Photographs courtesy of atelier incurve.
The building that houses atelier incurve is made of cast concrete, glass and industrial elements that demonstrate a master architect’s finesse with material. The structure is austere but elegant, as well as rational and informed. Yet the artists working at this atelier have another aesthetic sensibility entirely. Their art is intuitive, at times raw, and the artists are free from any preconceived notions of what art should be. Atelier Incurve artists are self-taught, looking inward to find their artistic direction as well as responding to and interpreting the visual world around them.
A government-funded program founded in 2002 in Osaka, Japan, atelier incurve supports the creative endeavors of artists with disabilities. Hiroshi Imanaka, an architect, is the founder of this studio and the designer of its space. Like Jean Dubuffet before him, Imanaka is an educated creator captivated by self-taught artists. However, whereas Dubuffet’s primary connection to Outsider Art was that of writer and collector, Imanaka’s involvement has been as advocate, creating a supportive sanctuary for a small group of outstanding artists.
The concept of Outsider Art is not well known in Japan. Until fairly recently, there was almost no information on the subject written in or translated into Japanese. In addition, there were neither venues exhibiting such work nor major public collections of note. Imanaka discovered this art form by chance on a trip to Europe ten years ago. His trip was motivated by a need for artistic rejuvenation, and his plan was to visit the buildings of Le Corbusier. Yet the encounter with the great architect’s works was a disappointment for him as he found the structures contrived. Fortunately, he discovered another imaginative builder on this trip, Ferdinand Cheval, who created Le Palais Idéal, one of the most superb Outsider Art sites in Europe. On the same trip, Imanaka went to see Dubuffet’s Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne. He was astonished by the work in the collection. Reflecting on his visit, he said, "It is they who create true original art – not I. They are the true artists, and there is no way I can overtake them.
[A]telier incurve functions in a similar manner to most artist residency programs. The 22 residents are given their own spaces for work, and seven full-time and five part-time staff assistants are there to help with studio equipment. The facility has an etching press as well as an area for working with clay. If artists need special equipment, the studio staff tries to accommodate them. In addition, field trips to museums and other programs are provided for extra simulation for the residents.
Only self-taught artists with disabilities are eligible to take part in the program. The staff at atelier incurve understands that these artists have unique needs and is committed to providing a supportive and peaceful environment. Yet it is important to note that this is not simply a day treatment program for people with disabilities. Imanaka knows that not all people with special needs have artistic abilities. This is a program that seeks out people with creative dispositions who also happen to be disabled.
Work produced at the studio is diverse in style and technique. Yet an ardent concentration is evident in almost all the artworks. These artists are bold even when speaking softly. Their expressions are vibrant, original, intimate and never tentative.
There are figurative artists like Shinki Tomoyuki, who works both on paper and with the computer to depict men wrestling. His dynamic figures are twisted and distorted warriors flying across the page, focused on battle