Japan-based artist Haroshi recently showcased his newest works at New York's Jonathan LeVine Gallery in a solo exhibition titled Future Primitive. Having grown up skateboarding, Haroshi draws from skateboard inspired themes for many of his pieces as he uses recycled skate decks to create three-dimensional wooden mosaic statues. In light of the recent exhibition, photographer Brian Kelley caught up with Haroshi to discuss his current works, his Japanese culture, and how he began as an artist. Check out the interview below, and visit haroshi.com to learn more about the artist.
I was introduced to Haroshi just a couple months ago when he came to New York for his solo show over at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery. He was into the idea of an interview for the blog, so we set up a date and got together. Met up over at Union Square with friend/promoter Akinori Kojima, and got some thai food. We Just talked a little about his work, culture in Japan, and how he got started. It was raining like crazy that night and I had planned on shooting some photos of him for the interview, but with the weather being shitty, it didnt look good. We waited it out for a good bit, and finally got a break in the weather for about 10 min. Hopefully in the next day or so I can swing by the gallery to get some photos. Enjoy the interview, and a little look into the life of Haroshi.
Hey Haroshi. Can you tell me your full name, your age, and where you’re from?
Sorry, I can’t. It’s a secret. I’m thirty-three. Born and raised in Tokyo.
What was the skate scene like growing up in Japan?
Umm.. I don’t know that well. I wasn’t there, but I think that Japanese skate culture copies American skate culture basically. Japan doesn’t have its own skate culture. Top riders who are sponsored by US skate brands are from all over the world, but there are no Japanese riders in that. It means that Japanese skaters are just copying American skate culture. I hope that young people will try to go overseas to explore their possibility.
Did you go to school for art, or was it something you’ve always just done?
I didn’t go to art school at all. My works were awful when I started, too awful to see actually. But I was getting better every time I made something. I continued to make works from morning till midnight everyday for eight years. Then I started to make anything that I imagined.
When and how did the the Idea to make objects from the old boards come to be?
I was thinking “I want to do something new.” My partner looked at a mountain of used skateboards in my room, then she said “Why don’t you make something with them?”
How long have you been doing this style of sculpture for now?
8 years. I was determined to hold out for 10 years, even with how people ignored me.
What is the longest that one piece has taken you, and why?
‘DUNK’ is the longest one, though ‘MOOSE’ took a long time as well. I carved it even inside. You can’t see, though! But you can feel it if you put your fingers inside. To carve shoelace, that was hell… you know, shoelaces of NIKE sb’s are not flat. The broken shoelace was hard as well. If someone wants me to make another one, I won’t, but I liked it very much. I spent 3 months making it and made it with enthusiasm.
Tell me a little about your trip to Beaverton to visit Mark Parker and give him the Nike Dunk you made.
Kate Gibb (who has done album cover work for Chemical Brothers came to see my studio, and she said “Why don’t you visit Mark Parker and hand ‘DUNK’ directly to him? You can’t just ship it out.” So I asked Mark about that and the answer was…”Come on over”.
How did that all happen?
One day, I received an email from Mark. He was like, “I want you to make something”. I replied, “I’d like to make ‘DUNK’ with used decks of NIKE sb team.” I still only half believe it at that moment. I thought someone was spoofing, but then I received a bunch of used skateboards from NIKE sb.
How did the show at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery come to be?
I really wanted to do my exhibition at Jonathan LeVine Gallery. Then I had a chance to show my works ‘Screaming Hand’ and ‘Foot’ to Jonathan. He liked them and scheduled me straight away. This happened before I started to make ‘DUNK.’
Were you a little nervous about having your first solo show in NYC?
Of course I was. I didn’t know if anyone would ever accept my works, but it was a great show thanks to all the staff of the gallery.
I know you’re getting a lot of attention in the US for your art, but how is it viewed in Japan?
You need connection with celeb to get attention in Japan, but I have none. I just skate with friends and work everyday until midnight at the east end of Tokyo. My guess is that academic background is important for contemporary art scene in Japan, but I don’t have it. I am..how can I say?… I don’t think I fit in here, but I feel I belong everywhere in the US. I’m planning to move to the US next year.
Have you got any commissioned jobs from companies to make specific pieces?
As for now there are many potential projects in discussion. However, I try to avoid projects particularly relating to “street brand” types as much as I can for fear that I will become associated with [a] certain type of image.
There are many reasons behind my involvement with Nike in my last project ‘DUNK’. The most important one is my respect for the company for their support of Bones Brigate back in the days. Although Nike, at that time, was in its early days in the skateboard market, nonetheless they supported Bones Brigate (whom by the way had turned down Vans’ sponsorship) with Jordan. This gesture might have been trivial to Nike, but it meant a lot to me. In collaborating [on] the ‘DUNK’ project, it’s my way of showing my respect to Nike in response to that bit of skateboarding history.
I know I wasn’t in NYC for your show, but how did it go?
The weather on that opening night was so awful that it almost seemed like a hurricane! Despite it all, a large crowd still found its way to the opening. I was very pleased to see that all those who came spent an incredible time going through all my works piece by piece, as well as tracking me down to share their thoughts with me.
Come to think of it, something interesting I just remembered: It so happened that while I was talking to this person who had just purchased my new work ‘Pigeon’, as I told him that piece was made from the old decks of 5BORO‘s Steve, to my surprise this person turned out to be a friend of Steve’s! And to top it all, Steve himself showed up in the gallery a minute later too! The serendipity of these unexpected surprises that night was really quite fun and memorable to me.
Hope everything keeps going amazing for you, and we get to see a lot more from you in the future…
Thank you! I have a lot of plans to make interesting pieces in the future.
Thanks Haroshi, and Akinori Kojima.