An astounding 90% of Buddhist sculptures scattered throughout Japan are hand crafted, hand sanded and painstakingly polished from tightly stacked layers of recycled wood. This practice was prevalent throughout the country for centuries, though in recent decades – has fallen into obscurity due to a lack of interest and necessary advances in modern technology. So it comes as a surprise that Haroshi- a young Tokyo based artist molds and shapes culturally iconic sculptures in an oddly similar fashion.
Manipulated from old and discarded skateboard decks, Haroshi crafts highly detailed and colourful 3 dimensional mosaic sculptures with relative ease; this is an assumption on my part due to the sheer amount of work he seems to produce in a considerably short period of time. A self taught carpenter, he has quickly gained notoriety across the globe, with recent shows in Los Angeles, New York and Hawaii along with several high profile collaborations with brands like Huf and Nike. Upon short notice Haroshi was kind enough to share a few hours with us at his studio and shared gallery space to discuss some of his influences, aspirations and unexpected catapult into the art world.
You have a deep connection to skateboard culture, what does skateboarding mean to you? And when did you first start skating?
There was a popular skate park in the neighbourhood where I lived as a kid. I had a strong impression from the Furyo (group of hoods) who hung out there and they made skating look really cool. At first skating in itself was really fun, but it also introduced me into the worlds of fashion and history as well. During the 90’s when I was in high school I would wear clothes by Eric Dressen and fantasize about the Dogtown days. Skating became everything in my life, I took a lot of different detours but all my work and hobbies started as a result of skating.
How did this impact your youth?
Skating taught me that persistence pays off. I used to wake up early in the mornings to secretly practice ollies so that I could show off to my friends at night. So many of my senpais (peers and seniors) told me I had no potential, but I kept at it and I’m the only one who still skates to this day.
What parallels have you drawn between skating and art?
Without a doubt it’s the influence they have on fashion. Initially it wasn’t the graphics on skate decks I thought were cool, but the graphics on T-shirts that skaters were wearing. Their style made an impact on me and I think fashion influences art in similar ways.
You’re a self-taught woodworker and have been doing this for 14 years. What were you doing prior?
I was working with jewelry prior and crafting rings specifically. In my high school days, I used to commute to a leather-crafting atelier on the way back home from my class where I sold some of my product. It was around this time when I realized I could make a decent living from my own creations and designs. A lot of the adults in Harajuku were Furyos but many of them were good people. I started working in a retail shop there and was surrounded by those guys whom I learnt a lot from.
You’re known mostly for your intricate pixel and mosaic sculptures made from damaged skate decks. Do you work in any other mediums or have hopes to in the future?
I’m trying to seek different ways to express myself and I’ve actually been making a lot of other things outside of skateboard, but I feel they don’t receive any response from the public. To be honest, I just love making beautiful things; I can just spend an entire day on my back drawing the sky and it wouldn’t be wasted (laughs).
Are there limitations to using worn and damaged decks?
That is my focus right now. Otherwise, I won’t be able to pull off pieces that are the right level of quality. After using decks for a long time I realized that the broken parts of them are the most beautiful. Through this I’ve come to accept a person’s shortcomings or imperfections. It’s human nature to like things that are clean and nice, but now I’m more drawn to what’s been hurt or broken; I can see the beauty in that.
Besides skate culture, what else influences your work?
I don’t identify with today’s “skate culture” compared to how it was in the old days. Now I can understand art that is irrelevant or contrasting from what I do and can appreciate them. I enjoy going to museums now to see different types of art, just like how I was influenced from the skate history, the history of art is my inspiration now.
“Skating taught me that persistence pays off. I used to wake up early in the mornings to secretly practice ollies so that I could show off to my friends at night. So many of my senpais (peers and seniors) told me I had no potential, but I kept at it and I’m the only one who still skates to this day”
You recently founded HHH gallery in Tokyo with fellow Japanese artist Usugrow, can you tell us a little bit about your relationship and how the gallery came to be?
Usugrow is my senior and friend. He is the first street-born Japanese artist I knew, so he’s really fun to work with. We opened the gallery as an incubator to help the younger generation of artists show their work. Realistically though, I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. I have a lot of respect for successful galleries and I hope to host more shows for emerging and established artists here in the future.
You’re known to hide pieces of metal and other foreign objects in your sculptures during the fabrication process. Do you feel like you’re giving these objects new life?
I feel that to add an element to my work that is intangible is someway is important to me. I believe it is possible to feel an art piece’s expression without a need for an explanation but for my pieces, it’s like I’m placing a soul into it. It’s a process that I’ve inherited from ancient Buddhist sculptors.
When I am creating a new object, I sometimes wonder what it wants to be. My job is just to pull out the material’s potential. Not just looking for new life out of the material but finding its potential and letting it communicate to me it’s desire.
You’ve done a number of solos shows outside of Japan, as well as collaborations with high profile domestic brands. Do you wish to take your artwork to a more commercial level with more accessible works?
I’m very happy and feel blessed to be able to make a living selling my own creations, however I understand my work happens to be out of reach for a lot of my fans and this causes me a lot of headaches also. I would like as many people as possible to be able to feel or own my work in various forms. Currently I’m making designs for skateboards, and this coming year I’ll be putting out more accessible works. Having said that, I am always open for opportunities for me to work with others to design product that will be easier for my fans to obtain.
“To be honest, I just love making beautiful things; I can just spend an entire day on my back drawing the sky and it wouldn’t be wasted.”