October 8th, 2021Japanese artists’ connection with Trentham
VISUAL artists Akiko Nagino and Takahiko Sugawara met in 2006 and they are still together, travelling and making works. Growing up in Tōhoku the remote and scenic north east region of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, they both completed studies at Tōhoku University of Art and Design in the city of Yamagata.
While Takahiko focused on the fundamentals of sculpture and exhibiting in group and solo shows across Japan, Akiko pursued an arts and crafts degree majoring in urushi or lacquer art; a process originating in China, more than 3000 years ago, before spreading throughout East and Southeast Asia.
In 2014 they moved to Melbourne, which must have been a significant change after the mountainous beauty of their home on Honshu. For Akiko the relocation led to a change in direction for her work.
“I wanted to get out of that kind of traditional style when we came here. When I studied lacquer I learnt lots of traditional skills, but it is very difficult and very delicate. And I thought it would be very interesting if I try another skill or material that is more easy. For example, my current artwork is just cutting paper.”
Her delicate and ephemeral pieces are often modelled on clothing including traditional Japanese kimono and 19th century western women’s dress. They incorporate traditional symbols of good luck, prosperity and patterns found in the everyday: from clouds to masses of leaves to the shapes found in butterfly wings.
It is extraordinary that Akiko considers her intricate paper cutouts to be a primitive and easily executable respite from the complexity of lacquerware pieces. Especially considering the response to them in the numerous exhibitions she has taken part in since coming to this country including several awards. One cannot look at her objects and not be in awe, imagining the process required to bring them to completion.
Takahiko also has a profound interest in the patterns of nature and it greatly informs his sculpture practice. But so does his being a tuba player at high school. As quoted from an exhibition catalogue in 2019: “Sugawara’s attention to space, form and line is deeply rooted in his teenage years where he played in Japan’s number one high school marching band. Required to make rigid lines and shapes whilst playing his instrument, these formative experiences have shaped a practice that explores ideas of layering and overlap.”
Such influences just go to show how diverse artistic input can be, ranging from the mystical intricacies of the natural world to social experiences grounded in everyday life.
The couple, in Akiko’s words, decided to come to Victoria first because they were advised that Victorians were more friendly than NSW which is, of course, absolutely true.
Takahiko was subsequently sponsored by Trentham sculpture artist, the late Matthew Harding and the couple lived in Redesdale while he was working with Matthew. Since then Takahiko has continued to show in various exhibitions. These include the Lorne Sculpture Biennale and the Deakin University Contemporary Small Sculpture Award showcasing his interlocking minimalist installations in both metal and wood.
“My ideas come from when single or multiple elements come together to make a new shape,” he says. “Basically I begin with small pieces and put them together to make something that just keeps on expanding.”
Today, Akiko and Takahiko live in Ballarat but maintain their connection with the Central Highlands region including exhibiting works at the Little Gallery in Trentham and Stockroom Kyneton.
Takahiko also worked with East Trentham artist Ian Neyland on the memorial sculpture to Matthew Harding which can be seen today as you come into Trentham from the east. And as restrictions inevitably ease they will be looking forward to more exhibitions around the state into the future.
Words: Tony Sawrey