Your body of work is so vast, and yet so distinct. What narrative do you aim to build with each piece?
In the late 80s I was wondering how to act to establish my own style in the world of contemporary jewelry. I read a lot of books and experienced breathing, yoga and meditation, and the answer at that time was “animals and plants continue to produce works without thinking about making good seeds.”
I didn’t think too much about making only particularly good works, and although I don’t know the deep meaning, I started making works with the ideas that came to my mind in the morning. Instead of criticizing the ideas that came to my mind, I tried to put them into shape.
It’s been over 30 years since then, and when I look at my works, I think they’re different, but I can feel a unique sense of unity, direction, and concept.
You reference historical, mythological, and religious imagery across cultures. How do you choose your subjects and what is their significance to you?
The purpose of my expression is to obfuscate all boundaries— for myself, men and women, past and present, heaven and hell, life and death, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, fresh and realistic works. I thought there should be two extremes in one work in a hybrid state.
Technically, it seems ridiculous to carve abandoned plastic into a cameo brooch while learning to carve ancient gems. However, although it may seem like a stupid act, I think it is a very valuable. I’m attracted to this area and continue to make jewelry. I am also surprised and impressed by the fact that I hold exhibitions six times a year to keep up my standard of living and sell our works. I sometimes think, “If Mr. Nakaba was born in a dynasty in the past, it would be a shame that he was born in the present age, even though he was happy to be given a good job by the King.” But I think this is a good age to be able to make and live my favorite works, thanks to the internet!
Tell me more a bit about the symbolism you use. Some pieces seem quite obvious, drawing from cultural iconography, while others seem extremely personal.
When I first discovered symbolism, it was quite a shock to me to find such a poetic and insightful painting in a figurative form, which gave me a sense of both purity and decadence, and I began to research the possibility of borrowing this style and applying it to modern art. The fact that I use mythological motifs and narrative forms in my jewelry is probably due to my unconscious mind, through which what I hate, and don’t intend to create may actually be what I want.
I have always been in love with the ancient sculptures and antique jewelry displayed in museums, but I have never been 100% immersed in them. I’m not interested in recreating the past as it was, I’m only satisfied with the work of an artist who lives in the 21st century. I know this is completely contradictory to what I said earlier, that I create my work on a moment’s notice without any deep feeling, but it is my greatest hope, afterall, to contain two extremes of thought in a single artist.
What is the importance of beauty in your life? What role does it play in your work?
There is a saying, “When traveling in an ever-changing world, the only thing that matters is to radiate beauty.”
I get goosebumps when I read this sentence. I think this sentence is so important right now. I was able to walk through the misty mountains with beauty as my guide, beauty is what I need to survive, beauty is more of a survival kit for me than something to relax and appreciate.
When I say beauty, I mean fresh beauty. I believe that in beauty, we may find the epitome or blueprint of a society where human beings can be happy. It wasn’t just something to look at and feel good about. I think it was Yoko Ono who said that art is a way of survival. Regardless of what she meant, for me, beauty is like a guide for humanity to survive. This is what I think when I look at contemporary art, but the horizon is expanding and people are starting to perceive things that were not considered beauty before as beauty. If we can find value in things and ideas that were previously thought to have no value, and if many people share a new civilization and sense of values, we may be able to break down the huge walls that people are running into, and new horizons will open up!
I’ve often been moved by works of art. However, I believe that true inspiration comes when a society or an economic system is facing a wall and is blocked in all directions, and you get a hint that there is another step waiting for you on the other side, and you break through the wall. It is the beauty that gives us the hint, the feeling that “this is how humans and the earth can continue to live. I think it is the sense of beauty that makes us intuitively feel this. That’s what I meant when I said it was a guide to survival. I think beauty is the most necessary thing to overcome various obstacles such as the economy, the division of humanity, and to better coexist with the earth.