One of the most prolific contemporary artists from Japan, Bikky Sunazawa was a man of great vision. Using traditional art and techniques as a base, he created truly inspirational works. Though primarily working with wood, creating magnificent sculptures, he also produced drawings and paintings of equal caliber. Bikky’s works appear to varying degrees in many places around Hokkaido. The following are just a few selected pieces of his astounding repertoire.
Animal Me (B) (1963) / Courtesy of Bikky Atelier 3Moa
Among the ranks of his earlier works sit the biomorphic shapes of Bikky’s “Animals” series. This series also stands apart as his first foray into abstract sculptures and eventually led to his acceptance into the Modern Art Association of Japan in 1962. “Animal Me (B)” (1963) in the Bikky Atelier 3Moa, at first has the appearance of a tree trunk full of knots, however on closer inspection it begins to take on animalistic forms. While it may appear as something else to others, I kept seeing it as an Elephant. In this sense it serves as a three dimensional “ink blot,” you can see anything in it depending on your angle and interpretation. The texturing on this piece is astounding as well. The smoothly careening lines accentuate the curves and add depth through the play of light and shadow. Standing at roughly four feet it is an intriguing display of skill and technique.
Today at 3:00AM (1987) / Courtesy of Bikky Atelier 3Moa
“Today at 3:00AM” (1987), also at the Bikky Atelier, is a series of wood sculptures created in the guise of fanciful creatures. Standing only about a foot and a half tall with little wing- and tail-like appendages, they really seem like a vision witnessed in the early hours. They are created of a light coloured wood and sanded to smooth perfection. One seems rather petite with smooth curves and a small round ring for a “head”, while the other is bulkier and crowned with “horns”, giving off the feel that one is female and the other male. Both feature articulated joints in the wings and tails as well. It is easy to imagine these little creatures flitting through the air. They really evoke a sense of playfulness and joy.
Each mask-like creation of Bikky’s “Ki-Men” (1975) is different in shape and size and in the feelings it can stir. This is likely due to the method with which he created them. Each mask is formed around the meaning or shape of it’s corresponding “Ki” Kanji. Around 150 of these were eventually created. Some are abstract shapes, others animal-like and still others appearing as odd, even fearful creatures. In the wide selection at the Eco Museum Osashima Center Bikky Atelier 3Moa, there is one that is oblong in shape and has ten protrusions on the face. This one was slightly menacing to me due to my interpretation of those protrusions as mouths. It seemed like a monster from a nightmare. Someone with an understanding of the Kanji it comes from would no doubt interpret it differently. Another mask comes in a circular shape with three prongs on it’s face, two pointing up and one down. Directly opposite the down facing prong a long, thin hole was created. This one seemed to me to carry the shape of the head of a bull and I seemed drawn to it right away. Again though, it is all left up to interpretation. That is part of the beauty of “Ki-Men” and many other Bikky works: the different ways they can be interpreted.
Courtesy of Bikky Atelier 3Moa
In the same place there is one series of insect-like creatures that are astonishing in their realism. Again created entirely of wood, they feature feelers and jointed legs, all articulated. Many of them seem almost like sea creatures, one is even a large prawn (“Ebi”). Included in this series is a set of beautifully crafted Dragonflies (“Tonbo” 1973). Like the rest of the series they feature articulated joints, even in their wings and long, elegant tails. This entire series is created of a dark wood and what appears to be a greenish blue stain for accents, as such it is difficult to believe that they are in fact created from wood. They seem to be made of bronze until you get close enough to see the texture. Anyone with a fear of insects might have a hard time appreciating them for their realism. The Dragonflies are quite impressive in their details, each one has near perfect symmetry in their designs and shapes. This is a truly difficult thing to achieve in wood carving which in itself is testament to Bikky’s skills.
Another of Bikky’s series featured at the Bikky Atelier is “Juka” (1983). These are “flowers” of many shapes and sizes. They are made of a thick base into which two long sticks are inserted, this comprises the “stalk”. Shaved willow branches are then placed on top every which way to create the “petals”. Though diverse in their sizes they do have similarities in that they have the appearance of white fireworks frozen in the middle of the burst. They seem so natural that it is hard to believe they were manmade.
Four Seasons (1988)
One rather intriguing set is “Four Seasons” (1988). They are compromised of a sphere sitting atop a round base. From the sphere a single “tentacle” extends. The tentacles also bear articulated joints. They seem almost an extension of Bikky’s “Nitsune Kamuy” in the type of wood used and the design of the spheres. They are curious creations, most certainly, but also very eye catching.
Kangaerun Dobutsu no Jigen (1955)
One of his few non-sculpture works is “Kangaerun Dobutsu no Jigen” (1955). This early painting has some similarities to traditional Native American paintings, though still retains that distinct “Bikky Flair.” It’s a powerful, eye catching piece in bold, firey colours. Another abstract work, people are free to interpret in any way they choose. As a personal opinion it seems that there is a battle taking place. Perhaps simply the battle of life. Once again though, it is all left up to interpretation.
With all of Bikky’s works there is always a “life” to them. Anyone can carve wood into a shape, though few can make that shape come alive.
Throughout the years, his skills and techniques improved, but one thing remained the same, and that was the care and appreciation for the art. Maybe it’s that feeling that he passed on to his pieces that endows them with life of their own. Even an abstract piece with nothing even resembling a face can seem alive before you, as though it breathes the same air as you. Perhaps that is the sign of someone who has truly mastered their art.
Eco Museum Osashime Center, BIKKY Atelier 3moa
Address: 55 Aza Monomanai, Otoineppu, Hokkaido
Text and photos: Jacqueline Ste-Croix