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.
Born in 1957 in Tokyo, Nakagawa’s studies were undertaken in Japan before immigrating to New Zealand in 1986, where he still lives on Waiheke Island. 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. Nakagawa has undertaken collaborative projects in the last 15 years, including with fashion designers, poets, composers and film makers; the most significant being Waiheke Library, awarded the Overall Supreme Award + Commercial Architectural Excellence Award in 2015. For this project, the immateriality of his carved calligraphy on glass and concrete, delicately concealed or revealed by the changing play of light, and the immense wave-like timbers that sheath the entire building, was achieved through many months Nakagawa spent ‘perching on the scaffold with chisel and hammer in the rain, sun and wind through winter.’
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 iteration of Sculpture on the Gulf.
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.’