Spirituality over Corporeality; Recent sculptures by Takashi Yukawa

Pygmalion, a legendary figure in the Greek mythology, is a sculptor who carved a woman out of marble, an image of his perfect woman. Not interested in women, he falls in love with the statue he has made. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, takes pity on him and breathes life into the statue, which is transformed into a beautiful woman, Galatea. The Pygmalion story has been widely transmitted and represented in the arts through the centuries. This story was later told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and became a major influence on the imagination of artists in the Renaissance period. At the end of the nineteenth century, Jean-Leon Gerome, a notable French painter and sculptor, painted Pygmalion and Galatea based on Ovid’s poetry. It was also the basis of a major feature film, My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn.

In the Roman period which was under significant influence of the Greek culture, the spiritus, meaning breath in Latin, was regarded to represent life and spirit existing in corporeal matter, namely the body. An act of deities blowing breath into matter was regarded conceptually identical to transferring part of their divine life to it, or even considered that the deities endowed the matter with divine characteristics. The same notion was applied to art and people in those days believed that ordinary arts and crafts could rise to a higher level of art once the spiritus was blown into them. The English term, inspiration, was derived from the Latin ‘in-spiritus’, literally conveying the meaning of getting divine sensation, or spirituality.

It’s not that I introduced the Pygmalion story to bring up a stereotype notion, like,
“If a man desires to have a woman under his thumb, the only way is to raise one by himself.” Anything but. What I’d like to stress here is that techniques alone are not enough to attain the intrinsic value of art. The late French sculptor, Antoine Bourdell once captioned his work of the fight between Minotaur and Centaur, by adopting the phrase of “Corporeality subject to spirituality.” He is one of the many who have affirmed the notion that art and artistic spirituality come first and foremost before the corporeal matter. Still a form corporeally exists as a form, and so does marble. Then how about sculpturing forms? How does the spiritus manifest itself in them?

Of course I’m not trying to send the readers deep into a labyrinth where answers were not to be found easily. I admit that my introduction got a bit lengthy, but I was just preparing for making a point that the conventional criteria set for sculptures might not be appropriate to appreciate the works by Takashi Yukawa.

Ever since his return from Italy, his works have revealed more and more spiritual aspects, getting less and less corporeal. We don’t find an inert object in his sculpture; instead it has a feel of throbbing life. It seems as if something spiritual were breathing freely in the air around his work. We get the feel from a subtly rounded line like a cut in a tree, or from a facial motif where all excesses are discarded and yet undoubtedly softness remains. We get the same sensation from a bodily form which has a feel of human skin, and even from a finger touch on terra cotta. It appears that he tries to breathe life into every single detail of his works. This reminds me of the remarks by Leonardo da Vinci stating to the effect that every small part of an object retains its wholeness within itself. And I’m quite certain that, whether it was intentional or not, this artistic orientation of Yukawa’s has led to an approach of using a lot more natural materials like trees and terra cotta. As a matter of fact, this tendency has become more obvious since he adopted this approach of adding trees to terra cotta.

When it comes to the two-way nature of the matter, a conflicting aspect usually stands out, like corporeal and spiritual. However, Yukawa’s works give us an impression that he instinctively desires to conflate two integral parts of the matter into a whole unification, transcending all sorts of confliction; as you see in the cases of Adam and Eve, or Yama and Yumi, taken samples from the ancient times. Over the past several years I’ve come to believe that the most important theme for this sculptor is to bring pulse of life, or spirituality into being in a subtle harmonious setting. This sentiment could be the very sentiment, sublime but ubiquitous, that the Japanese have hesitated to openly boast about but cherished nonetheless. I truly hope that his impassioned sentiment will be transferred to the audience in Korea.
Yoshiharu Sasaki
Curator in Iwaki City Art Museum
Jan, 2008.