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Interview: Kunihiko Nohara talks about his wooden sculpture exhibition in Singapore

By: Arman Rawi

The Laissez-faire exhibition – currently running at the Luxe Museum in Dhoby Ghaut till this Sunday (24 May) -  features the works of 18 cutting-edge Japanese artists, who stand against consumerism and modernism. One of them is Kunihiko Nohara, a soft-spoken 33-year-old from Hokkaido, who specialises in wooden sculptures. Also known as Cloud Man in Taiwan, the artist tells us more about his work.

Welcome to Singapore. How do you like the city so far?
It’s my first time here! So far, I’ve only had the opportunity to look at different buildings from the car as I travel from my hotel to the gallery. I’m really inspired by their construction – the architecture here is so different from the Japanese style. There are also many trees and it’s so tropical. I’m fascinated by how people live alongside nature in Singapore.

Can you share a little bit of how you got started in the arts?
When I was a kid I loved drawing and really wanted to become an art teacher. As I grew older, I took art classes after school and that was where I met many seniors who painted and sculpted. I gradually developed an interest in 3D sculptures and that reignited my passion for drawing. Still, I never intended to be a professional artist – I was simply content with people being happy with what I created.


"Spring" by Kunihiko Nohara was inspired by the clear skies and blooming of cherry blossoms during spring in Japan 

Why did you decide to specialise in wooden sculptures?
In my third year at university, I had to specialise in either carving or molding. Both are completely different practices, and I discovered that my style is quite traditional and more suited for carving. I also had to choose only one material to create my artwork, and I chose wood because it best represents the essence of the Japanese style. Japan has been living alongside wood for hundreds of years – our houses, chopsticks, furniture and accessories are all made of wood, so it’s something I’m very familiar with. I like wood because it represents life and can be used to express softness, quite unlike metal or stone.

What attracted you to take part in the Laissez-faire exhibition?
I wanted to be part of this exhibition because I’m somewhat opposed to the idea of consumerism. Modern people have misconstrued the idea of “value” because everything can be bought so easily and excessively these days. By limiting myself to only one material and using just one piece of wood for every original artwork, I hope to redefine the meaning of “value”. Also, Eiichiro Sasaki of Gallery UG is presenting Laissez-faire to Singapore for the very first time, and he always told me that artists and galleries are like family. So, I’m proud to be part of this exhibition where I get to share the same goals with 17 other artists who I feel a strong bond with.


"Nightwalk" represents Nohara's experience of Macau where he had an exhibition 

What is the inspiration behind your artwork?
My creations are not necessarily based on fantasy, but neither are they overly grounded in reality – they’re just reflections of my experiences of the world. For example, I created a wooden sculpture that represents my experience in Macau, where I had an exhibition. I saw many physical structures when I did some sightseeing there, but I also had images of jellyfish and other colourful tropical fishes in my head. So these are the inner and outer experiences that are unique to me, and are being expressed in my work.

You have made a name for yourself as Cloud Man in Taiwan after doing an exhibition there. Why did you choose clouds as your main motif in your sculptures?
When I first have an idea of what I want to create, it’s usually very blur and vague.  I chose clouds as my main motif because they’re exactly like the images I have in my head – temporary, ever-changing and they can instantly disappear. I also feel very relaxed and comfortable when inspiration hits me – a sensation quite similar to floating in the sky. If you noticed, my sculptures also wear goggles because I imagine floating in the sky to be similar to swimming in a pool.


"Omelette Mantle" is part of Nohara's "Desire" series which expresses his wanting of something. 

You also have sculptures of men covered in omelettes or bathing in juice. What do they represent?
Those pieces are part of my “Desire” series. Sometimes, I create art that expresses my want for something, like canned juice or eggs. When I was a kid, I was told a folk story in which a king asks his soldiers to find a huge egg so that he can fry the biggest omelette in the world. I found the story to be so amazing and unbelievable, so I decided to pay homage to that childhood memory.

How do you want viewers in Singapore to react to your art?
Everyone sees and interprets art differently, and I encourage every visitor to see my work through his or her own life experiences. People in this day and age are always rushing and hardly have time to stop and feel. I hope this exhibition will help them slow down and just see, think and feel. I also hope that they’ll share their exhibition experience with friends and family and remember it for a long time.