I discovered this artist on the increasingly international forum for handmade goods, Etsy. First let me say that Etsy has made a turn for the better. After its initial low-competition, high interest startup was a breakthrough in creating income to the fleet-footed, they chose to cash in on the press by inviting non-makers into the fold to mill seller’s fees. Every kitsch dealer, antique shop and importer on the net was eager to get a piece of the market, all of whom had vast experience with their own versions of online marketplaces, proceeded to the flood the contemporary handmade right out of public view. Realizing their error, Etsy has refined the model, allowing visitors to quickly sort maker from supplier or reseller, retaining some of their credibility. In its latest form it is increasingly international, and at present offers visitors place where merit and skill still have a shot at being encountered.
With Kazuhiko Ichikawa and artisans of his calibre, this is a mixed bag. Etsy, and the craft market in general, has a buying demographic that matches the economic scope of the creative class. Seeking status objects that are clearly not manufactured yet concerned with integrity by avoiding egregarious objects of wealth, this group seeks a pricepoint that is challenging for craftspeople living in high-rent centers of culture and design to work with. The skill and time required to turn heads sort of collides with the buyer’s reality that’s translated from proprietary search algorithms to notoriously poor sales for anything above several hundred dollars. It’s a comfort zone that makes crafters who want to really elevate their craft rather uncomfortable.
In Japan, Ichikawa commands choice boutique display space, public notoriety and plenty of awards, but this does not translate to international recognition. Placing one’s self in a global marketplace targeting the appetite of the creative class means matching your talents against skilled artisans with more affordable situations in Istanbul, Buenos Aires and Jatarka. What this translates to is excitement for anyone who notices, creating good deals for shrewd collectors, when high end art jewelers like Ichikawa crave to move beyond a cozy established practice. He wants a place among the legends, and begins to produce inspired, affordable pieces like this just to insert himself into the international market.
His story is doubly interesting because we have a truly contemporary phenomenon. In the history of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and the related movements that swept parts the world, it is well known that no small influence came from exposure to the aesthetics and hand made goods of Asia. Especially the opening of Japan, with its cohesive, still alive and kicking artisanal patronage system. Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright juggled debts from his risk-taking infusion of design into structure, by vigorously importing and trading what were then utterly rare and unknown Japanese woodblock prints, making a killing at the markup with an uninformed audience. There’s also the very broad concept of void or blank space in traditional Chinese ink painting, which was the final catalyst (permission) that collapsed centuries of European stagnant reliance on icons and symmetry in art, and was synonymous with the rebellion of youth styles. It is hard to measure the effect new ways of seeing had, in the tangle of new ways of living (major political shifts away from aristocratic governance, the transformation of industry and mass production), but they are tangible and remain intense in our aesthetic memory.
And here we have the long term involution of a now networked culture (again, like the start of the 20th century, for better of worse). Kazuhiko Ichikawa explains his inspirations are Art Deco, Art Noveau, he wants a piece of Rene Lalique’s crown. What a twist, a Japanese artisan working with the permission and creative energy source of a really diverse exchange that his own culture helped introduce! Moving in a complete circle from his own intimate connection with Japanese nature-informed design (he is on his second career after a long stint with greeting cards and stationary) he turns to his jewelry with a flexible, surprisingly youthful style. He employs special metal alloys and techniques unique to japanese metalworking, such as keum boo, shakudo and mokume-gane, retaining in some pieces a clear cultural identity, while departing when he pleases using the classic design elements as his vehicle.
Beyond all this talk of culture, I think it’s evident when looking at the pieces that any artisan who derives joy and freedom from their work delivers the same feeling within their work, for anyone to see. Visit the artist’s shop here: KAZNESQ