Gallery & Art editorial in Aoyama, Tokyo.
Search the web Search Site
SHIMA Atsuhiko's essay

"A Tranquil Brilliance - Noguchi Takurofs Hakuga"

by SHIMA Atsuhiko (Director, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa)

Flakes of metal are called ghakuh. Of these flakes, gold in particular has certain qualities of malleability and ductility which allow it to be stretched thinly when beaten. Circulated as gold leaf (kinpaku), this material has been used widely throughout Japanese history in Buddhist sculpture and architecture, decorative screens, and craftwork. In the West it has been used in Christian iconography such as in illuminated manuscripts and in frames, and for altar decorations. Regardless of East or West, gold has been a necessary material to express a certain severe or sublime quality.

More than a few works of modern art make use of this prestigious unfading gold, including some by Yves Klein (1928-1962), James Lee Byars (1932-1997), and Murakami Takashi (1962-). Even in baser fields, flakes of gold are sprinkled over soft serve ice cream and used in cooking; when a person is touched by gold, they gain a certain value or dignity. In any case, haku, primarily kinpaku, with its unique brilliance, is not only rare and valuable, but draws out an extraordinarily special kind of emotion.

Noguchi Takuro makes hakuga. The word hakuga is a Noguchi Takuro original and there is not really any existing genre like it. He creates an image by placing haku on wood panel painted with lacquer - but the method does not necessarily mean the work will be glorious. For example, works like gFujin Raijin Screenh by Tawaraya Sotatsu (1570-1643) and gIrises Screenh by Ogata Korin (1658-1716) use the effect of the gold leaf to create an atmosphere transgressing space and time, making an image which feels divine and unapproachable. However, Noguchifs hakuga differs in that rather than replicating the space of other dimensions, they still contain the tastes and feelings of daily life. Without being restricted to gold and silver leaf, he also sulfurizes the silver to create blues and reds, using various colorful haku in his works. While creating geometric abstract works, Noguchi also constructs images which suggest concreteness; carving a unique rhythm, he allows viewers to have fun.

Noguchi Takuro was born in Kyoto in 1975. He is from a family of gold thread craftsmen from the historic textile district of Nishijin who run the long-standing store, Hakuya Noguchi. From an early age he watched the work of his father Yasushi, the fourth generation head of the family. Haku has always been close to Noguchi and not a particularly outstanding presence, so perhaps itfs not so precise to say that he specifically chose it as his medium. Having always loved painting, he graduated from the art department of Kyoto City Doda High School of Arts and Crafts, then studied oil painting at Kyoto University of Art and Design. However, no matter what he drew, he could not become fully comfortable with the university courses which meant to define concepts. while at school, he entered the photography club and became absorbed with photography. His graduation project was photography he shot using a model.

Any child of a family business one day faces the choice of whether or not to continue their historic legacy. Noguchifs older brother began to work in Tokyo, choosing not to head the next generation. Due to this, Noguchi Takuro gained the option of becoming the fifth head of the Hakuya. But the businesses of traditional Kyoto craftwork including Nishijin brocade has been experiencing a great loss of successors and thus are prone to facing economic dilemmas. Noguchi had trouble finding the courage to continue the family business. But as the son of a historic shop, he thought he should at least once enter the world of Nishijin brocade, and for about three years from 1997 hopped around various production processes of mid-to-small size businesses, and learned in a sort of apprenticeship.

However, even after that, he had trouble determining a goal and, following the suggestion of his father who had studied photography at Nihon University, worked as an assistant for Tomatsu Shomei (1930-2012), one of Japanfs representative photographers. From the beginning, Tomatsu had said that he would take a foster child if he had to, but would not take an apprentice. But Noguchi was lucky enough to be granted a trial phase, and was allowed special permission. With Nagasaki as his base, he was able to see the work method of a global photographer with his own eyes.

To Noguchi, his college education in painting, his experience in the Nishijin workshops, and his relationship with Tomatsu were all truly valuable experiences. At first glance it may seem like a roundabout way, but Noguchi feels deeply that the results of those experiences now contribute to the creation of his hakuga. Itfs certain that living alone in Nagasaki, leaving Kyoto for the first time, was an opportunity for him to rethink the haku which had been so close to him all his life. His desire to create began to well up.

Noguchi began to seriously work on hakuga in 2001. In 2002, he submitted one of his representative early works, gUdegefs Fairyh (2002) to the g1st Amuse Artist Audition in Kyotoh exhibition that was held at The Museum of Kyoto. He won Grand Prize, beginning his career with a happy start.

But the human portraiture presented in this work was not the direction that Noguchi wanted to take. He wanted to avoid any striking resemblance to Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and his mid-century Viennese metal-heavy paintings. Noguchi was not interested in the lavish and gorgeous, sacred and marvelous portraits in the style of Klimt. In any case, Noguchi lost interest in drawing humans. Incidentally, Klimtfs father was a goldsmith and Klimt was close to gold growing up. His two brothers became a goldsmith and sculptor and both assisted Klimtfs work; perhaps there is a value in considering a comparison of Noguchi and Klimt including their relationship with their fathers.

After leaving the realm of portraiture, the main theme of Noguchifs hakuga moved to, in a word, glandscapeh. These works have two major types. One is variety of mosaic-like color constructions reminiscent of a birdfs-eye-view of a street, and the other is of a seascape and horizon.

The mosaic-style works can be seen as a patchwork of abstract paintings and ornaments that Noguchi has seen in museums and images until now, but there are also scenes inspired by concrete landscapes such as gTokyoh (2017) which pictures a view of skyscrapers and the gHANABIh series of circles of many sizes overlapping each other in a facsimile of fireworks. None of these are realistic depictions, however; Noguchi translates the impression they left in his heart into geometric patterns. When faced with the image of the colors synchronizing together and the neighboring shapes all getting along without a fight, you can understand how hefs not necessarily aiming for a so-called abstract painting.

The brilliance of the haku has a totally different quality from the resplendency of Klimt. Rather, when faced with the challenge of how to draw out the qualities of the haku which cannot help but shine, how to tame those qualities, it seems that Noguchi is aiming for an overall restrained color tone. In that case, the color which becomes important is grey, and a black which comes from the powder of charcoal finely crushed with a stone mill. The periphery of the image is largely black, and the divisions in the image reminiscent of roads are also done in black.

His seascapes are also an important series. According to Noguchi, he was greatly inspired by the sea that he saw in Okinawa, and that memory became the basis of these images. Anyone who stands at the edge of a beach will become enveloped by nostalgic feelings. It is impossible to tire of the sight of the surging waves, the sight of the tide coming in and back out, and in, and out. Our ancestors from however many billion years ago watched the sea just like this; man is no more than the descendants of creatures who came out of the sea; us and Noguchi are superimposed with our forefathers peering into this image.

In the seascapes, there are variations in the color of the sky and the light reflected into the sea. While there are times when both sides glitter with similar haku, there are also times when the sky is silver and the sea is gold, or the sky is red and the sea is silver, and so forth and so forth. Itfs quite interesting how you cannot tell whether it is moonlight or sunlight or what season it is; perhaps it is a highlight of the seascapes that it does not quite feel like light from this world.

In addition to these two types of works, there is also a series of more abstract imagined landscapes inspired by feelings which begin with gIh, like gI wishh (2017) and gI unleashh (2014).

Now, I would like to spare a word about the exhibition of hakuga. That is the problem of lighting. Traditionally in Japan, works using haku (not limited to kinpaku) were put in traditional rooms laid out with tatami that had no modern form of lighting. Accordingly, haku was displayed in the small amount of light which came from outside through the sliding paper doors. However, when hakuga are put in modern displays, particularly in white cubes, the shadow is eliminated by high powered lights and there is a danger of the hakufs most interesting qualities being reduced.

The brilliance of the haku cannot be born by simply recklessly bathing it in light. The way the image changes based on where the light is hitting it, the difference in lively or not each spot is, is much greater than the average painting. That is why Noguchi is sensitive to the placement and surface of the foil and illuminates his work from many angles in the process of creating it. In the future, it may be necessary for his works to be displayed separately from those of other artistsf, such as their oil paintings. It is not likely that he will be able to display his hakuga in a tatami room, but there should be some sort of an installation to exhibit hakuga effectively.

Finally, though it is not a topic limited to hakuga, works which precisely and steadily fill up the whole canvas have a tendency to become stiff as a whole. Artists like Paul Klee (1879-1940) built up a repertoire of tricks to avoid falling into such a trap. When using traditional methods, the serious nature@of the traditional craft technique often dampens the artistic qualities of art works. They become gcrafth in a less positive way. Noguchi Takuro remains aware of this danger and composes his works with an eye to how to keep it soft; in the midst of proper work, he allows himself to play - or perhaps itfs better to say he pays close attention to avoid losing his freedom. Maybe hefs gotten some more orders from me. In any case, I hope he continues to receive great support.

LAS CASAS, 5-4-1, Hon-komagome,
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0021 JAPAN
Tel +81-3-6902-9530 Fax +81-3-6902-9531

Open Tuesday-Saturday 11:00-19:00
Closed on Sundays, Mondays, National Holidays
Copyrighticj2012 TOKI-NO-WASUREMONO^WATANUKI@ INC. All rights reserved.