5th October 2017

Yukimasa Ida, Bespoke

Yukimasa Ida is a contemporary Japanese artist known for his provocative balance of realism and abstraction in his paintings. In his distinct aesthetic, Ida explores the nature of human existence and identity. His portraits appear like a sudden glance or flashing memory deftly crystallised into an eternal image. 

Ida’s first show outside of Asia will deal directly with his experience of growing up in a modern-day Japan its journey from isolationist feudal state to capitalist and imperial world power. The artist soaks up all the history of Japan and the ever-changing world around it through the last century and gives his unique representation of these times and movements through his paintings. These works include romantic film stills captured through the lens of Ida’s mind and the repeating motif pictures that come from his cultural connection to his home country. 

For THE FALL, Yukimasa sat down with Oil Gallery Owner Justin Cook to talk about the process of putting the show together, his influences and the beautiful concept of Ichi-go ichi-e.

Sorrow 1, Yukimasa Ida, photographed by Barbara Tomeucci.

JC: Where do you come from and when did you first start to paint?

YI: I grew up in a small coastal town in Japan called Tottori and from the age of 3 or 4 years old, I had already started to paint in a corner of my father’s sculptor studio. I am painting in my own studio now, but the motivation has never changed since those early times. I calm down when I touch my tools, I feel alive when I pick up a paintbrush.

So you are not the only artist in the family?

No, my father, Katsumi Ida is a revered sculpture artist in Japan and his work is in many Japanese museums so I think the apple did not fall far from the tree, I see my abilities come directly from my father.  Also, my wife works in the Yokohama College of art & design and is also an artist so you could say I come from a family of artists. We the IDA family now look on to see if the newest arrival (my daughter) will follow in the arts also.

You refer in your press release to the cultural concept of Ichi-go ichi-e (a Japanese cultural concept of treasured meetings with people or once-in-a-lifetime) and how this is a central and lasting influence within your creative process. Could you explain this a bit more for the readers of this piece?

Everything changes, be it the seasons, people or circumstance so if you can capture this moment of change or save the moment in time it means it will never go away and in Japan, we call this Ichi-go ichi-e. It’s the reason why I grasp my paintbrush because I want to create a work that saves the moment that we have encountered together forever and this solo exhibition is an extension of such thoughts. 

Boxer, Yukimasa Ida, photographed by Barbara Tomeucci

Why has Ichi-go ichi-e become such an important mainstay of your work?

When I was younger I lost some people close to me. It started with my grandfather passing away, and I did not have the chance to spend as much time with him as I would have liked before he passed. Standing there in the burial ceremony feeling my sadness as I looked on at my grandfather peacefully laid out had an enormous effect on me. Sometime later a good friend called Bob (American sculpture artist working in Japan) also passed away and he was one of my first real mentors and had always told me to venture out of my comfort zone and travel overseas to find my place in the art world. 

Knowing I would never meet my grandfather or Bob again on this earth, the transient flow of time made me very sad but at the same time, I also felt it was beautiful that I was in their life and they were in mine. This also applies to the people that I will meet on my life’s journey going forward that I might not meet again, however, the memory that we met will always be inside me and I will always have this. It was Bob and his warm words of encouragement that gave me the strength to make my first visit to NY for three months last year and experience life outside of Japan and now I am in the UK about to hold my first solo show outside of Asia, this is a special time and I am treasuring all the moments.

I notice looking at your work there seems to be a thread of history running through your psyche and process. Could you go deeper into your feelings about history some more?

Yes, everyone has a history. People who existed in the past also had families, friends, lovers and some were completely alone without anyone but I believe they all had a fate given to them. People have already made the history of yesterday but I feel it’s in all of us to make the history of tomorrow and not let a moment go by without recognising it. From all the possibilities that surround us, it is a miracle that we meet someone or witness something special and unique. At the same moment in the irreversible flow of time, I feel that these happenings could be inevitable. To me, it feels like our current experiences are a once-in-a-lifetime overlap from the past. Our current encounters will also become history and change the future; maybe this very moment is connected to someone in the future.

We all have to live in this existence that is sure to disappear one day. We all come from the stars and will again one day return back to them. I feel that from the day we make our first steps into the world at the same time we are starting the journey back to the stars and so every step, meeting or interaction with life on the journey must be treated as the most important thing.  When I complete the journey of many steps I have real happiness in my heart to meet again with my grandfather and Bob and laugh together and discuss the journey I made and what they all thought along the way.

Since we first met in NY last year things have really started moving forwards for your career including selling works to major Asian collectors and being chosen as one of only nine new artists to create a work for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation auction that happened in St Tropez in July. How have you found these new experiences?

Yes, it has been a busy 2017 and I feel blessed for all the things that are happening in my life. Yusaku Maezawa has been an early supporter of my work in Japan and continues to be so and I am thankful. I think Japan is very lucky to have such an important domestic collector supporting home-grown artists, this can only help nurture a new generation of Japanese artists for the future. The DiCaprio selection was an amazing experience and to be flown over to St Tropez for the auction was a really special and cherished experience.  I met some great people there and built some new relationships too.

Lastly, can you tell me why the show is called “Bespoke” and what people visiting the show can expect to see?

Prior to my arrival to the UK, I had been thinking about Ichi-go-ichi-e and a title that reflected the once in a lifetime theme. When I arrived in the UK I went to the venue and chatted with Joe (co-owner of Labassa Woolfe) about the nature of his business and the word ‘bespoke’ came out of his mouth. It is the first time for me to do an exhibition outside of a gallery or museum and as the venue (Labassa Woolfe) is a tailoring shop that definitely has an atmosphere that links to the theme of once-in-a-lifetime as mentioned earlier. I also liked the word a lot so I answered, “Let’s make it the title of the show!” without hesitation.

This was my first visit to the UK and I really loved the scenery, life and warm and generous people that I met. Being in Wiltshire I got to paint horses and pigs as motifs in my work but to be able to visit a horseracing stud and paint live in Stow on the wold was an incredible experience for me that I want to repeat again.  For people coming to Bespoke, expect to see a festival of abstract realism with great motifs and historical fragment’s that come to me in my dreams, and after are all painted on my canvas.

Yukimasa Ida, Bespoke is showing at Labassa Woolfe from today until October 13th.



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