Sculptor based in U.S. bags Hirakushi award

by Toshiki Makino

Kyodo

California-based sculptor Minoru Ohira has received this year’s Denchu Hirakushi Award for his works employing materials such as construction waste and dead branches.

Ohira is the first artist residing outside Japan to win the prestigious award, which was established in 1971 with funds donated by Denchu Hirakushi, an influential artist who continued to create sculptures until he died in 1979 at the age of 107.

“Don’t you think it’s wonderful to see things that were once disposed of and dead recover as art?” Ohira said in an interview when he was in Japan recently.

He was referring to art created by indigenous people in Mexico using waste materials and spare cloth.

After obtaining a master’s degree in art education at Tokyo University of the Arts, Ohira went to Mexico at the age of 28 to study there.

Three years later, he moved to Los Angeles to concentrate on creative activities.

He can basically work anywhere, though, because “material costs are almost nothing and the only tools are my fingers,” he said.

One art critic said Ohira’s work must “finds its roots in the image of thatched roofs in the village of Kurokawa in Niigata Prefecture where he was born and grew up.”

Ohira said after receiving the award that he was reminded of a phrase used by Denchu Hirakushi in a book: “Men in their 60s and 70s are still runny-nosed kids and a real man should be 100 years or older.”

“I believe I’ve just reached the starting point as a sculptor,” Ohira said. “I’m not sure if I can make it to 100, but I always try to stay healthy.”

His works are exhibited or housed in museums and facilities across Japan, including Niigata City Art Museum, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo and Asahikawa Museum of Art in Hokkaido, as well as abroad in Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico and Australia in addition to various U.S. states.

In 2009, Ohira received the Teijiro Nakahara Award for sculptures by Japanese artists.