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Yoshimasa Tsuchiya - Dreamy World of Sculptures

Born in 1977, Yoshimasa Tsuchiya graduated from the Sculpture Course in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Tokyo University of the Arts in 2001 and completed a doctorate degree in the Conservation Course in the same Faculty in 2007. As a postgraduate student, he began applying the techniques of Buddhist art to make wooden sculptures. He continues to form dreamlike sculptures that have an air of innocent sacredness. We spoke to him about his creative practice.

Yoshimasa Tsuchiya

Shaping the Air

Ever since he was little, Tsuchiya loved arts and crafts. He’d always wanted to make sculpture his work.

“In my kindergarten graduation yearbook, I wrote that ‘my dream for the future is to become a sculptor.’ I’m grateful for the environment I grew up in: my family was supportive, encouraging me to tap into my individuality and skills.”

Once he entered art school, he viewed many artworks from the past to learn from them. One of those works that left a deep impression on him was a Buddhist sculpture he encountered during a study trip.

“In the Dōganji Kannondō in Shiga Prefecture, there’s an incredibly beautiful statue called the Eleven-Faced Kannon. As I stood in front of it, face-to-face, I felt as if it was speaking to me, asking me questions. I was very moved. The sacred robes were drifting in soft waves, expressing a pleasant breeze. It was like the sculpture was shaping the very air around it. It made me want to make an artwork like that.”

With that realisation, Tsuchiya began to apply Buddhist sculpture techniques to his own work to pursue a unique way of expressing himself in woodcarving.

"Two Rainbows" 2021

Breathing Life into Forms

Tsuchiya sought to express emotions in forms that have eyes, a nose, a mouth, and limbs, so he gradually settled on animals as his motif. He moulds each animal as a symbolic being that holds an inner world.

One thing that he keeps in mind is to portray the animal in a way that contrasts with how they are usually imagined by people.

“For example, a lion is a symbol of ‘strength,’ but I wonder, what would happen if I make a lion that’s not so strong? If it can betray the viewer, in a good way, the artwork seems to walk on with a life of its own.”

Tsuchiya uses the technique in Buddhist sculpture called “gyokugan.” A rounded crystal or glass is fit into the statue’s eye sockets from behind to create a life-like effect. The gaze of such wooden statues leaves a lasting impression. For Tsuchiya, the sculpture’s facial expression isn’t something that he deliberately designs in the beginning—instead, it comes into being in the process of creation.

“I have a general idea of how the face would look when I begin, but its expression and personality become clearer as I go on. Even though I’m the one shaping it, I couldn’t tell you how it will come out.”

Another distinctive feature of Tsuchiya’s style is his use of a certain milky white colour, similar to ivory or alabaster. Since he felt that using multiple colours or adding patterns to his sculptures would be too distracting, choosing this method of colouring was crucial.

“I want to give the impression of a soft, downy touch, like baby skin,” he says. “Once I paint the first layer of white and the subtle pink around certain places like the eyes, the sculpture suddenly seems to come alive. It’s a fascinating part of the process, even for me.”

Tsuchiya’s description of the creative process, which includes moments even the artist himself can’t imagine beforehand, is like listening to a story of an independent life coming into being.

The Pursuit of Technique and Expression

“Some artists might say that painting a piece of sculpture is heresy,” says Tsuchiya.

However, as an artist, he can’t help but keep exploring different methods of expression.

“At one point in the past, I used to have this vague notion that there was a right answer, and that someone would teach me what it is. Now I believe that it’s important to try things out for myself, without constraints.”

In his work, Tsuchiya also places value in creating a sense of translucency and making the most of the qualities inherent in the material.

“The light texture is vital for letting it coexist with the natural texture of the sculpture itself.”

The unique, weightless form of the animals, which stimulates the imagination, is also inspired by Buddhist statues.

“If I can make the creatures seem like they’re not pressed down by the earth’s gravity, but are instead somewhere like the world of the moon—as if they’ve just fluttered down with the softest touch—then, naturally, the atmosphere around the work begins to change as well.”

Where does Tsuchiya get his inspiration from when it comes to form? He has quite a surprising answer to this question. “From the plants in my garden,” he explains. “It’s very interesting, watching them grow and transform in shape. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh, that’s a nice curve.’ There have been times when I got the idea for a silhouette shape by observing plants like that.”

It seems fitting that the still forms of the animals, with their graceful, rounded curves, stem partly from the shape of plants.

"Kannon" 2019

Art in Everyday Life

At the end of the interview, we asked him about his aspirations for the future.

“I’ve been making sculptures in this milky white colour so far, but I also feel the urge to broaden my range of colours. In terms of material, too, I’ve been using wood that can give a sense of translucency, but I want to try another material to explore expressions that can’t be done with wood.”

In addition, as a new venture, he has opened an online shop featuring “art toys,” miniature versions of his wooden sculptures.

“This has been a dream of mine for many years, so I’m excited that I’ve finally made it happen. I want people to enjoy art as something close to them in everyday life. I hope to keep this up in the future, too,” he says.

Tsuchiya’s body of work tells a story of one artist pursuing the secrets of technique and expression, and gradually forming his very own style of expression like no other. Speaking to him, one can sense the pulsating energy of the artist radiating from him—the creative impulse to never stop pursuing new possibilities.


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