On the occasion of Osamu Watanabe's first solo show at Whitestone Gallery Hollywood Road in Hong Kong, we speak with him to find out more about his art practice. In this exhibition, 20 pieces of work by the Japanese artist will be showcased, including those from his “Oriental Dream” series, “European Fantasy” series and “Life” series.
He was born in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1980, and he graduated from the Department of Design at Tokyo Zokei University in 2003. His work has been included in the permanent collections of Ohara Museum, Okayama; Kiyosu City Haruhi Museum, Aichi; and Shiga Kogen Roman Museum, Nagano.
Known as the "Prince of Sweets" in the art world, the Japanese contemporary artist uses cream pipe and pastry bag to create "Resin Cream Art." He aims to create decorative yet long-lasting works with this durable medium of choice to capture the happiness embodied by sweets.
Tell us more about where the idea of creating art in the form of highly decorated sweet food comes from. How and when did this begin?
When I was a university student, I thought deeply about my own creativity path. Since my mother was a teacher at a confectionary school, the shapes and colors of sweets she used to make vividly imprinted in my childhood memory. I thought that using these memories to express my creativity will truly show the person I am and that’s why I chose “sweets” as my motif. I believe everyone has their own happy memories related to sweets and I hope my work would bring those happy memories back again.
The medium you have chosen throughout your art practice is rather unusual — cream made of resin. How did you discover this medium, and what makes you want to use it?
At first, I discovered that the texture of the modeling paste we usually use over the painting in class is very similar to real cream. So I put the modeling paste in the pastry bag and tested it out. Since no one has ever had the concept of “sweet decoration”, I had to test various media such as ice cream and jelly, and learnt by the mistakes I made in the process.
What is the process in creating your work, from start to finish?
I make every single small part one by one. For fruits shapes, I usually use silicone and make a mold from the real fruits. Then, I pour the resin into the mold and make the fruit shape as I wanted. For candies and sugar, I use resin clay to shape it individually all by my hands. The supporting shape for the sweets is often made with FRP (Fiber Reinforced Plastic). Afterwards, I start decorating over it using resin cream and the small parts I prepared.
In your "European Fantasy" series, you have paid tribute to many iconic works by European artists. Who is your favorite artist and why?
My favorite artist would be Yves Klein. Klein’s strong and creative expression impressed me a lot—it is like he tried to tint the world with his “Klein Blue”. Just like what Klein did, I also want to decorate the world with my sweet cream.
In the same series, you have re-interpreted European architecture and landmarks in the form of confectionery (e.g. sweets, cake, cream). Which is your favorite city or country in Europe? How do Europeans react to your artwork?
Among many cities where I have visited in Europe, I found Paris the most attractive. And that’s why motifs like The Eiffel Tower and The Triumphal Arch appear quite often. For the European collectors, they seem very surprised to see my “sweets” work at first sight. Then, they are even more stunned by the fact that the work is made by resin although they already knew about Japanese “plastic food sample” culture. I think European collectors appreciate my “karesansui” work which is inspired by Japanese Traditional Zen Garden and made with only white cream.
What aspects of Japanese culture do you intend to capture in your 'Oriental Dream' series? How is the fusion of Japanese traditional culture and contemporary art, i.e. "Kawaii Art", created in this series?
My “Oriental Dream” series started from the idea to re-create the traditional Japanese style with sweet decoration. For example, the idea of the Buddha statue work was from the historical fact of using rich colors decorating the Buddhist Temples in the past. Instead of rich colors, I thought we can have the Buddha statue decorated with sweets and it is my take on contemporary idea of the Buddhist’s paradise. In that context, I think “Kawaii culture” is also the same; Kawaii is from Japan’s unique culture and the sensibility of it came out from a long time ago. Therefore, my idea of re-creating traditional Japanese image by using sweets decoration is naturally connected to “Kawaii culture”.
Cute animals are well-liked by people around the world. The animal sculptures you have made in the 'Life' series are indeed very "Kawaii". Are they inspired by fairytales? If so, which fairytale inspired you the most?
I must say there is no specific fairytale or folklore that inspired “Life” series. In my imagination, this series is more about the combination of small parts of sweets that accumulate and create the shape of an animal. Sometimes I also create Greek mythology or traditional Japanese myth-themed works.
What projects are you working on for the rest of the year?
This year I have challenging myself by creating artworks for a movie. Directed by Suzuki Osamu, the movie is about a protagonist who is a pastry chef and I was invited to make artworks to create a mysterious bakery for the movie. I am very intrigued to see how my works turn out on the big screen. By the way, I will be appearing briefly in the movie as a main character’s colleague. The movie is scheduled to be released next spring.
Sweet Summer is on view from 4th August to 10th September 2017 at Whitestone Gallery Hollywood Road, Hong Kong. Find out more about the exhibition here.
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