Decorative metalworking in Japan has a long history that began sometime in the fourth to fifth centuries with skills passed down through the generations. Tokyo based sculptor Taiichiro Yoshida conforms to century old traditions in his hot-metal treated sculptures of flower-encrusted animals. Snow monkeys, rabbits, cats, and birds like sparrows and doves are just a few of the animals that he represents in his work, coated with layers of intricate metal florals and feathers in various colors.
The metals in Yoshida’s work, such as copper and silver, are naturally occurring in nature, creating a connection between his natural materials and his subjects. Each piece begins as a plasticine base, then covered in metal work flowers and other elements, created by hand-forging tools like an Otafuku Hammer for flattening the hot metal. The beating method includes beating the metal ingot or plate into a specific form which the desired shape is fashioned before it cools.
Yoshida considers his use of coloring to be one of the most important aspects of his metal craft. His metal carving handiwork is enhanced by his color techniques, enacted by super-cooling the heated metal at precise stages. There are four characteristic colors in his work: white, pink, pinkish brown, and copper patina. He admits the work can be difficult and tedious to produces, a mastery that earned him the 2015 Taro Okamoto Contemporary Award for his meticulous handiwork.
The result is beautiful and at times disturbing, particularly in Yoshida’s works that incorporate the original animal’s skull or bones. Yoshida’s macabre details are somewhat surprising in a country where flowers are highly praised in such a refined art like ikebana, or flower arrangement. Flowers such as the sakura and chrysanthemum are national symbols of Japan, and such flowers have the power to invoke powerful emotions.
Hanakotoba, or the language of flowers, is not something that goes unnoticed by the artist. In his sculpture “Flower Cat”, Yoshida speicifically applies the motif of spring flowers to express the cat’s feelings of love. It’s one of his more abstract pieces, recalling the work Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s figures covered in spring flowers, as well as François Pompon’s modern stylized animalier sculpture. Though Yoshida’s work is in many ways a return to traditional tastes, his experimentation in colors, detailing and abstraction blurs the line between ancestral and contemporary.