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Creating an environment for art

An essay published in the Fukui Shimbun-Newspaper,, on 24 August 2016

Shichio MINATO

The lamp genie in Aladdin from One Thousand and One Nights is said to make your 3 wishes come true. What would you like to wish for? As for me, the first thing I ask would be ‘to create an atelier around the world that is open to everyone to use.’

When I visited London for the first time 20 years ago, I suddenly thought of popping into the atelier of Bill Woodrow, a contemporary artist/sculptor who represents the UK. Looking back, I am amazed how lightly I took this and how bold I was.

I met Bill at Art Festival in Tsurugi which used to be held in Tsurugimachi (current Hakusan-city), Ishikawa prefecture. As I was only a student volunteer for the Festival, it was obvious he did not remember me, even though I felt like I knew him very well while he stayed in Tsurugi to work as an invited artist.

In the center of London, I borrowed a phone book at a small cigarette shop to look for his contact. Then I found there were as many as 8 Bill Woodrows in the same city. We didn’t have the Internet back then, so I was left to rely on my intuition. As I prayed and called the first Bill, the right person answered! I heard his familiar voice and we agreed that he would pick me up from the closest tube station. It felt just like a drama!  

He told me, “I can only give you an hour, as I am busy preparing for the exhibition. Would you like to come to my house or the atelier?” I picked the atelier without hesitation. Bill’s atelier was located in a street full of warehouses that runs along the River Themes. It was a huge warehouse like the ones in a shooting scene of gang movies. I was astounded to find large pieces of work that looked like the entire inside of a scrapped car.  

Back then, I was at a crossroad of life carrying a lot of burdens, including the career path after the university. I didn’t know what to paint, and I didn’t even know if I was talented enough to be an artist. I asked Bill many questions in poor English, from the reason he chose to be an artist, the formative experience for his expression, to what social issues he was trying to tackle through art.  

Bill answered with carefully selected words and told me, “Don’t mind others because everyone is different,” and “Once you start your career, you may find it harder to find a place for creative work than working on pieces.” He recommended me to secure a space and time for artwork first and foremost.  

Since then, I moved houses over 15 times. Every time I shifted, I had to spend a considerable amount of energy to suit the space for my creation. The atelier which I built at home a few years ago is smaller compared to the European standard, but it has a high ceiling and beautiful sunlight from the northern window. I even acquired a large etching press that I wanted for such a long time.  

In particular, printing arts require large-scale equipments, which makes it harder to attain an ideal workspace. I feel very sad that many young talented artists struggle to find a space where they can work freely.  

In Belgium, where lifetime learning is a widely accepted notion, there are public ateliers called Academie. This is a place open even for ordinary citizens to learn art and work on pieces. Everyone can register, from children to adults. I also used these spaces after my postgraduate course. It is an ideal place where you can work as much as you want, only for an annual registration fee of about 30,000 yen. I am what I am today thanks to this Academie.  

When you stay at a place full of art materials, everyone can be creative. Little children say it all. Expression does not require a lot of skills in art.

How would the world be in 10 or 20 years time, if we had such ateliers all over the world? I guess I would have to ask my lamp genie.

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