Wednesday 23 February 2011
Japanese lathe artist Satoshi Fujinuma discovered woodturning purely by chance. His beautiful work is strongly grounded in nature, says Tegan Foley
Satoshi Fujinuma is a Japanese lathe artist who took part in the International Turning Exchange in 2008. Born in 1962, Satoshi was brought up and still lives in Toyko. For him, the lathe is a means of expression and the work he creates is very organic and sculptural. He uses green wood to great effect and all of his works centre around the idea of nature being a thing of beauty. I spoke to this fantastic woodturner and tried to find out more about his discovery of the lathe and how he is pushing the craft forward, in his own unique way.
I firstly asked Satoshi about his background and what became immediately apparent was his love and appreciation for nature: "During my childhood, I communicated with nature by going camping, fishing, bug hunting etc. I still love nature; this is my earliest influence and is very important to my work," he tells me. He goes on to explain how he went on to study environmental chemistry at university and after graduating, he worked for several companies as an engineer. "During this time, I worked within the research and development of fine ceramics, applying what I had learnt in terms of chemistry."
I was intrigued to find out how Satoshi discovered wood given that his background, despite his love of nature, was more concerned with scientific processes. He tells me that while travelling in New Zealand in 1993, he happened to see a woodturning demonstration purely by chance. "I was deeply impressed by the form of the pieces, how quickly the shape changed and the shavings that were produced."
Satoshi explains that in 1996, he started to teach himself woodturning and the rest, as they say, is history. "During this time, it was very difficult for me to get the necessary information on woodturning and the dedicated tools as the Internet was not accessible then." Also, during this time, very few people in Japan knew about, or were practising turning, so this made it even more difficult for Satoshi to advance. "In Japan, we have a traditional lathe but we do not practise the Western style. I wrote to tool manufacturers in the UK, USA and New Zealand so they could send me the tools I needed. Richard Raffan's Turning Wood book became my reference source, and I started to learn all the basics from this point," he finishes.
He explains that in the early days, he was making functional, utilitarian items such as bowl or goblets. However, by 1998 his work had advanced somewhat and his pieces were selected for the AAW's 1998 'Pathways' exhibition. "I saw many lathe sculptures at this exhibition and I found these very impressive and inspirational." Satoshi says that during the AAW symposium, he had the pleasure of meeting Albert LeCoff, Executive Director of the Wood Turning Center, and various ITE (International Turning Exchange) artists. He spoke with them and very soon was able to feel a very strong affinity with wood art and began making more sculptural, turned objects.
Satoshi describes his work as expressive and indicative of the natural world on a minute and detailed scale. He is predominantly trying to express nature through his turnings, as well as the concept of time. For him, the lathe is very important and is central to his creation of these pieces. It is his principle form of expression. "The lathe gives me the power I need to create these items and the turning movement leads the form to become an item of beauty." He explains that he uses green wood extensively for his work: "This type of wood makes me feel the sense of life of the piece through the smell, moisture, hardness, colour and warp that the material possesses."Satoshi is constantly aware and conscious that the wood is a growing organism; it is very much alive: "As a result of this consciousness, I am able to express the sense of 'time' and the organic form that I am looking for."
In terms of the processes he uses, after he creates the final form Satoshi adds texture to the piece by burning or carving it. He explains that this is a very time consuming process, but it does make the piece so much more tactile and very much adds to its beauty. He says that often, many people compare his works to that of purely carved pieces. Although carving is an element of what he does, he stresses that the lathe is a vital component for the creation of the pieces he makes.
Sources of inspiration
To my knowledge there are very few well-known turners in Japan, and as Satoshi explains, many only practise woodturning in its purest form so it seems that his sources of inspiration stemmed from his travels to western countries where he saw woodturning for the first time. He also reinforces that nature is his primary source of inspiration - this is his beginning and his end. Without this influence, Satoshi would be rather lost: "I feel happy when I am surrounded by nature; walking amongst it and watching. When I find anything new in nature, I am inspired and want to make something," he goes on to tell me.
In terms of influential turners who Satoshi cites, he primarily refers to the AAW collectively as well as the many turners who have shown their works within the many exhibitions. The Woodturning Center is also mentioned as well as the International Exchange Programme, and lastly, John Jordan. Satoshi tells me that he has stayed at John Jordan's home, and working with John has very much brought about a change in him, and the work he creates as a result of this.
He also refers to how influential the United States has been in terms of the many great turnings he has seen there and how elements such as technique, spirit and culture are communicated through the medium of wood.
Change in direction
Satoshi explains that he started to make everyday objects but now his turning style has advanced more to include more sculptural elements. He again refers to the 'Pathways' exhibition and goes on to say how taken he was with the objects he saw there. The second change was taking the notion of 'nature' and incorporating this into his work. "Early objects I made focused on the form, such as deep vessels and hollow forms. Gradually, I learnt how to express nature and subsequently was able to produce more organic forms."
Finally, the third change in direction for Satoshi was focusing on nature close-up: "After undertaking the ITE residence programme in 2008, I learnt how to express nature through my turning more succinctly. I now pay more attention to the structure and texture of living organisms." He also says how he now strives to express the character of the living things, or the atmosphere they inhabit.
Workshop & work ethos
Satoshi is sure that his is the smallest - professional - woodturning workshop in the world. "It is certainly a mess! I use a Oneway 2436, which is the main machine in my workshop. I also use various carving tools in my work."
His work ethos is maintaining a balance between regularity and irregularity: "Things in nature have some regularly, but they are not perfect. I find beauty in irregular things; I want to express interesting, beautiful and different fragments of nature."
In terms of the future, Satoshi tells me that he would very much like to meet new woodturners around the world. He wants to learn about other cultures and incorporate the things he learns within his work. "Before I started turning, I couldn't imagine knowing so many people in different countries." He very much wants to get in touch with other cultures as well as researching and finding out more about his own Japanese culture. In this sense, he wants to establish and ground his own personal 'style' to a greater extent and get his work known overseas by many other woodturners.
It was a pleasure to profile Satoshi and to learn more about his unique and stylistically beautiful work. He really is a turner who is sure to take the world by storm. You can see more examples of his work by visiting his website, details of which can be found below.