Skull artist Kazumichi Maruoka invited me to Aoyama cemetery for his latest “Antideath” exhibition, and after walking past thousands of graves on the way to the gallery which itself is flanked only by gravestone carvers, the scene was set for a suitably macabre showing. On entry the man himself invited me to spend a minute or two in the darkness of a Japanese coffin to get myself in the mood for his work, and suitably cleansed I emerged to find a exhibition that combined traditional Japanese flower arranging with vertebrae, references to urushi lacquer on skulls, and even the artist’s own gravestone.
His work doesn’t try too hard to hammer home any themes of transience or go down the bad-taste route that most people do with skulls. Rather it is a simple appreciation of the macabre, and it is all the better for not trying to hammer home any particular point. What these pictures won’t communicate is how important ceremony is in his work, obviously the funeral ceremony is his primary muse, but he also references the aforementioned ikebana and tea-ceremony through tea-pots, cups, bowls and plates made from jaw bones. Like the neon shrine gate that you have to walk past to enter his exhibition, it all beckons you into the artists world, and if you have an affinity for the darker side of art you will find yourself very much at home.
Maruoka’s own gravestone, with incorporated skull vase that looks like it is balanced precariously on top, as if it could fall at any moment.
The Japanese coffin…
The standard of the flower arranging was also first-rate, even with my cursory knowledge, I can recognise funeral arrangements.
The gate that greets you as you enter and leave the exhibition.
This is a collaboration piece using real shredded dollar bills – I am all about simplicity, but these pieces are particularly collectible in the Japanese art world.
More collaboration pieces…
which were stunning throughout.
Sake bottles, with skull stoppers and even cups to match. These are all ceramic, and every single one hand-crafted and unique.
These skulls are a reference to Ed Gein, the notorious body snatcher who fashioned bowls from skulls.
If you want to see more from this fantastic artist, then you will want his official site here. In the past he has also fashioned leather jackets, and shoes hand-painted with his imagery that turn up occasionally in Cannabis in Harajuku, but they always are snapped up very quickly. As was, I might add, the majority of the above – there were only one or two items left on the 2nd day of the exhibition that hadn’t been reserved.