Noted for the creation of enigmatic worlds in miniature – in a variety of materials – while also for imbuing large-scale projects with an almost mystical presence, Kazu Nakagawa confounds ‘labeling’. Critics writing about his artworks address ‘absence’; ‘matter and nothingness’; ‘ambiguously elegiac’; ‘materiality becomes an imprecise notion’. The ‘reality’ is that Nakagawa’s works embrace and conform to, if such a thing is possible, the Japanese concept of ‘ma’ – the space between, the distance between, the room between or around things.
Having exhibited extensively, survey exhibitions of Nakagawa’s work have been held at Te Tuhi and The Dowse Art Museum. His work is represented in the Collections of The Dowse Art Museum and Christchurch Art Gallery, and in numerous private collections in Australia, UK, USA, New Zealand and the New Zealand Embassy in Japan.
Growing up in Tokyo, Nakagawa ‘felt’ his way towards art-making, much as he made the transition from Japan to New Zealand by container ship, so he could ‘feel the distance’ of the journey. Having studied Mathematics, Language, Engineering and Navigation in Tokyo, he then worked as a product designer for windsurfing manufacture in Tokyo and was later apprenticed for furniture making and graphic design as his focus shifted towards the arts. Nakagawa’s emigration to New Zealand in 1986 was followed with further development in furniture/design in Auckland and a move to Waiheke Island in 1988, where he still lives and works.
Nakagawa’s art practice is informed by his fundamental philosophical positions. His materiality (or often, seeming immateriality) is determined by the conceptual underpinning of each work – he will employ as required: wood, metal, concrete, canvas, paint, graphite, paper, fabric – as well as more evanescent materials, shade and sound; the project ændǽnti (to go slowly) created a long-duration mass performative/participatory piece, engaging shade/shelter by way of transiently borrowed custom-made umbrellas, snaking around the coastline of Waiheke Island in the 2011 headlandSculptureOnTheGulf; a recent work addressing notions of identity generated (approximately) 108,000 of his own thumbprints in acrylic paint on twenty 3-metre-lengths of cotton; the immateriality of his carved calligraphy on the Waiheke Library, delicately concealed or revealed by the changing play of light, was achieved through many months ‘perching on the scaffold with chisel and hammer in the rain, sun and wind through winter.’
While Nakagawa’s work is often described as minimalist, or rooted in architecture and its precepts, the artist’s own words belie these ready classifications: ‘I fall into another half [of my brain] which always makes things blur, so boundaries have less meaning. An architecture becomes a piece of paper or a piece of paper becomes an architecture. Several months of carving becomes a ‘blink’ of brush stroke. A moment becomes endless. It is actually a process of simplifying what I see, and in this way it is utterly incommunicable unless putting in an art form.’