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photo : ISHINKI


On a crisp November morning in 1987, being driven by Jette Mulendorf, we were on our way to visit the stone yard of Giorgio Angeli, what lit up that cold November morning was my first glimpse of a large white marble carving by Kan Yasuda. The scale and quiet authority of this work dominated the yard and the sculpture as Isamu Noguchi had previously observed, appeared to be hewn from ice. Shortly after this, Kan Yasuda visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park to site one of his sculptures as part of a group exhibition, Scultura: Carving from Carrara, Massa and Pietrasanta. This first encounter with the 18th century landscape of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, with its rich layers of history and concern for landscape design, deeply impressed the artist and led to discussions resulting in a memorable exhibition which opened in September 1994 and closed in Spring 1995. This was Kan Yasuda's largest exhibition to date and his first solo exhibition in the UK, providing an opportunity to observe the sculptures as they interacted with nature throughout the seasons and with the constantly changing environment.

Born in Japan in 1945, but having lived and worked in Italy for over twenty seven years, Kan has a strong affinity with both the cultures and life styles of West and East. Although his sculpture possesses a meditative stillness, it is not directly concerned with eastern philosophy or religion but with mankind in general - for Kan, like the poet Hugh Macdiarmid, believes 'this stones are with the stars'. The artist would like to fell that everyone viewing his work can take something from it - 'catch some image'. He believes that everyone has a key to another world and his sculpture could be perceived as an entrance to this world.

Marble from the Galleria da Ravaccione at first appears intensely white and stark and yet, under the sensitive but determined hand of Kan Yasuda, it assumes a responsive aura adapting to the lush green of late spring, the buttercup yellow of an English summer, the ruts of autumn or the icy white of winter. Sculpture for all seasons. This ability to adapt also occurs with people, as confronted by crowds the sculptures become alive and activated but to individuals they can also appear gentle, welcoming and meditative. These contrasts are central to the creation of his sculpture for as Clare Lilley pointed out in the catalogue for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park exhibition, 'there is a quality in Kan's sculptures which combines rationality and practicality with abstraction and spirituality'.

For the Yorkshire Sculpture Park exhibition eighteen sculptures were sited in over 100 acres of varied landscape. Although this allowed each sculpture to assert its independence, the relationship with other sculptures, nature and the interaction of the public was thoughtfully choreographed. Prior to installing the exhibition Kan Yasuda spent much time observing the movement of people, as the intention was, through the sculptures, to create spaces for the visitors to become part of the exhibition, as 'the protagonist'. This was particularly true for children who were encouraged to walk through and around the sculpture. For Kan, without people there is no sculpture.

ISHINKI, a beautifully formed single stone that took many years to carve, was sited beneath a magnificent old beech tree. It is a stone to touch, to lean against and hug, and though which to sense the pulsation of nature. Wonderfully carved, the voluptuous shape was designed to allow a thin line of green grass to be seen where the underbelly of the stone almost touched the ground. The tree without ISHINKI will never be quiet the same again.

Installed on the Formal Terrace, TENMOKU and TENSEI echoed one another's forms, framing fragments of the landscape. The pock marked texture on the vertical and horizontal slabs of TENMOKU and TENSEI refracted light, attracted the hands of people and provided a safe resting place for small insects such as butterflies and ladybirds. Kan seemed to get much delight from the public enjoying the tactile surfaces as from the ladybirds nestling into the honeycombed surfaces of these and other sculptures, as his love for mankind is based upon a respects for the forces of nature. TENMOKU and TENSEI vividly illustrate how Kan's sculpture works at many levels and in many contexts. TENSEI is a giant frame carved from marble and may be viewed as a doorway indicating the passing from one state to another. The vertical and horizontal aspects of these sculptures also struck up an immediate relationship with the formality of the 18th century Terrace, as they accentuated and complemented their classical characteristics.

There are so many memories of Kan Yasuda at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, as Italy and Japan rubbed shoulders with Yorkshire. The colossal physical efforts, the quiet satisfaction of the sculpture settling into the softness of the English landscape and the joyous response of the public. As nature changed so did the sculpture but they never looked uncomfortable, always appearing to be intrinsically connected to the environment. They seemed almost to be part of the grand design of the 18th century estate. Then one day disappeared and, for a period, the landscape seemed empty and forlorn.

Peter Murray OBE
Executive Director, Yorkshire Sculpture Park


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