another. All materials are the same. Anything can be used to make art.
Cotonoha What is the single most important concept that connects all of your artwork?
Kiyoaki Shinzato It's first and foremost the idea of life. Artists in the past drew inspiration from the natural world to create art that appealed to the heart and brought people together. They channeled what they sensed and perceived in nature to produce work imbued with life.
Cotonoha What's your idea of life?
Kiyoaki Shinzato To me, anything that has evolved organically in nature possesses a life-force. Many objects have a soul.
Cotonoha What is your source of inspiration?
Kiyoaki Shinzato Our ancestors dreamed of creating a better life for their children, and the art they left behind, those vessels of memories, echoes this sentiment and acts as a bridge between the past and present. I find inspiration in these works of a bygone time, and, in the tradition of my forebears, draw on the natural world of Okinawa — despite its many problems — to create art that future generations might appreciate.
Cotonoha As your work is largely abstract, how does it relate to the concrete world?
Kiyoaki Shinzato I think that it's important to reach as many people as possible. Creating artwork that's more straightforward is always on my mind, yet finding the proper balance between figurativism and abstraction is a constant struggle.
I hope viewers perceive in my work not only pain but also happiness, because after all, I hope with all my heart to inspire everyone to move happily forward together, hand in hand, to build a better world.
Cotonoha What role do artists have in society?
Kiyoaki Shinzato I fear that too many people nowadays are insensitive to the world. Few look into their hearts to understand their life's purpose; and what's more, our society believes that this unfortunate condition is natural.
But artists are different from others; they are more sensitive. Unflinchingly truthful to themselves, they look within their hearts to create powerful and compelling works of art that at once capture the essence of the world and spark others to discover within themselves their calling.
Eventually, a genuine sensitivity to the world — be it from listening to music, enjoying a meal, or looking at art — is born, and gradually, over time, this feeling of sensitivity reaches throughout society and makes it a much-improved place.
Interview Daryl Mitchell | Naoko Uchima
Words Daryl Mitchell
Photography Satoru Yoshikawa