I first met Ko through mutual friends in Auckland, New Zealand in 2001. At that time he had already attended high school in Whangerei and was studying at Auckland University's Elam Art School, after winning the prestigious Rosemary Grice Memorial Prize scholarship.
I immediately discovered two things about Ko as a person and an artist. The first being the air of peacefulness and positivity that surrounded him, and the second being his tremendous graphic sense and free-flowing compositions - particularly in the small sketchbooks he filled so rapidly with drawings. It was a first for me to meet someone who was as into painting as I was, so we quickly became friends and then shared a "studio space" at his apartment in downtown Auckland. Although we were working towards different ideas in our painting, we both inspired and influenced each other to keep creating new work.
Soon after that I left New Zealand to live in Fukuoka, Japan. Ko continued towards his graduation from art school and eventual return to his family and temple in Yokohama. This period also sadly saw the passing of his father and would subsequently lead to the next tremendous influence on his life; a year's training in Shingon Buddhism (involving total seclusion and isolation from the "outside world" at a monastary on the top of Mt. Koya, one of the most spiritually sacred places in Japan).
In December of 2004, I moved to Yokohama and both of us immediately began painting seriously again after two years. We challenged and motivated each other once again to work through everything from where we had left off in NZ. We both worked for hours every day and night to the point of exhaustion in his small "Box" studio at a temple.
It was during this time that Ko first began to experiment with wood carving, beginning with a simple New Years card print and then eventually developing it into large, intricate works combining paint and carving on board. This period of relentless painting and experimentation culminated in out "Life inside the Box" exhibition in Koganecho (Yokohama) in June 2005.
Immediately after this showwe began our two-month residency and open studio at BankART NYK in Yokohama, an excellent new studio and gallery complex initiated by Yokohama City. Now with a studio ten times the size of the "Box" we were free to create large-scale works, with Ko creating two 180cmx180cm carving/paintings, and the result was our exhibition "Five" in August 2005.
After this residency, we were then both subsequently selected individually for the 2005 Kyoto Art Jam at the Kyoto Cultural Museum. 80 artists were chosen from over 1100 applicants throughout Japan, so for both of us to be selected was very satisfying. We drove to Kyoto, did the show, enjoyed that amazing city and then drove back again. I think it was fair to say that we were both a little exhausted from a big 2005 by that time, and as winter set in, we both went back to our own individual studios and lives.
Ko’Äôs interest in surface and carving in to his chosen ground eventually led him to begin experimenting with using a router on perspex and aluminium, and this in turn led to his engraving on bicycle parts ’Äì creating sought-after custom pieces of art with a practical application.
Working equally as always from the subconscious and the creative process itself, Ko’Äôs compositions began to lose obvious representation and move freely into abstraction. Rather than the graphic ’Äúpicture within a picture’Äù compositions of the wood-carvings, these new intricate engravings on bicycle components began to flow freely and loosely, influenced by the tools and medium itself. The compositions began to loosen and suggest images, such as figures and landscapes, often without directly representing them.
Perhaps the other great influence on Ko’Äôs art in the past two years has been his study of Shodo, or Japanese calligraphy. His brushwork has begun to mature and change distinctly, and somehow he has been able to apply this technique to wood-carving, painting graphics on surfboards, and even unbelievably, to using a router on a Campagnolo crank-set or Nitto stem.
As Ko develops new techniques and experiments with new ways of producing his art, we will be able to watch his progression as an artist, and the way it infuses with his life as a person and Buddhist monk.
I am fortunate enough to have seen this progression in Ko’Äôs art first-hand during these influential years, and I am also immensely grateful to both Ko and his family for all of the help, support and inspiration they have given to me during my stay in Japan.
I can’Äôt wait to see what Ko is making when he’Äôs an old man.
MB Yokohama, 2006