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Tasmania the destination of choice for timber artisan

DATE 02/03/2012

Given their choice of cultural destinations, it’s unlikely many people would opt for Tasmania over international hotspots such as Paris, New York or London.

But for Japanese timber artisan Hiroyuki Ichikawa, Tasmania was the natural choice for furthering his already distinguished career.

Hiroyuki, or Hiro as he prefers to be called, is the recipient of the prestigious Shuoh-kikin Fellowship, a philanthropic program that provides talented artists and arts administrators with the financial means to travel abroad on cultural exchange for one year.

Only three people in the whole of Japan are awarded with the fellowship each year.

Hiro says his first impression of Tasmania was that it would be a ‘very good place’ to spend his scholarship year.

“I could have gone anywhere, but I may not have felt as comfortable in other places. It was a priority to me to stay with my first impression – I felt like I wanted to learn here.”

Hiro began his career in highly intricate, traditional Japanese woodcarving, but is today better known for his contemporary and often humorous pieces featuring animals such as pigs and cows.

Nevertheless, he says people still recognise the Japanese influence in his pieces.

“While I think my work is not traditional, people do often point out the traditional influence in my work. Many say my works remind them of netsuke, the traditional charms that were worn in Edo Period Japan”.

Hiro believes his experience of Tasmania will leave a similar cultural influence on his work.

“The purpose of the scholarship is not just to work, but to travel and feel the cultural differences between the two countries.

“In contrast to Japan, where people have small homes, Australians live in a spacious environment and have large homes.

“Australia has huge scale art, which comes from the country’s freedom and lifestyle.”

While Hiro confesses he does not yet have the confidence to make large-scale pieces, the collaborative nature of the scholarship will allow him to work alongside some of Tasmania’s most renowned designer-makers.

One of those artisans, George Harris, has been sharing his studio with Hiro and introducing him to the wood design scene in Tasmania.

George sees many opportunities arising from Hiro’s visit, including cultural exchange, workshops and exhibitions for Tasmanian timber artisans in Japan.

“There would be a lot of interest in Japan to follow Hiro’s time in Tasmania, and I think we can have some real adventures here.”

As for Hiro, he hopes he can also inspire Tasmania’s craftspeople.

“I have a different taste – I didn’t realise how different it was until I came here. I hope that can be interesting to Tasmanians.”