Katsura Funakoshi

I'm interested in human existence, a statement concerning humanity. The material I use—wood for sculpture, paper for the drawings, and charcoal or pencil—is important, it influences the result. I am seeking the perfect tension or moment between the material and the image.

Katsura Funakoshi takes inspiration for his contemporary sculpture from Japanese temple portrait sculptures of the Kamakura period (1185–1333). Describing one of Funakoshi’s figurative works in Art in America in 1995, Robert Tatlin personified the image: “She seems to exist simultaneously in time and out of time, creating a real presence that is here with us, and yet somewhere else entirely.” It is striking that art writers, when they write about Funakoshi, frequently refer to single works as though they were individuals, rather than addressing the body of work as a whole. This is probably because they are such convincing individuals. In the New York Times in 1990, Michael Brenson wrote: “Like the other figures in this show, he seems entirely Japanese, capable of being anything he wants to be—yet what is he and what world does he ultimately belong to? In most of the figures, the wood is cracking, so the people seem to have fault lines through them. Knots within the wood punctuate the figures in unexpected places. The figures may have been born of nature, but they are now at odds with it. Some very important key has been lost.” Funakoshi told Constance Lewallen, in a 1990 interview, that he creates his figures by looking for tension. “I’m interested in human existence, a statement concerning humanity. The material I use is important. I am seeking the perfect tension or moment between the material and the image.”

Katsura Funakoshi was born in Morioka City, Iwate, Japan, in 1951. He grew up spending many hours in the sculpture studio of his father, Yasutake Funakoshi, who is well known in Japan for his work in stone and bronze. Funakoshi did not find either stone or bronze sympathetic, but took to carving wood. He earned a BA in 1975 from the Tokyo University of Art and Design and an MA from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1977.

Funakoshi had his first solo show in 1982 at Gallery Okabe in Tokyo, Japan. In 1986 he won a scholarship to live and work in London for a year. He has said that he identifies more with English figurative painters like Lucien Freud and David Hockney than with Japanese sculptors, so the trip was important for him. In 1994 he joined Annely Juda Fine Art in London. In 1998 Funakoshi represented Japan in the Venice Biennale, and in 1989 he represented his country in the Sao Paulo Biennial. Crown Point Press published etching projects with him in 1990, 1993, and 1998. In 1993 he had a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, Japan, and in 1997 was honored with the eighteenth Hirakushi Denchu Prize. A 2019 solo show, Katsura
Funakoshi: A Tower in the Night Forest was the artist’s first show in the U.S. in more than a decade. His work is in many public collections including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum Wiesbaden, Germany, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Katsura Funakoshi lives and works in Tokyo. He is represented by Annely Juda Fine Art, London, and Nishimura Gallery, Tokyo.

-Kim Bennett, Crown Point Press

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