Shiro Kuramata is an important figure whose work is well known for its contribution to the art world of post-world war japan. The creations of Shiro Kuramata are a union between western and traditional Japanese art with a bizarre and whimsical yet poetic and humorous soul.
Born in 1934, Shiro Kuramata has experienced world war II and post-war Japan. He has seen the traditional, sophisticated and proud culture of japan. He had also witnessed the rapid changes in the traditions when the western ideas started to seep in the post-world war japan and technological development took place. Needless to say, Shiro Kuramata also became an important factor in these changes that created new japan.
Although wood is scarce in his famous creations, Shiro Kuramata has learned the traditional Japanese wood crafting techniques at Tokyo municipal polytechnic high school. His work at Teikokukizai furniture factory in 1956 introduced him to the practical world of furniture designing. The traditional material may not have, but the traditional Japanese ideology played an important role in his creations.
While studying interior design at the Kuwazawa Institute of Design (1956), Shiro Kuramata was introduced to western ideas and methods. Later he gained experience in interior design through a Japanese department store and freelance work till he opened his own studio in Tokyo, where he worked till his last moments (1991).
Shiro Kuramata has worked and experimented with numerous materials and the new techniques that surfaced at that time. Most of his unique ideas come to reality with the help of acrylic, glass, aluminum, and metal mesh. Yet despite using these industrial and modern materials, there is an essence of Japanese culture in his work.
Take ‘How High the Moon chair’ (1986) for instance. The chair is a product of intricate woven thin nickel plate mesh. Even though the chair is metal, the mesh is so thin and carefully woven that the surface is almost transparent and, The chair is very light. The simple and elegant yet detailed craftsmanship shows its roots embedded deep in the Japanese culture.
In one of his interviews, Shiro Kuramata has said –
“My strongest desire is to be free of gravity, free of bondage. I want to float.”
That explains his affection for transparent materials like acrylic and glass and the lightweight ness of the wire mesh.
One of his famous works, the ‘Glass Chair’ (1976) explains his philosophy very well. The chair was made by joining glass parts together with the help of adhesive. The absence of any material disturbing the transparency of glass creates the illusion of void and being supported in thin air. This piece was Shiro Kuramata’s imagination of the future which come to life after numerous trials and experiments.
Inspirations and impacts
Sottsass, to whom Shiro Kuramata often regarded as ‘maestro’ was one of the important figures in Shiro Kuramata’s art life. Both the figures had experienced the ruined era in their birth countries after world war II. The relatable experience was what made it easier for Shiro Kuramata to connect with Sottsass’s philosophy. Something that had great impact on Shiro Kuramata. So much so that he joined Sottsass’s “Memphis” group in Berlin (1981). The essence of Sottsass’s work can be seen in harmony with Shiro Kuramata’s own personality through his work style.
“For him, an object, a piece of furniture, an installation is never finished inside the borders of its own physicality.” — Ettore Sottsass from Vibrations in the Air, 1991.
A great example to prove Sottsass’s words would be the ‘Miss Blanche chair’ (1988). The main body (sit and the back) of the chair is made of acrylic resin, with aluminum legs supporting it. The red paper flowers inside the acrylic create the illusion as if they are floating in the air and giving off a poetic impression.
Shiro Kuramata was as famous for his interior work as he was for his furniture. Most of his Interior works are either remodeled or changed over time. Only a few are still intact.
Shiro Kuramata had a great sense of space and people psychology. He knew how the simplest thing can change the interest and mood of the space.
In one of his works, the ‘Supper Club Cazador’, he had painted a series of shadows on the wall. A simple phenomenon as a shadow that we often dismiss. The shadows painted by Jiro Takamatsu look so real as if they are cast by the people interacting in the bar. When people notice the shadows they often look for their own shadows. This gives a unique touch to the bar.
Shiro Kuramata’s work is not just famous in japan. It is recognized by the whole world. Renowned art museums like the Saint Louis Art Museum in Germany, Museum of Modern art in New York display his work. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London showcases ‘How high is the moon’, ’Cabinet of Curiosities’. The famous Vitra museum also in Germany exhibited his work from Sept 2013 to Jan 2014 under the banner of ‘Design as Poetry’.
Shiro Kuramata gave Japan and the world a new perspective to perceive the furniture. Yes, his work style does lie under Minimalist design yet he was one of the most original designers in his own way. Introducing Shiro Kuramata as just a furniture designer and interior designer would be an understatement. He was more of a poet. A poet who could create his poem without words.
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