33 cm x 43 cm
Embroidery floss and fabric
Takashi Iwasaki’s hand embroidered landscapes are anything but conventional. Vibrant colours and fluid shapes fuse together to form intricate patterns and intriguing scenes. Born in Japan, Canada is now home after he attended university in Winnipeg and as he explains, either consciously or not, this mix of cultures contributes to his unique and beautiful work.
What is your background in art and textiles?
I’ve always liked making things and drawing since I was little. It lead me to studying fine arts at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, where I learned mainly about ideas, philosophy and my attitude towards making art.
The textile part (mostly embroidery) was almost a fluke. I was in a drawing class at university. An assignment in the class was about decorative art, and I had to make something using a decorative medium or idea. Embroidery, with which I had almost no experience with, came to my mind, and I liked the process. My first pieces were crude, but I got a hang of it and now they’re more precise. I consider my embroidery self-taught by reading books, internet sources, and examining what other crafters and artists have created.
You were born in Japan and moved to Canada when you were 20, what prompted the move?
I wanted to study fine arts and the English language at the same time, but it seemed to be difficult to study both of them together to the level that I desired in Japan, where not many people speak in English. I had visited Canada before and liked it, so I applied to art schools there. That way I could major in fine arts and pick up the language through my daily life. The University of Manitoba accepted me, so I moved to Winnipeg. I really liked the art program there and the people that I met. I like the multi-cultural environment in Canada, and Winnipeg is a good city to live and work for me. Now I call it my hometown.
Does your work have any Japanese influences?
I guess so – whether conscious or not. If you grow up in a culture, something about that culture is a part of you. In that sense my work has a lot of Japanese influence. Apart from that, I also actively incorporate designs and philosophy from Japanese culture whenever they fit with my idea and projects.
How do you describe your embroideries?
My mini world where I can add and see anything that I like.
You say your work depicts ‘imaginary worlds or landscapes,’. Would you like to talk us through one of your embroideries?
“Nekoamedama” is about a floating plant of cattails (top left), similarly shaped floating fishing floats combined with swirl candies (top right), a cluster of blown-glass bulbs (middle left), and a disk-shaped lighting device (bottom right) with a bulb-shaped plant form growing out of it. These are some of things I like the shapes of and want to see together. It exists in outer space and each pod is a station in which you can live. It’s a big space station. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the main idea.
Where do you find inspiration?
In my everyday life, a short conversation with someone, an architectural magazine, books about art, plants, and food, a piece of music. I often treat my work as a place to record my daily life like a diary, too, so anything can be my inspiration.
How do you work? Do you sketch the design before you sew it or design it as you sew?
I sketch the design first before sewing.
Your pieces seem to have reoccurring shapes, why is this?
Because they’re my imaginary landscapes and ideal worlds and shapes that I like to see often. I create worlds that I want to see. Until I feel that I’ve seen enough of them or come up with something that I want to see more of, they’ll keep appearing in my work.
Your work looks meticulously sewn. Do you use one type of stitch or do you vary the stitches?
The majority of my embroidery is satin stitches because I like the sheen in that stitch. I also use weaving stitch with which I create plaid patterns. I like to sew meticulously, so it may appear as something made by a machine in the first glance. I like fooling people’s mind and eyes in that way.
What type of thread do you use and why?
I use cotton embroidery threads by DMC, probably one of the most easily found brands in North America. I like to use something ordinary and most widely available to make something not so ordinary.
Looking at your work as a collection you seem to use a similar colour palette on either cream or black. Have you considered using different colours?
I’ve tried other background colours such as red, and more muted and monochromatic combinations, but they didn’t appeal to me as much as saturated colours that I use on black or raw canvas colour. I may grow to like other combinations at some point. I always like to experiment, so you might see something else one day.
You create work in a variety of mediums including collages and drawings. What is it about textiles that appeals.
The sheen in the satin stitch and intricacy in the weaving stitch are something hard to achieve in other mediums and are characteristics of what embroidery allows me to do.
Being an artist especially one that uses textiles as a medium can be difficult, do you have any tips or advice for others who are keen to become professional?
I simply do what I love to do to first please myself, and embroidery is one of the things that I enjoy making.
Actually it could be easier to stand out as an artist by using textile as a medium because probably there are more painting artists out there in the world than textile artists. In the art world, one has to stand out and be unique to do well. A possible drawback of using textile as an art medium is that viewers may take it more as “craft” rather than “fine art.“Depending on the philosophy behind it and outcome of a final product, the maker may be seen more as an “artisan” than an “artist”.
One has to understand how the work is perceived by others, and in what role in what field one wants to play. I think it’s the same in any field, not specific to art. If one is always following or copying what others are doing, one can be a good artisan, but it won’t take that individual very far as an artist, unless following and copying is the very concept of the artist.
Are there any exciting plans in the pipeline?
I want to make a much larger embroidery piece. The largest I’ve made so far is only about 50cm x 50cm. It’ll be nice to make something larger like 150cm x 300cm. I’m in my personal phase of using acrylic paint on canvas right now, so it’ll take some time for me to get started on the large embroidery piece, but in some years.