The filigree ceramic objects by Japanese artist Shinichi Sawada (born 1982) recall fantastic chimera, demonic masks, richly decorated totems, medieval beasts or elaborate Pre-Columbian artefacts — and yet they evidently derive from a world of their own. Covered with pointy thorns, these creatures defy both art historical conventions as well as contemporary market criteria. In their existential primordialness, they demonstrate the artist’s powerful sense of imagination while reflecting the deepest and darkest recesses of human existence. With their wide-open eyes, bared teeth, antenna-like horns and protruding claws, Sawada’s striking beings some times make a shy impression, at other times they appear defensive. As a group, they simultaneously form a manifest unit — closely coalescing with each other in formal terms and yet drawing on an overwhelming repertory of possibilities.
While Sawada’s work seems like the expression of an inner dialogue that is extremely idiosyncratic and yet universal in its emotional presence, the artist himself speaks only rarely. An autist and autodidact, he works since the age of eighteen in an assisted living facility operated by the social welfare department of the Shiga Prefecture to the west of Kyoto. In the nearby forest landscape, a simple corrugated hut with two kilns was constructed for him that has served as his studio for about twenty years. The artist was able to develop his unique formal vocabulary in this protected refuge, creating works that invite viewers to question conventional categories and modes of thought.
Deriving from millennia old Japanese ceramic-making techniques, Sawada’s mystic creatures find their striking forms intuitively, without any indecision or art historical referencing. Immediate in their effect and intricate complexity, they remind us that true art always draws on the innermost realms of the soul and expand our vision without distancing themselves from the core of their own existential force.
Sawada’s works were presented for the first time outside the contextual framework of so-called Outsider Art in 2013, at the 55th Venice Biennale. Organized by the Georg Kolbe Museum in cooperation with the Museum Lothar Fischer, this first exhibition of the Japanese artist’s work in a European museum will be showing twenty ceramic sculptures. The show’s inclusive approach encourages the viewer to suspend conscious or unconscious boundaries.