18/04/2020 - by Claire McCafferty
Soichiro Shimizu was born in Tokyo in 1966 and studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York after graduating from Keio University, Tokyo. He has lived and worked in New York before moving to Bangkok where he has resided for the last 10 years. Shimizu’s works have been selected for numerous private collections such as collections from Shu Uemura Cosmetics Company, Dowa Kasai Insurance Company, Sony Headquarters in Tokyo and Sony Plaza, New York. He has had solo and group exhibitions at galleries in New York, Tokyo, Paris, Seoul, Bangkok and most recently at the Palazzo Collicola Arti Visive in Spoleto, Italy.
How has your cultural background and upbringing shaped who you are as an artist?
Up until I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Japan, my life revolved around sports. I was at university training to become a national Water Polo athlete, but at the same time I was always fascinated by art. I think I was drawn into art because of my family’s Kabuki theater background, my grandmother was a Kouta – a musician in the Kabuki theater while my cousin was a national Kabuki actor. I grew up being surrounded by traditional Japanese arts, theater, music and customs like the tea ceremony flower arrangements.
Being an athlete for most of your adolescence, what triggered you to change paths and pursue art?
My last two years at university was a gem, I traveled all over Japan with my camping gear. I felt the need to explore the cultural side that was missing during my years as an athlete so I visited as many museums, galleries and cultural sites as possible. My travels were a time that made me realize that I wanted to follow a path of art, so after I graduated I applied to the School of Visual Arts in New York.
I chose New York because of Keith Haring. When I was in high school I was helping my friends organize their installation for the school festival. At the time Keith Haring was doing commission work at the Watarium Museum of Contemporary Art and someone managed to snatch him from the museum to my high school festival, he really loved our work and ended up hanging out with us around the city and collaborated on a classroom installation for 3 days straight. I felt very intrigued by him, he told stories of his life in New York – it was the place to be, that always stuck with me until I finally made the decision to apply to art school there.
Soichiro Shimizu. Photo credits Paul Lukin
How has your time in New York contributed to your work?
It was the people that I was surrounded by and their tremendous knowledge in art history that influenced me to study deeper and expand my knowledge. Keith Haring told me there’s a sort of soul even within a single line, a truth within a stroke. I wanted to explore the life of a line and I became drawn into Cy Twombly, I believe his work is very sincere without pretense. My interpretation of his method is that he separates himself from what he’s drawing, making himself blank as possible by removing any ego or intention, creating strokes that are felt by automation. His medium may have been intentional but the way he creates each stroke is true to his current condition. It was my wishful thinking that made my method because when I think about Cy Twombly or even the masters of calligraphy, there is a key element there about our existence within a simple stroke. But through my own exploration I find strength is created by layering and interacting with the medium overtime, building up a momentum of strokes to reveal a single work that is ultimately meant to be.
Jeffrey Deitch once noted that your “work is a unique fusion of action and meditation, nature and artifice, toughness and delicacy. The tension created by the confrontation of opposite aesthetic forces is what gives the work its power.” How is this confrontation created with the medium and what are the opposing forces that you are most prominent in your work?
I’m building up the material yet at the same time destroying the many layers I created. It’s a human confrontation with the medium that breaks the limitations of the materials I use. In my process I perform a physical routine that amplifies my gestures and motions, maximizing my momentum in the way that I interact with the medium. There is chaos in my process of layering but at the same time there is order with the routine motions I create, it’s a chaos that’s meant to be. The process of overlaying and scraping away is noted to finding out what’s beneath, the residue of my past condition that I want to align with my current self, but what is revealed was always there to begin with.
PO-BL001, 2019 Acrylic paint layered with coffee, iron and charcoal on canvas, 163 x 122 cm. Photo credits ANNA Agency
There is a sense of duality between your motions that can be interpreted as man, and your medium that can be seen as nature. How do you believe this duality plays a role in your work?
Nature will always remain while humans will eventually disappear. Even though humans are the cause of the deterioration of nature, I still believe that my human existence is a part of nature. I am part of my rhythm and if I emphasize my condition it will affect the current nature of the materials I’m using. My motions create symmetry in the way a magnetic field or a circulatory system does. However, in nature nothing stays the same, deterioration always occurs whether by manmade matter or even at a molecular level in any structure. I reflect this in my wood engravings where I use oxidation and a burning factor to create erosion. I believe that everything is a part of nature, even plastic or acrylic and in the end we’re all going to vanish away from this planet, but nature is still going to be here. The outcome of what is left could be a beautiful result of what once existed.
What are the key inspirations that drive each piece?
Each work has its own meaning, sometimes it could be from something I’ve seen or an article I’ve read in which I formulate a color combination based on my impression of the article. I work around a single key word that revolves around the piece, it’s a basic notion that effects my routine motions and color formulations that I repeat and layer. I create textures and bumps throughout each layer to create a different and unexpected outcome each time it’s sanded down or scraped away. I like to create questions with my work to uncover something in myself, even though sometimes I already know the answer or I know there is no actual answer at all.