An interview with Shota Suzuki – Spectacular metalworker of Life-like Jewellery

By Mike Sullivan

Please introduce yourself and your background. Can you also tell us about your studies at the Tohoku University of Art and Design?

My name is Shota Suzuki. I started my kind of crafts after I had studied about metal at university. At the Tohoku University of Art and Design, if you study metal then normally the curriculum includes the challenges of engraving, hammering, and metal-casting.

In order to study hammering the students have to take a class in forging and in making copper pots. To learn engraving we had to use a chisel to hammer and carve jewellery, and to learn casting we used aluminum and bronze sand casting.

For four years I learnt about the processing technology of using metal.

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Please tell us about your current work.

Currently my main activities are in making products on request, and making pieces of work for exhibitions. These are primarily jewellery.

How did the Shota Suzuki brand start?

Actually someone came to see the work of final graduates like myself, and he asked me about exhibiting. I guess that was the start of my career as craftsman/artist.

Later I made my website and people who saw about my exhibition there actually came!

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Can you explain a bit about Japanese metal techniques?

In the sphere of chasing or metal carving, We repoussed, carved and inlaid by using a chisel (鏨=Tagane) and a chasing hammer (オタフク槌=Otafuku Tsuchi).

Shota Suzuki chisel and hammar

Moreover, we have a traditional chromogenic method which is known as “煮色 Niiro (Patination).” This technique is unique to Japan and it creates a wide variety of colours in the metalsmithing industry which typically only have a few types of colour.

It is all about the chemical reaction, simply by soaking the metal in Japanese Daikon radish juice after polishing, and defatted the metal surface as well as using immersion in a boiling chemical bath. These techniques create a chemical reaction on the surface of metal, it makes a rich colour and depending on how long the metal is boiled it will bring a wide variety of colors. In addition, the colour development differs according to the type of metal. Copper will bring a red colour, gold brings forth a yellow colour, silver provides a white colour, shakudo (an alloy of gold and copper) is good for a black colour and shibuichi (an alloy of silver and copper) will bring out a gray colour. We can change the mixture ratio of metal to make a wide variety of colours and we call these metals irogane (色金) in Japanese.

Where do your ideas for your work come from? Where do you find the inspiration for your designs?

I find inspiration from natural scenery. For example, a flower on the road, leaves in the wind, falling blossoms and a wake of a drop at it hits a puddle. I get inspiration from those perfect ordinary sceneries when I walk the roadside or mountain pass. I give consideration to beautiful scenery or moments that people can easily overlook.

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How long does it take to design and make a particular work? Can you give a short summary of the processes that go into each one?

It depends. some don’t take too long to make and some can take many days. I always try to move my hands and play with materials to embody or shape my mind.  The production period also depends on how difficult it is. An easy piece of work will take a few hours, but others can take up to three weeks to make.

For my process, I begin with going out and searching my motif for the next piece of work from plants or greens and I dream up ideas. After that I observe a plant that I had picked out and go into production. I normally don’t start with casting, I start from raw metal. I cut out a plate and begin making a shape, although sometimes I make a silver ingot to make a plate.

What is your most popular item?

My most popular items tend to be rings or other pieces of work which incorporate the motif of the wild chrysanthemum.

Those people who purchase this kind of work have left me with the impression that they were ‘willing to use these products gently’ and that made me very happy.

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For someone who wishes to take up this kind of career, what kind of advice would you give them?

I think that whatever you do in life it is really important to enjoy doing it. There are many kinds of work which are easy to get depressed about, but if you concentrate on enjoying it, even just a little, then you can work harder.

That can give you a good influence, and more doors will open for you that way.

To what extent do you draw upon your Japanese heritage for your work?

Vegetation sprouts, and flowers bloom, and then it all withers away and returns to the soil. I believe that natural beauty is present in every stage of natural life.

I feel that this kind of aesthetic is very Japanese, and also that it is not an ornate thing. I think that even the unspectacular rustic wild grass is a Japanese motif.

What do traditional Japanese crafts mean to you?

They are part of a deeply interesting world.

Do you have any exhibitions or events coming up?

From the 2nd of August my work can be seen in Edinburgh! The details are below.

[JAPANNED! – The decorative influence of Japan]
2 Aug – 2 Sep
Gallery TEN, Edinburgh, UK
http://galleryten.co.uk/

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Finally, any last words for anyone interested in Japanese crafts?

Japanese crafts are made up of two things, techniques and aesthetics.

Both are deep concepts, and you can enjoy crafts from the perspective of both of them.

Shota Suzuki’s website can be found here:

http://shotasuzuki-e.jimdo.com/

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