The Japanese artist's Excess of Desire exhibition features a series of honeycomb paper structures that adorn metal forms made from discarded car parts
It takes several days for Keita Miyazaki to make each of the brightly coloured paper flourishes that adorn his metal sculptures, using up to 30 layers of paper to create the ruff-like honeycomb structures.
Visiting his solo exhibition Excess of Desire at London’s Gallery Rosenfeld, the effect of these is incongruous yet oddly festive. I’m reminded of those strange desert blooms that flourish fleetingly yet beautifully. Others see the sculptures as creatures or trees, says Miyazaki, who prefers not to impose a single interpretation on his work. ‘People see different things. For me, it’s important to stimulate people’s imagination.’
Miyazaki has lived primarily in London since studying sculpture at the Royal College of Art. Just before moving to the UK, he witnessed the impact of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami on his homeland of Japan. The tragedy was to have a formative and lasting effect on his work.
Struck by the destruction of so many elements of Japan’s industrialised society, Miyazaki focused on the car industry that had long been a barometer for the country’s economic prosperity. Loath to use new materials, he looked instead to create work using discarded car parts, drawing on the welding skills he learnt prior to the RCA.
He began experimenting with cardboard and paper as a foil to the coldness of the metal, in time settling on the folded paper honeycomb technique. Self-taught, he found 100-130gsm Japanese paper to be the optimum thickness for the rigidity and expressiveness he wanted. These paper elements, he says, feel alive, in contrast to the ‘dead body’ of the welded car parts structure. Certainly, there is a sense not just of new life but of the growth of something very different from the ruins of the past.
Working from his studio in Woolwich Arsenal, he has spent a decade exploring the juxtaposition of car parts and paper in his work, which has gradually become larger in scale. Sometimes (although not in the London show) he incorporates sound, whether the factory noises of industry or sounds from his collection of folk instruments. The final touch – and one he finds very hard – is the title.
In the new exhibition, the eye is drawn in particular to Blue Turmoil, which looks as if it could come alive at any moment and start waving its arm-like appendages around, each embellished with turquoise flourishes. While there are some relatively subdued pieces such as the Duality totem with white and black paper additions, many of the more memorable are multicoloured, such as the exuberant large-scale floor piece Tree of Knowledge.
The exhibition’s title piece, Excess of Desire, is a 3m-wide wall assemblage of exhaust pipes and mufflers, their straight form contrasting with the fancy paper flourishes that close off the once-noise-emitting parts.
Another key influence has been the Dutch ‘Vanitas’ tradition of the 17th century, characterised by highly detailed still-life paintings with references to mortality. This inspired Miyazaki to make a series of open boxes incorporating recycled car lights in combination with found and made items.
‘For me, it’s like a sculpture painting,’ he says.
The exhibition includes several sculptures from a new strand of work that uses cast brass instead of paper – a significant departure for Miyazaki. Developed over the last four years after much experimentation, they involve the use of 3D printing to make the initial models. After casting the brass – carried out in his second studio in Japan – he paints the inside of the forms black, and painstakingly files the edges to get the high level of shine he’s after. These carefully crafted cast pieces contrast with the found quality of the car parts.
‘Now I can feel more life from the car parts because of the integration with the brass pieces,’ says Miyazaki, who has enjoyed returning to casting – he has a PhD in craft metal casting.
Working in brass rather than paper also opens up the possibility of creating outdoor pieces in the public realm, one of Miyazaki’s ambitions.
He hopes visitors to the exhibition will enjoy the positivity of the work, which has a sense of renewal.
‘For me, making sculpture is playful and brings me happiness. If people feel the same way, I’ll be pleased,’ he says.
His work will also be included in the Japan: Myths to Manga exhibition at the Young V&A, (opening 14 October).