Japanese artist Haroshi is a skateboarder and talented woodworker from one of the world’s most hectic environments - Tokyo. Skateboarding, long viewed as a kind of ‘poetry in motion’, offers respite from the chaos of everyday life. For Haroshi, it’s both his escape and his muse, a type of kinetic art that shapes his mind and deeply influences his sculptures.
Skateboard decks are made from layers of maple wood pressed together, sometimes seven, eight or nine times. These woods can all be a universal ‘wood’ colour, or can be various colours. This is as practical as it is aesthetic, with different layers having different variations of flexibility and durability.
As the skateboard’s tail (the bit at the back, used to ‘pop’ the board) erodes from wear, a gradient effect appears, where the colours reveal themselves, each layer bleeding slightly onto the next from the friction that the board has endured. In between moments of skating, the layers of the deck provide something mesmeric, a reminder that the thing you’re using to create is also the product of innovative creation itself.
Simplicity in a skateboard is deceptive. It looks like a bit of wood with higher bits at each side (the tail, as mentioned, and the ‘nose’ on the other side), but it’s more than that. The many layers are shaped in a way that is most beneficial for the rider, in terms of comfort, but also for strength and how to realise its purpose - maximising ‘pop’, whilst also stretching its longevity.
Haroshi draws on these various qualities of the skateboarding deck in myriad ways. First, he creates sculptures with decks. Often they’ll be glued together as a solid unit and carved into, or hung up on walls in an abstract display. Either or, this is a celebration of the versatility and utility of a complex piece of wood - usually celebrated for the graphic art on its underside, but never for the deck itself.
Secondly, he creates sculptures using the same methodology as a skateboard deck, with various layers of wood stacked, except, rather than being crudely eroded to show the variety of colours within, his are shaped and varnished to allow these qualities to flourish. Upcycling the skateboards, Haroshi refashions them into various objects, from fire hydrants to teddy bears.
Beyond celebrating the overlooked, the Japanese artist also celebrates the soul of an object, something borrowed from Buddhist teachings, as well as an environmental message of sustainable re-usage. These qualities contribute to sculptures that are more than they initially seem. To this artist, they aren't just his art, but an inexricable aspect of his life.
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