Article by Scott Rothstein
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. Often his works contain only two contenders, yet the pictures are filled with action. His fighters are fierce and expressive, receiving pain or delivering it.
Terai Ryosuke is another artist who loves sports. He draws exclusively baseball players. His works have a gentle intensity. The softness in his drawing is contrasted with tight composition. His players are cropped on the page, expressing excitement and a sense of urgency, exactly what one might see in the eyes of a player at a tense moment in a game. Looking at his drawings is like seeing a baseball player in action through a zoom lens.
Yumoto Mitsuo draws with colored pencils. Whether it is a building or a bird, the surfaces of his forms are always active. His use of color creates a contrasting geometry that covers the surface of whatever he depicts. What he draws seems not quite of this world. His buildings are dream-like and his birds more fantastic than can be found in nature.
Abstract works are also being created at the studio. One of the most gifted abstract artists is Yoshimune Kazuhiro. His sensual compositions are masterfully executed; his images humble, yet captivating. Simple elements of color playfully interact, enhanced and reinforced with gentle, casual lines. His works seem spontaneous, yet deeply considered. These paintings are remarkably agile and sophisticated, highly accomplished investigations of form, color and surface.
The artist who perhaps has received the most attention at the studio is Terao Katsuhiro. For 20 years he worked as a welder at his father’s manufacturing company. All his work is related to his vocation and to steel. His drawings, etchings and collages seem to evoke structure, but exactly what they are saying is illusive. These works could be building plans, designs for bridges, or even maps. The meaning of these pieces is open to interpretation, but the artist’s intent appears deliberate. Terao Katsuhiro is clearly defining a visual world that he understands and we are invited to consider.
Since its founding, atelier incurve has been astonishingly successful. The art of the residents is diverse as well as profoundly personal. Several of the artists have blossomed with the studio’s support. In addition, the studio has found a powerful ally in Phyllis Kind, who now shows several atelier incurve artists in her New York City gallery. Beyond showing works in her gallery, Kind presented the art at the Outsider Art Fair in New York in 2005. The studio has recently published a well-conceived and beautifully printed book highlighting five of its artists. Because of its clear vision and rapid success, one can only be optimistic about what the future holds for atelier incurve.
SCOTT ROTHSTEIN is an artist who lives in Santa Fe.
As seen in the Folk Art Messenger: