It wasn’t culture, curiosity or the differences between East and West that brought Hiroshi Kitamura to Europe from his native Japan thirty years ago. Fascinated by the materials, forms and expressions that make up our surrounding habitats -elements that can be seen and others that remain hidden from view- he felt a need to understand how our culture could live with its back to nature, or, to put it another way, to the origins of everything. “Because for me, the origins of art can be found in the origins of the world. And for a civilization as rich in history as the West, something had to be amiss. My journey had the sole purpose of finding an answer”.
After studying art in Sapporo, Japan, it was in organic sculpture that Kitamura found his medium of expression. He moved first to Switzerland, where a society obsessed with finances offered no answers to his burning question. By chance, he went on a trip to Barcelona. He delved into the light-filled Mediterranean city and, at last, found what he was looking for. He discovered the organic art of Gaudí, the Mediterranean expression of Miró and the dynamic works of Picasso. A few years later, he decided to venture further into primitive spiritual expression and travelled around much of Spain in search of the vestiges of prehistoric art. He visited caves, hidden nooks and ravines, places beyond the reach of the light, absorbing the naive, ancient traces reflecting life in the most ancient form of artistic manifestation. “Today, the West does not live in harmony with nature. It is far from it. To give you a small example: people wear high heels there. This says a lot about an obsession with keeping distance from the ground. But there are other things that I find fascinating. Coming from a society like Japan’s, which is so organized, I was surprised to see that here it’s completely the opposite. Man is above society”.
In 2012 he settled down with his life companion, Marta, in Camallera, a small village in the Empordà, where he has embarked on a search for the roots of rural life. “I needed to feel part of nature, albeit a small part. I like the Alt Empordà. Its landscapes are pleasant and clear. Life is laid back and the people are proud of their agricultural tradition. There is something attractive, whether alive or dead, awaiting in every forest, around the corner of every path, in the bark of a tree or the water of a babbling stream”. This was how Kitamura set about creating another kind of dialogue with the natural world, finding the material he needed for his organic sculptures. His work takes you to another place, only to bring you right back to nature and the traces it leaves, from day to another, season to season. “There is an intelligence and sensitivity in the ecosystem of nature. It addresses the difficulties it faces by itself, whether they be rain, storms or wind…”. For his sculptures, Kitamura feeds off what he finds on his daily wanderings. He salvages what others discard as waste, left behind by tree-felling, a storm or a fire, and puts his long fingers to work giving the materials a new life, beyond mere form. He never knows what he’ll find as “it is the materials that find me. Forests are full of life, although people see these things as waste. I seek out broken, rotten or damp materials. Everywhere you look there are elements -trunks, branches, stones, moss…- which, like in the Ikebana, can be transformed into a composition. The empty spaces or voids left behind are essential elements in our global perception”.
To these apparently uninteresting, elements, Kitamura brings new life, creating a sculpture in harmony with the universe with organic curves that interweave and twist or simple undulating forms about which there is something very special. He does admit, however, that the essence of Japan is increasingly present in his life, his thoughts and his process. He gets up early and needs what he calls the rite of silence. He spends two or three hours reflecting, without speaking. He needs his space to think. He writes poems and draws plans. And on the shakuhachi, a Japanese flute, he plays the music of Buddhist monks. This is his way of finding balance between his life today and his roots. “My origins are Buddhism and Shintoism but it is in animism that I find balance in my mind, which I then transfer to the object I’m about to create. Every element in nature is filled with soul and therefore has its own awareness. My work is to uncover it”. At this point, a few questions come to mind: could Kitamura go back to live in Japan? What has the West given him? And has he found the answers he was searching for? “Go back to Japan, no way! It has completely changed. I no longer have the connection or affinity I used to have with the country, which I now feel suffers from an excess of discipline and rigor. In the West everything is more chaotic, and, therefore, more fun, and that gives you more freedom to create. The Empordà brings peace to Marta and I. And that produces a sense of harmony with our surroundings and with ourselves”.
Text: Ino Coll
Photography: Nathalie Joly d’Aussy