I’m taking a pause from posting about Cuba. At the end of last year I went to see the work of Xzya Cruz Bacani being displayed at the Manchester Craftsman Guild & to listen to her lecture. The subject of her images Modern Slavery resonated with the deep-down photojournalist in me. Her work & the perspective she provided were haunting.
However, that night I stumbled on influence from a different direction that literally caught my eye & turned my neck. In earlier posts I’ve mentioned how architecture & woodworking grab my eye. Entering the Manchester Craftsman Guild an alcove with a wooden accent built into a brick semicircle did just that. In one glance I saw customized shelves, entryway, utility, separation & focus blended into one compact area. If I ever tried to describe a union of form & function this would be a strong example. The synergy of structure, materials & openness was as harmonious as anything I have seen.
Ms Gubser, the executive assistant at MCG, noticed my wide-open eyes. She told me about the woodworker & invited me to look at more of the craftsman’s work in the boardroom.
After seeing more finely crafted pieces, in a wonderful serendipitous moment, she introduced me to the artist who had also come to the lecture.
Meeting Tadao Arimoto & discussing his work was delightful. After humbly listening to my praise of his work he invited me to his workshop. This was an inspirational encounter I never saw coming. Since my wood-shop was closed for the winter I was excited to get some sawdust on my shoes.
Tadao came to Pittsburgh in 1976. His path to the medium of wood to fashion his designs began 4 years earlier in his native Japan. He had studied at the International Design Institute in Kyoto. As a young man, he felt the career path as an industrial designer was uninspiring. Then he saw a wooden bench in a storeroom window that “made his heart pop out.” He found out it was created by Shigeru Ueki a respected abstract sculptor who worked with wood. Tadao contacted him & Shigeru befriended him.
Collaboration can be a powerful motivator. Shigeru, had been a founder of the respected Modern Art Discussion Group with other Japanese artists. He gave inspiration to a young Tadao to learn the craft of sculpting wood & exposed him to other artistic perspectives. Today Tadao is still influenced by sculpture but also is aware of the long perspective of nature & the wood he works with. The life span of a tree is extended in the art he creates. For over 40 years, his hands have molded a 2nd life into the wood he uses. One of the joys of his work is that every week he learns something new.
His design process for custom work begins with understanding the place it will occupy & then making multiple hand sketches of his concepts & ideas. Then CAD drawings are presented to the client giving a perspective that is easier to visualize. With approval & consensus of the final design, Tadao then creates another hand drawing he will use as a guide while crafting the piece.
He describes some of his work as Visually Quiet. A blend of sketch artist, craftsman & sculptor, his minds eye is focused on the functional & the aesthetic environment his work will occupy. The soft conflict of his description resonates in his work. Looking at examples of his finished pieces on his website it is easy to see the blend of purpose with beauty.
Of particular interest to me was the shop environment filled with sawdust creating an orange earth tone hue. I wanted to capture the interaction of the tools, wood, hands & the designer. These images show a glimpse of his personal culmination of inspiration & craft.
Tadao takes his design & creates a second life-cycle of the tree the wood came from. In sculpting his forms he infuses his ideas onto the grain of the lumber with his touch, & experience. His hands respect the longevity of the medium they work with.
Often imperfections become an accent adding character to the narrative.
The work-space of a craftsman can tell you a lot about the artisan. A woodworking shop is a constant shifting balance of space for working & keeping tools close. Raw wood was leaning against the walls. Shelves were piled with hardwoods. Work-in-progress was sitting beside hefty machinery. I was enveloped by the ordered chaos & a diversity of tools. The dominant feature in the shop however was Tadao’s resonating smile.