Michiaki Mochizuki | Studio Visit
One of our biggest blessings came in the form of a gift from our friend Noriyasu for our wedding in 2016. He had given us an original framed painting – two abstract figures intertwined. I say it was a blessing, not simply because of its symbolism, but also because it introduced us to the work of artist Michiaki Mochizuki who shortly after became a steady conduit of joy in our lives in many ways. First, through his pieces that we would begin collecting and displaying in our home, then through the relationship we would build with the spirited artist over regular studio visits. Each time we encountered his works or met with him; we would leave the occasion feeling a renewed sense of optimism.
Though this past year has kept us from traveling, it’s been a pleasure looking back on how our relationship with the artist began and to see it all culminate in the launch of a series of original works for our gallery.
Our first interaction with Mochizuki-san was thanks to Noriyasu who connected us so many years ago. Mochizuki-san responded to our inquiry to meet him in the form of a mailed letter in ink on rice paper. It made us realize we had completely lost sight of the value in a handwritten message. Not just for its novelty in the digital age but for its ability to convey human emotions that can’t be done as easily through the convenience of instant messaging or email. It was then that we realized that Mochizuki-san had a unique way of communicating to match his distinctive style of artwork.
Mochizuki-san was born in the city of Shizuoka in 1953. It came as a delightful surprise upon our first visit to discover that his atelier and warehouse were designed by Yoshifumi Nakamura, an architect whose hut-like designs we have grown to love for their simplicity and distinct black façades.
The artist is very energetic. The moment we enter, he and his wife are quick to pull out archived paintings, works in progress, articles from the past. We are completely overwhelmed in the best way possible like we had landed on a secret treasure vault. We realized we had much more to learn about his life and career.
Mochizuki-san’s career spans over five decades. In Japan, he needs little introduction as his works can be seen everywhere. There is a museum dedicated to him in Beppu and Oita, and his illustrations are on many classic award-winning book covers. It was fascinating to think that children in Japan are growing up associating literary classics like “The Great Gatsby” with his playful line drawings. Everything that he creates is unmistakably “Michiaki Mochizuki” reflecting his world of imagination or some kind of personal story. There is a strong reference to human beings, mixed with childhood nostalgia, and artistry is the glue that binds it together.
Though the line drawn between artist, craftsman, and designer can so often be blurred in our roster, when we first saw the works of Mochizuki-san, we knew he would fill a unique place in our growing representation of fine artists. He tells us he started as a craftsman and found interest in painting when he was 18. Since then, he has worked in a large variety of styles from painting to dyeing tapestries, sculpting ceramics to casting metal figurines. Always with a tactile quality that utilizes Japanese techniques rich in histories such as Tsutsugaki painting, Katazome dyeing and Katagami stenciling, to name a few. It was refreshing to see his modern interpretations of these ancient techniques and there was no better place to see the diversity than at his home where the works are sprawled across every room and in piles of sketchbooks.
As part of his practice, Mochizuki-san tells us he has done a quick drawing every day in a series of sketchbooks consecutively for the past few decades. He dates each one like a visual diary that tells a story of his day-to-day life. Steve and I were quick to hunt for the sketches done on our birthdays which immediately brought smiles to our faces.
Looking back on these visits, it brings back great memories of when we could spend quality time with our artists and designers in person but we count our lucky stars we were able to connect with them remotely in other meaningful ways. Since many of our exhibitions were postponed this year including Mochizuki-san’s, we decided to collaborate on a small series of tsutsugaki paintings that the artist would create and have shipped to us. When we embarked on this project it was the peak of the pandemic in New York and we were all feeling the uncertainties that came with it. Within the solitude there were threads of commonality that seemed to help a lot of people cope like sharing recipes, watching the same shows, regular video calls with loved ones. For us, it was also something as simple as looking at the paintings by Mochizuki-san hanging in our home and the feeling of optimism they brought into our lives. Whenever I glimpsed at one, it was as if I was hard-wired to feel better just by looking at it. It was easy for us then to answer the one question Mochizuki-san asked us when we started this project…
“What would you like the works to represent?”
“Love”, we responded.
We are elated to receive these works and invite you to view the six-piece collection here. Art, like love, is not easy to define, and even harder to keep alive in the midst of a pandemic. We just know that in such times, these paintings hit us in a place that alleviates the weight of it all.