19 Nov. 2014

Exotropia: Drawings by Funakoshi Katsura / HOSHINO Futoshi

Funakoshi Katsura (1951–), one of Japan’s most distinguished contemporary sculptors, has worked continuously in both drawing and sculpture. Among his recent solo exhibitions, Summer Villa: The Works of Katsura Funakoshi in Art Deco Space (Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, 2008) was noteworthy for showing his rich drawings in addition to his sculptures. The exhibition was exceptional because—as the subtitle makes explicit—it revealed the harmony between his sculptures and drawings in an art deco setting [*1]. Moreover, it was exceptional in that it helped us fully understand the importance of drawing in Funakoshi’s work.

In his most recent solo exhibition (Ando Gallery, April 1 to June 28, 2014), Funakoshi showed eleven drawings, all of which had been made a few months prior. It is surprising that a well-known sculptor would mount a solo exhibition comprised only of drawings. Also surprising is that the works were drawn using only black and white pencils; this creates an impression that differs somewhat from his past drawings, which had been done with crayons or watercolors.

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to evaluate an artist’s drawings. First, a drawing can be viewed as an initial step in the artistic process—that is, it functions as a plan or prototype for another work to be completed later. In this sense, the drawing is simply a trial piece that is essentially subordinate to the finished work. The second approach is to regard a drawing as a “work” in itself. While it is true that drawings are often made to help the artist complete another work, some can possess qualities that make them independent. In that sense, drawings are not reducible to being viewed as mere trial pieces. These two aspects—drawing as prototype and drawing as standalone work—are always present in any drawing; that said, they are not distinguished from each other a priori but according to the artist’s intent or the context of exhibition.

These two aspects are evident in Funakoshi’s drawings. On the one hand, it is clear that the drawings were made to facilitate final products (i.e., sculptures). It is well known that Funakoshi prepares a lot of notes and drawings before working on a sculpture. He has noted that drawing is an indispensable tool for capturing an emerging image that will eventually become a sculpture. For the artist, then, the drawing would seem to be little more than a secondary product in relation to the sculpture [*2]. On the other hand, the drawing is not necessarily such a product; if it were, there would be no reason for him to keep and exhibit the drawings. The fact that Funakoshi has—like many other artists—shown his drawings with or without sculptures suggests they may be regarded as “works” independent of the sculptures.

Nevertheless, because of the distinguished status of sculpture, Funakoshi’s drawings have been viewed as secondary works (i.e., provisional steps toward creating sculptures). As a result, the singularity of his drawings has long been ignored (we might say the same about his gravures) [*3]. For this reason, I focus here on the drawings alone and then elucidate their importance to his work.

In the recent exhibition at Ando Gallery, Funakoshi presented eleven drawings, all of which are drawn on paper sized roughly 90 cm by 100 cm. One is reminded of the elements that characterize his sculptures—the unforgettable gazes, long necks, and strange proportions. For those who have seen the sculptures before, the drawings produce a kind of anachronic moment. This is the result of experiencing the drawings after having viewed the sculptures. Even if one views a drawing with genealogical interest, it appears with preset effects caused by the sculpture. In other words, though the drawings were made before the sculptures, they always already appear with the imprint of the sculptures.

It might well be inevitable, therefore, that audiences will view Funakoshi’s drawings as secondary works, comparing them with his sculptures. As long as he is a sculptor, we will always situate his gravures and drawings in the margins of his corpus. Nevertheless, I suggest that we can find a critical point in his recent drawings; by critical point I mean a trait that is not subordinate to the sculptures but instead offers a new perspective for understanding the work.

One of the most distinguished characteristics of Funakoshi’s sculpture is the eyes. They are the only parts not made of wood, which has been the case since he started making sculptures in the early 1980s. While Funakoshi’s sculptures have other salient features, the eyes are by far the most impressive.

Indeed, it is the eyes that I consider the critical point in Funakoshi’s drawings. In the sculptures, the eyes are always made of marble, but obviously such a material distinction does not exist in drawing. As such, the eyes in the drawings have a totally different quality from those in the sculptures. One might say this aspect highlights the superiority of the sculptures, but it is important, I argue, to recognize that the drawings have their own original qualities. While one perspective sees the drawing as simply a blueprint, another views it as a medium that engenders an original figure not represented by the sculpture.

The latter perspective becomes important when viewing these recent drawings. In these works, there is another pair of eyes just above the “normal” eyes. This feature first appeared in Funakoshi’s latest sculptural work Curious Forest (2014) [*4]. The strange upper eyes in this sculpture are not made of marble but drawn by pencil. In other words, the two pairs of eyes are materially distinguished from each other [*5]. In the drawing, however, they are not materially distinguished. As such, it might be difficult to tell which style is more radical in terms of visualizing such a monstrous figure.

Since the 1990s, Funakoshi has been creating strange figures called “monsters.” For example, The Moon Sleeps on the Shoulder (1996) depicts a figure with another face on the back of its head. The figure in A Lunar Eclipse on the Water (2003) has arms extending from its shoulder. Moreover, the sphinx series—including The Sphinx Sees War (2005) and The Sphinx Floats in Forest (2006)—has become increasingly important in his sculptural works. Nevertheless, Funakoshi emphasizes the continuity between the realistic sculptures of the 1980s and the monstrous ones of the 1990s and beyond. He has noted in several interviews that this continuity is rooted in the fact that all the sculptures are born from the drawings [*6].

Contrary to the traditional notion that a drawing is merely a trial piece, it is the drawing that orients the emerging image and sometimes deviates from the conventional form. To draw is to make something explicitly present. For Funakoshi, the figure of the sphinx appeared through making numerous drawings, which sometimes extended beyond the artist’s original intentions.

This brings us back to our starting point. If we view drawings as just prototypes, they will always be secondary products in the creational process. Funakoshi’s work, however, allows us to recognize the virtue of drawing, which makes it possible to orient and retain the emerging image at a certain stage of creation. What is important is that, in the sculpture, certain aspects of the emergent image will be lost. For example, the four eyes in Curious Forest are divided into pairs of “normal” and “abnormal” eyes. However, they are not differentiated in the drawing. Compared with the sculpture, the drawing presents a more radical expression of the monstrous figure as it finely expresses the moment these strange eyes appear.

Another aspect worth mentioning is the intrusion of drawing into sculpture. As noted above, the marble eyes have been the most important feature of Funakoshi’s work since the 1980s. Therefore, the practice of drawing a second pair of eyes above the marble ones seems a noteworthy development. While a shift from ordinary figures to monstrous ones has been realized in the domain of sculpture, the invasion of drawing into sculpture is a totally different shift. In this case, drawing is no longer a medium that precedes sculptural work; rather, it encroaches upon it. This reveals a radical change in Funakoshi’s style as a sculptor.

As the medium that gives birth to and deviates from the human figure, it is drawing that leads Funakoshi to create his sculptures. In an ongoing process, the drawings lead Funakoshi to his sculptures, and having made them, he then goes back to create drawings for new figures. Drawing always takes him outside of conventional creation. When viewing the sculptures, we face calm and silent figures; behind the appearance, however, there is a strong attitude that moves between drawing and sculpture, seeking a new image for the figures. That such movement is hidden behind a calm and silent appearance might remind us of the figures’ eyes, for they always deviate outward. Such a condition of the eyes is called exotropia; etymologically, it means “to move out to the outside (or exit).” Funakoshi often refers to exotropia in his figures; he prefers such eyes since the figures seem to look at something far away as well as something inside them. Metaphorically speaking, just as the figures’ gazes turn outward, Funakoshi has always tried to move beyond previous works and conventional methods through his incessant creation.

*1. See Summer Villa: The Works of Katsura Funakoshi in Art Deco Space, Tokyo: Kyuryudo, 2008. This book includes photographer Imai Tomoki’s pictures of the sculptures, drawings, and spaces. As such, it is a new edition that is different from the exhibition catalogue.

*2. Regarding Funakoshi’s notes, fragments can be seen in his book All Individuals are Endangered Species, Tokyo: Shueisha, 2011. Regarding the drawings, for example, see the interview by Ando Koichi in Katsura Funakoshi: Prints 1987–2002, Kyoto: Seigensha, 2003, p. 135. I myself interviewed the artist in July 2014. He said his main reason for making several drawings is that he always uses wood. Unlike bronze or marble, it is difficult to remodel a wooden sculpture once the creation process begins. Therefore, it is necessary for him to prepare a lot of drawings before he starts to curve the wood.

*3. Regarding the gravures and other printed works, however, there are important surveys in catalogues such as Katsura Funakoshi: Prints 1987–2002, op. cit. and Summer Villa: The Works of Katsura Funakoshi in Art Deco Space (Exhibition Catalogue), Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, 2008.

*4. In my July 2014 interview, Funakoshi said he had drawn figures with multiple eyes in the past. However, this seemed to be his first time exhibiting human figures that explicitly have four eyes.

*5. In my July 2014 interview, he said there is a practical reason for this choice: putting four marble eyes inside the head of wooden sculpture can cause it to break.

*6. See “Interview with Funakoshi Katsura” in Alternative Humanities: Jan Fabre and Katsura Funakoshi, Kyoto: Tankosha, 2010, p. 117.