On the Importance of Place in an Artist’s Identity

Professor Ryoji Ikeda reflects on printmaking, travel, and his relationship with the University of Alberta.

On Tuesday November 4th attendees of Professor Ryoji Ikeda’s Visual Arts and Design Forum lecture were treated to a candid and humorous insight into the life and work of an artist who, whilst renowned for his work in print, revealed a multifaceted creative approach to his practice incorporating sculpture, pottery and photography. The lecture, hosted by Centennial Professor Sean Caulfield, discussed a diversity of topics relating to the importance of place to Ikeda’s identity as an artist and individual.

Relationship with the University of Alberta

A highlight of the lecture was Mr. Ikeda’s evident connection to the province and the U of A’s Printmaking Department specifically. He dates his arrival in Edmonton on November 4th 1994 (three decades to the day!) as the very beginning of a personal and creative trajectory. At the time, Professor Ikeda was working on a series of prints focused on the North Saskatchewan River and recalled the assistance provided to him by Centennial Professor Sean Caulfield (a graduate assistant at the time) fondly. In many respects Professor Ikeda considers Alberta a second home beyond his primary studio in Ochiishi on Hokkaidō, Japan.

Returning Home

Professor Ikeda began the lecture with a quote from an Armenian painter living in America who once said that people return to their birth places at certain times in their life to look for things they left behind, likening this perspective to his own when he returned from Canada to Japan at the time of his mother’s death. Walking in Ochiishi and experiencing a great sense of loss, he considered what would he would leave behind as testimony of his existence. It was then that he came across a defunct radio transmitting station that was to become his current studio. Drawing on his work with deep shadows and pale light on copper plates, he had a vision of creation a small room inside the station with an interior of copper and set about realizing this vision. Professor Ikeda considers this a hugely significant transitional stage in his life, during which he developed a heightened sensitivity to the natural phenomena in the place of his birth, cultivating a renewed appreciation for the surrounding bamboo grass, evergreen trees, bodies of water, and low lying summer fog that makes the line between what is visible and invisible ‘infinitely vague’.

Ochiishi and Beyond

Professor Ikeda considers Ochiishi a primary base in the cultivation of his practice today. The radio station – now Ikeda’s primary studio – is on a bluff of land that forms a peninsula, part of a small fishing town on Hokkaidō in Northern Japan. The space afforded by this setting enables Ikeda to work with installation, a medium he favours, creating works using candles and shells whilst also combining visual sources from inside and outside of the studio alike. Today, Ikea’s studio in Ochiishi contains his realized vision of a copper interiored room – a tea house whose exterior comprises of 3,800 cubes – 1,200 cubes shy of his goal of 5,000. Each cube features print on its sides, though of equal importance to Ikeda is the overall shape: by adding cubes he continually changes the form of the room and the shadow cast by it. The tea ceremony is also a prominent tradition in his Tokyo studio, where he occasionally works with a press designed by his own hand.

Creative Influences and Interests

The innovation with which Professor Ikeda works with, copper plate is remarkable, as is his propensity for experimentation with a great diversity of media. Irrespective of whether he is is working on prints or with clay, he describes a vacuum around which each of these mediums revolves: a vacuum which unites the arts with the zen spirit, and that the totality represents a space where nothing exists and a condition that we cannot explain. In turn, the art he produces is a way of explaining this central vacuum, an attempt to challenge something that he does not necessarily have answers to and the labour involved in this seeking as being central to the process of making art. In his prints he seeks to the fundamental core of himself and the world in its present state. Throughout the lecture Ikeda referred to fleeting nature of life as being a great source of inspiration, and the importance of remembering how we feel as children – perspectives that continue to inform his work today. By telling his own stories he also hopes to tell the stories of others. Ikeda closed the lecture with some timeless advice to aspiring printmakers and artists: be yourself and do something different!

Professor Ryoji Ikeda’s lecture also highlighted a generous donation by the artist to the University of Alberta Museums Print Collections of in excess of two hundred works on paper. In addition, Ikeda’s work will be available to view alongside the works of fellow printmaker University of Alberta Professor Emeritus Walter Jule at Toronto’s Japan Foundation, opening November 5th.

About Ryoji Ikeda:

Professor of Printmaking at Musashino Art University, Tokyo, Japan, Ryoji Ikeda has exhibited his photo based prints extensively throughout the world with recent exhibitions in Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, Korea. Professor Ikeda’s work can be found in international collections including those belonging to The British Museum; The Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan.

Ryoji Ikeda’s visit was co-sponsored by Prince Takamado Japan Centre, University of Alberta and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.