Life, Work, Masterpieces
English  日本語
Published in 2003 as a special topic in Hanga Geijutsu, vol. 119
‘Pascal’s Reed’ by Matsuyama Tatsuo

All artists who live abroad for an extended period of time eventually encounter two questions, namely "Who am I?" and "Where am I from?" Intriguingly, these same questions of identity and nationality have also preoccupied the modern Japanese art world.
For instance, if an artist wishes to live in a city such as Paris, which is a crucible for artists of all sorts, they must address the question of what it is that they want to express. If an artist does not manage to find an original means of expression that is unique to them, they will be branded a failure. Furthermore, if nobody wants to listen to what that artist has to say or to buy that artist's work, they will also be judged a failure.
From this perspective, unless the artist is from a rich and supportive family, the very fact that they have survived for a long time in a city such as Paris is a mark of some success. Although this reasoning may sound simplistic, it is based on the fact that surviving as an artist in Paris, a great artistic capital, necessarily means surviving under harsh conditions.
In 1971, at the age of 35, Toru Iwaya decided to establish himself as an artist and moved from Japan to Paris, accompanied by his wife. Considering his age, the decision was a courageous one. Furthermore, he had never attended art school and was a self-taught artist who had spent his entire working life up to that time as a company employee. But he was determined to pursue his dream and so he and his wife, who was also an artist, quit their jobs and departed for Paris. It was this dedication that made Toru Iwaya a true artist.
Please excuse me for injecting my own thoughts at this point, but I find it more inspiring to recount his thirty years in Paris than to discuss printmaking. It is in his life that I find the true essence of an artist.

Surprisingly enough, the couple never moved home even once during their thirty years in Paris! They initially stayed in a hotel until they found an apartment in an old 17th-century building in the heart of Le Marais. There was a communal toilet and no shower. They lived largely off of a mixture of boiled Thai rice and French barley that they cooked themselves.
Of course, there may have been practical reasons why they maintained a modest lifestyle. But I think they also did so by choice and based on their beliefs. Iwaya also refrained from frequenting other Japanese artists. He had no time to waste. His life revolved totally around his work.
During his third year in Paris, he signed a contract with a gallery. Unlike in the Japanese art world, belonging to a recognized group, holding a professorship, or winning prizes bring no guarantee of success in Europe. The measure of an artist rests on whether or not they can obtain the representation of a gallery that will sell their works.
"If you don’t find a gallery within three years, it means that you can work for decades longer and still not gain recognition. That’s Paris," according to Yozo Hamaguchi whom Iwaya would come to consider as his mentor. That comment made a strong impact on him. Hamaguchi never taught him printmaking or artistic techniques. Those are skills one has to acquire oneself if one wants to survive as an artist.
Back when he was still living in Japan, Iwaya had begun making copper art prints, a craft he taught himself, in addition to producing oil paintings. In Paris, he attended Atelier 17 (the studio of W. S.Hayter) for half a year although I suspect this was primarily so that he could put it on his resumé. This was probably enough time for him to learn the techniques of Hayter, although throughout his career, Iwaya has always been an independent artist who has adhered firmly to his own style.

Many of his mezzotint works from that early period in Paris draw on surrealistic motifs from de Chirico or Magritte and incorporate figures such as clowns or Noh masks. It is common knowledge that it is long, painstaking work to prepare the copper plates for mezzotints. Moreover, colored mezzotints require several plates and take even longer to produce. One wonders why Iwaya took up such a difficult medium.
One reason is that mezzotint was not widely practiced in France at that time so it was a better way for an unknown artist to gain recognition. But what did he want to express through mezzotint? In short, it was all about "space"—the symbolic space that exists in "blackness" that mezzotint alone can depict.
Motifs such as surrealist images or clowns have a considerable appeal among Westerners. It might seem too obvious to place autumn leaves, forest motifs, or symbolic patterns in the background of a floating Noh mask. It would, however, be placing too much reliance on Japonism to use traditional Zen or Yugen motifs. Hence, Iwaya attempts to evoke Japan in terms that are familiar to Westerners.
If Iwaya had worked in a Japanese environment, his style might well have been quite different. If we look at the flip side of the ambiguity of identity, the ambiguity of human relationships, and the ambiguity of nature and society, perhaps we will uncover the true character of the ambiguous "space" that surrounds Japan.
Now for the second question: how does one negotiate the issue of nationality in a place like Paris that is not in one’s home country? In fact, many artists might be said to have addressed this question already given the large numbers of international artists who have gravitated toward the Paris art world.
I imagine that Iwaya kept thinking about Japan and his fellow countrymen during those thirty years in Paris. Otherwise, why would he have chosen to live a monkish existence for so long a time? Of course, I am referring to a certain idea of "Japan" and not necessarily to the reality of modern Japan. The concepts of an ideal Japan and ideal Japanese people can emerge in the minds of those Japanese who have lived abroad for many years.
In 1985, Iwaya encountered an unanticipated personal predicament when he was diagnosed with renal insufficiency, which forced him to face the difficult challenges of dialysis and eventually a kidney transplant. Since receiving this diagnosis, he has continued to work while coping with the limitations imposed by the disease, and the "space" in his work has changed accordingly.

As motifs disappeared one by one from his work, they gave way to a greater and greater space of quiet meditation. There is something appealing behind their barren appearance. A certain strength emerges out of their subdued quality. These images speak without words, and the viewer becomes overwhelmed by the vision they present. It is no longer important whether the vision is Japanese or not. What is important is that this is the stage that Iwaya’s work has attained.
For thirty years, Iwaya has not changed his fundamental technique of roughing the plate with a berceau. Nowadays many printmakers perform rough etching by means of mechanical tools that save time in the process of preparing the plate. For Iwaya, saving time is not so important. His preparation time is also embedded in the finished work.
Two and a half years ago, Iwaya and his wife finally decided to return to Japan where they settled in their hometown of Koriyama City in Fukushima Prefecture. Iwaya is now busy at work in Japan. Last autumn, he participated as one of five artists invited to an exhibition of modern Japanese printmaking in Washington, D.C. where he gave a lecture on mezzotint. He will be holding a solo exhibition at Kabuto-ya Gallery in Ginza this year.
From his home in Japan, he can now spend time thinking about the West and the world. Despite his chronic disease, he continues to draw strength from his thirty years in Paris.
Blaise Pascal, who also lived with chronic physical disease, left this famous observation: "Man is but a reed, the weakest thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed." Even a humble being can incorporate the world into his thoughts. Art, too, is a means by which Toru Iwaya has been striving to reflect his thoughts.