After a morning looking at Tanabe-san’s families artwork we had a lovely lunch at a nearby restaurant. During a tour of the teahouse in the back of the restaurant I learned that Osaka was actually the birthplace of Japanese tea ceremony. I also learned that we had just had lunch next to the largest emperor’s tomb in Japan.
From the tea house we went to Tanabe’s home, where he has several of his new works destined for a solo show in November in Brussels. We did spend quite some time talking about one particular piece that catches light in the most remarkable way. The bamboo is split so finely it is translucent in the light.
In his studio Tanabe-san showed me some of the different types of bamboo that he uses that are predominant in Japan. Although there are over 600 different types of bamboo in Japan only 20 varieties are suitable to work with. Out of those 20 Madake is most commonly used, especially in the Beppu region. There was one piece of bamboo that was passed down through generations with large dime sized spots on it. Another was a smoked piece of bamboo that Tanabe remembers pulling out of a collapsed farm house with his father. A bamboo which resembles Sasa palmatta was also present. Tanabe also showed me a collection of antique Samurai arrows he sourced through several different antique dealers. He is planning on creating sculptures with them. (See image at the top of page, the box to his left contains the arrows)
Next Tanabe showed me how he bends bamboo strips with a candle. It is important for the wick of the candle to not be too long. If it is the flame is too big, and the flame will burn the bamboo and produce smoke instead of slowly heating the bamboo. The wick was trimmed several times during the lesson. After a demonstration I had a chance to try the technique too. I burned my first piece; the method I have always used to bend bamboo is to heat it with a heat gun. Using a candle right angles can be made with ease. As I was working I was thinking about candle bent glass stringer and how you have to wait for it to heat before bending so it doesn’t break. The bamboo requires a quick movement to bent it once it is heated. Tanabe told be that bamboo requires that you listen to it; it was fun to hear him tell me the same thing I tell me students.
Next Tanabe showed me how to make a simple bamboo basket that Japanese children make. The bottom is a simple under-over weave. The ends of the weave can be curved and tucked in many ways, making it a ideal basket design for investigating form. After the basket was finished I had the opportunity to try my hand at flower arranging. We had to have a little laugh at the result.
The highlight of the visit was when Tanabe-san showed me his tools, which consist of four generations of bamboo artists in his family. Anyone who uses tools on a continual bases knows that tools, in a way, become an extension of the body, they are indeed, imbued with the artists spirit. I have a collection of my grandfathers tools and a few of my mothers, which I find very meaningful to use and own. They are not bamboo related, but meaningful none the less. I found the idea of four generations of bamboo tools to be mindblowing.
Tanabe is pointing to one of two chests made by his father for Tanabe-san and his brother when they were both very young. At the very last we exchanged gifts, some of which were very nice books of Tanabe-san’s work. Tanabe said he hopes some day we will have an exhibit together. I too hope that can happen. I was invited back-and did return, after a trip to several other artists studios. More on the second visit in a future post.
The last of our visit was a great group photo.