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TANABE CHIKUUNSA I IV


Mononofu, 2019, 20 Ă— 27.25 Ă— 10.25 inches Photography by Tadayuki Minamoto


TANABE CHIKUUNSAI IV Robert T. Coffland Japanese bamboo basketry began its transformation from a craft into an art form in the second half of the 19th century. Family lineages established during the Meiji era (1868–1912) played an extremely important role in this emerging art form, as they not only built a market for their artwork but also trained students who became artists and went on to encourage others to do the same. Sadly, after World War II, bamboo art entered into a period of decline as Japanese interest waned. All of the historic lineages have since died out but for one – the Tanabe Chikuunsai lineage. Tanabe Takeo was born into this lineage, which began in 19 01 with his great grandfather Chikuunsai I (1877–1937). He grew up in a household not unlike his father’s and grandfather’s. As a little boy, Takeo played in the family workshop bustling with the industry of his grandfather Chikuunsai II (1910 – 2000 ), his father, whose artist name at the time was Shochiku II, and their assist ants and students. Takeo started splitting bamboo as a toddler and was making simple baskets when he was still in elementary school. This was the beginning of his training as heir to the Chikuunsai lineage. Takeo and I first met at his family’s home in 1998. At the time he was studying sculpture at the prestigious Tokyo Art University where he developed a particular interest in ceramics, another of Japan’s great artistic mediums. I was there getting to know his mother Mitsuko and his father Chikuunsai III (1940 –2014). Although the world of Japanese bamboo art was still very new to me then, I could sense the family’s deep commitment to nurturing the next generation in a determined, yet supportive and loving way. When his elder brother decided not to become a bamboo artist, Takeo, after a period of reflection, committed to pursuing bamboo as his artistic medium. For his university graduation project, Takeo made a large sculpture out of tiger bamboo titled Connection. The second time I met Takeo was at the Oita Prefectural Bamboo Craft Training Center, where he chose to spend two years studying. Surprise was my initial reaction — artists in Oita have different techniques and approaches to making bamboo art, plus the local bamboo is softer and more pliant than the bamboo from his home in the Kansai region. Takeo’s decision to study there showed a mature awareness of the benefits of enhancing his knowledge, skills, and understanding of a tradition different from his family’s.


When Takeo returned home in 2000 to work with his father, he brought with him not only a new set of skills but also a fresh perspective few bamboo artists have. He started studying tea ceremony and ikebana, the understanding of which was always important to the artistic practice of prior generations in the Chikuunsai lineage. Historically, flower baskets and trays were designed to be used by tea and ikebana practitioners. Takeo’s mastery of these trad itional forms was very important to his growth as an artist. During this time, the Connection series from his university days started to evolve and new themes emerged. He quickly began gaining recognition by winning awards and acceptance at annual juried exhibitions in Japan, as well as having his artwork shown overseas. He achieved all of this by thirty years of age. In 2006, the Traditional Craft Arts Association asked Living National Treasure Hayakawa Shokosai V (1932–2011) to hold a special two - year bamboo art class. Takeo was one of only seven students selected to attend and become a beneficiary of the Hayakawa Shokosai lineage’s techniques and approach to art making. That same year, Chikuunsai III decided it was time to bestow upon his son the artistic name of Shochiku III, an important step forward in becoming the inheritor of the lineage. The still young Tanabe Shochiku III continued to advance and refine his skills and explore new sculptural forms. He exhibited his work multiple times in the United States, including at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Asian Art Museum. He also began making large site-specific bamboo installations in Japanese museums and public spaces and collaborating on works with artists working in other mediums. During this highly creative period, his father Chikuunsai III died in 2014. After a period of mourning and preparation, Shochiku III officially assumed the name of Chikuunsai IV in 2017. After becoming Chikuunsai IV, the artist continued to pursue his dream of creating sculptures out of bamboo that shock, surprise, engage, and delight the public just like other contemporary artists such as Christo, Anish Kapoor, and Richard Serra. His achievement is important for the whole field of Japanese bamboo art because it challenges the notion of bamboo art as simply a craft and expands the boundaries of what is possible for a bamboo artist. Before starting one of his large - scale installations, Chikuunsai IV spends time visiting, studying and making drawings of the space. Up to 10,000 strips of tiger bamboo are used to construct each sculpture. The artist and his trained assistants work together over a course of many days to realize each installation. At the end of an exhibition, the sculpture is disassembled, and all of the bamboo strips are saved for the next project. This continual act of reusing the same tiger bamboo creates a connection between each work that is


philosophically and artistically important to the artist. His site - specific installations made their international debut in 2015 at La Celle -Saint-Cloud, France, leading eventually to a wildly popular installation, seen by over 400,000 people, at the entrance to the Japanese galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of the 2017 exhibition Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection. Chikuunsai IV’s latest site-specific projects include Connection, at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, and a work currently in progress at TAI Modern in Santa Fe. Around ten years ago, Chikuunsai IV started collaborating with kogei artists working in lacquer, ceramics and other mediums. His intent was to resurrect the fruitful interactions between artisans that occurred during the Edo period. Doing this has expanded his thinking and approach to working with bamboo. His innate receptivity to new inspirations led to a collaboration with Kawajima Sawako, a computer scientist and assistant professor at Harvard’s School of Design. Her computer software generated designs for bamboo sculptures in an ongoing dialogue with Chikuunsai IV about their potential for realization. Once a design was selected, a 3-D printer was used to generate Lego-like pieces that functioned as a supportive armature during the making of the sculpture. Their collaborations became the works in the Disappear and Hanamushin series in this exhibition. The artwork in Chikuunsai IV’s first solo show at TAI Modern foregrounds the artist’s interconnections with prior generations. His Zun-style Flower Basket draws upon the beautifully crafted, Chinese-influenced formal baskets of Chikuunsai I. Holy Mountain and Infinity display the inspiration of Chikuunsai II, who excelled at rough-style plaiting. The Creative City sculptures show the influence of Chikuunsai III’s bold and innovative use of line construction. Then there are pieces like Godai, Shooting Star, and Disappear where the fourth Tanabe Chikuunsai boldly establishes his own unique artistic expression. Not long ago Chikuunsai IV wrote to me about the theme of connection in his life. He sees creating and maintaining connections as his responsibility as part of the Chikuunsai lineage. Being connected to past generations has led him to a deep desire that one of his children will someday become Chikuunsai V. Having seen Sarara, Kaguya, and Mahito playing with bamboo in his home studio, there is little doubt in my mind this will happen. Robert T. Coffland is an author, curator and lecturer on the subject of Japanese bamboo art who lives in Santa Fe. He made his first trip to Japan in 1982. Coffland founded TAI Gallery, which introduced the American public to the art form. He was for two terms chair of the New Mexico Arts Commission.


Connection, 2019, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco


A RTIST STAT E MEN T Ever since I can remember, there was bamboo around me. Both of my parents were bamboo artists. Every day, my father’s students worked with bamboo at a studio next door to my house. The studio was also my playground. At the age of three, while splitting bamboo with a big knife, I accidentally cut my left thumb. I do not remember the incident, but I still have the scar. It is natural that I would go on to create bamboo art; though I am not always aware of it, bamboo is never out of my sight and is always a part of me. During my elementary school summer break, I was trying to create a small bamboo basket, and I was struggling. “Give it to me!” said my grandfather (Tanabe Chikuunsai II), taking the basket from me. In no time at all, my basket was transformed into a beautiful shape. Even as a child, I felt extreme happiness and elation watching the beautiful movements of his hands and the


transformation of a simple basket into a work of art. Such childhood experiences are the foundation of who I am now. I was born and raised in an environment and into a family where there was abundant love and respect towards bamboo art. That is why I move forward with confidence, believing that bamboo is the perfect medium for creating great art. In March 2017, I assumed the artist name of Chikuunsai IV. This solo exhibition is my first as the fourth-generation Chikuunsai in the United States. Now, whenever I create my artwork, I am conscious of my identity as Chikuunsai IV. This identity encompasses the philosophy, cultural background, traditions, and techniques inherited from my ancestors. While carrying on their techniques, I also carry on the spirit cultivated by the Chikuunsai before me and infuse new life into bamboo art as the current Chikuunsai IV. The Boat - Shaped Flower Basket, Mononofu, and Natural Bamboo series are crafted using my contemporary interpretation of the Chikuunsai tradition. Works from the Creative City and Disappear series are original ideas exploring new, modern techniques and searching for a new form of bamboo art. For this exhibition, I am creating a bamboo art installation conceived and designed for the gallery space. Beginning in 2011, these large - scale sculptural installations have become the foundation of my current artistic practice. I use tiger bamboo with a striped pattern that grows in Suzaki, Kochi Prefecture. At the end of each exhibition, the installation is broken down into raw material. The same material is then used for a different installation in a new space. Although each installation is subsequently dismantled, the use of the same tiger bamboo connects each successive installation. This symbolizes bamboo art as a whole, which exists in different places in different shapes. I take pride in these site - specific art installations that expand the potential of bamboo art and express the unique characteristics and splendor of bamboo. “Tradition is a series of challenges.” While carrying on the traditions, skills and spirit of preceding generations, we Chikuunsai have always challenged ourselves to create an original style of art. Facing such challenges again and again is the essence of being Chikuunsai. I am convinced that challenges are what create tradition and what connect the Chikuunsai name through the generations. n Tanabe Chikuunsai IV

Clear Stream, 2019, 14.5 × 17 × 13.5 inches


Zun - style Flower Basket 2019, 22.5 × 9.5 × 9.5 inches


Infinity, 2019, 9 × 14.25 × 12.5 inches


Milestone, 2019 59 × 11.5 × 11.5 inches Holy Mountain, 2019 15.75 × 21 × 21 inches >


Sailing Wind (Boat-shaped Flower Basket ) 2019, 9.25 × 23 × 10 inches


Armor (Boat - shaped Flower Basket ), 2019, 6.5 × 21.75 × 14 inches


Shooting Star, 2019, 16.25 × 11 × 9.25 inches Shooting Star, 2019, 14.5 × 12.75 × 12 inches >


Mononofu, 2019, 10.5 × 28.75 × 8.75 inches


Sound of Stars, 2019, 16.25 × 9.25 × 9.25 inches


Sound of Stars, 2019, 13.5 × 11 × 11 inches


Godai (Void), 2019, 32.75 × 42 × 19.75 inches


Hanging Flower Basket, 1904 -1920s,14.25 Ă— 5.5 Ă— 5.5 inches


Godai (Earth ), 2018, 24 × 25.5 × 16.5 inches < Godai (Earth and Wind ), 2019, 16.5 × 47.75 × 18.5 inches


Godai (Wind ), 2018, 28.5 × 31.75 × 13 inches


Godai (Wind ), 2018, 28.5 × 47.25 × 15.5 inches


Godai, 2019, 27 × 23.5 × 18.75 inches


Disappear IV, 2018, 12.5 × 12.5 × 6 inches Disappear XII, 2019, 35.25 × 10.5 × 9.75 inches >


Disappear V I, 2018, 22 × 11 × 10 inches Disappear II, 2019, 23.5 × 10 × 10 inches >


Hanamushin, 2019, 8.25 Ă&#x2014; 17 Ă&#x2014; 10 inches


Creative Cit y, 2019, 22.25 × 10 × 6.25 inches


Creative Cit y, 2019, 23.75 × 12.25 × 7.25 inches


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Tanabe Chikuunsai IV