Isamu Noguchi was a prolific sculptor also known for his interior designs, outdoor gardens, and set designs. He travelled frequently between Japan and the United States, creating a distinct style composed of oriental and surrealist influences. This gave his works a sense of mystery, beauty, and imagination. For more about Noguchi, here are the following facts:
1. He was born to a Japanese father and American mother.
- His father was a poet and authority on art while his mother was a writer. They met when Noguchi’s father hired his mother to assist him with his English.
- Noguchi began using his father’s name instead of his mother’s when he decided to pursue art full time.
2. His talent in sculpting was disputed.
- Gutzon Borglum, his first teacher and the man who carved the faces on Mount Rushmore, said Noguchi had no talent as a sculptor.
- He was nicknamed the “new Michelangelo” by the school’s director when he attended Leonardo da Vinci Art School.
3. He had a close relationship with the materials he worked with.
- His mentor taught him “respect for tools and materials”. This is clearly seen in some of his works where the textures of stone and wood, his favorite materials, were dramatized.
- He also made direct carvings in wood and stone, citing that his contact with original materials connected him to the earth. This liberated him from a dependence on manufactured products and the artificiality of the present.
4. His works were a study in dichotomies.
- His sculptures called attention to an interplay of positive and negative spaces, as well combinations of organic and geometric forms.
- One of his important works, “The Well (Variation on a Tskubal),” presents a balance of traditional Japanese stonework and modernity. It combines the solidity of black stone with the fluidity of transparent water.
5. His early sculptures reflected his concerns in social issues.
- He created a 72-foot-long cement mural chronicling the history of Mexico.
- He was commissioned to produce the stainless steel sculpture at the entrance of the Associated Press Building. It symbolized the freedom of the press and brought his name to the world stage.
6. He was a political activist during World War II.
- After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he formed the Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy. Their aim was to raise awareness of the patriotism of Japanese-Americans living in the United States.
- In an endeavor to design a better environment for his fellow Japanese, he voluntarily lived at an Arizona internment camp for seven months.
7. He believed art served its purpose when used in social spaces.
- His furniture designs, such as akari light sculptures and a glass-topped table, are still popular and mass produced today.
- He joined post-war construction projects dedicated to public spaces, from gardens to fountains and plazas to playgrounds. His last work was “Slide Mantra,” a spiralling marble sculpture where visitors could climb steps and slide down.
Through bridging the East and West, Isamu Noguchi has become one of the most successful artists of his time. His works have appealed to people from all over the world and are found not only in public areas and museums, but also inside homes.
What do you think of Isamu’s works in the public space? Which one is your favorite?