In a relatively short period of time, Japanese artist HAROSHI has earned worldwide respectability for his beautiful 3D wooden sculptures. Based off of broken skateboard decks, he’s managed to breath new life into something that was most likely destined for the trash bin. Counting much of his creativity thanks to a background in skateboarding, he embodies the vision and mentality that has produced so many talented skateboarding artists. Among the pieces that will inevitably stick in the minds of many was his Nike SB Dunk sculpture. Not only was it mind-numbingly accurate, it was further enhanced by the fact that the decks used were all taken from respective Nike SB riders.
In this interview, HAROSHI’s strong belief in the special vision instilled by skateboarding becomes an overarching theme to his work. It’s been approximately ten years since HAROSHI’s first sculpture, however as the world catches wind and his opportunities expand, we look forward to seeing what the relatively secretive artist has in store.
Interview: Eugene Kan
Photography: Simon van Wijk
Interview with HAROSHI
What’s your background in art?
I have never learned specifically about art. I’ve been just skateboarding. I think every skateboarder has similar creative experiences. If there are tricks that are hard to pull off, eventually you can land them after practicing a lot and not giving up. I learned a lot from skateboarding, but most importantly, it was the whole mentality of “Do It Yourself”… and of course I definitely don’t forget the humor and fun behind it all.
When did you make your first sculpture?
I made my first wooden sculpture about ten years ago. But at the time, I didn’t really call it artwork.
How did skateboarding inspire your artistic process?
When I started skating, I was happy to see a whole new world that was visible only to skateboarders. It might have been just a simple wall with a weird angle or a normal pair of stairs, but to skateboarders we always viewed it differently. It’s something you never really ignore and with that in mind I always looked at things from a different perspective and angle. It’s become something I’ve actively tried to do when putting my own mark on my work.
Do you have any particular goals behind the artwork you create? It feels like you’re creating beauty out of destruction.
I don’t set any goals specifically but there are often underlying themes and motives that I try to incorporate into my design. I’m extremely considerate of what I make and how many pieces I fabricate, usually no more than ten pieces in a year.
A lot of people throw away their broken decks, but I see it from a different vantage point. It’s true that skate decks are more often than not viewed as not useful anymore, but there’s true potential in making the skateboards into something beautiful again. I also have this profound respect for sneakers with their well-worn uppers and skateboard decks with their cuts and scratches.
Unfortunately your art is a bit difficult to share based on its nature, do you ever plan to make it into a medium that is more accessible to people worldwide?
No I don’t. I know it’s difficult to share. But I don’t expect my work to be liked or consumed by everybody. Even if there aren’t very many fans out there, I’ll keep doing my thing. Don’t you think that if everybody understands the background, it quickly becomes boring? I can appreciate the fact if only certain people can truly understand the underlying aspect of my art.
How does the process start for making a sculpture? Do you form a big block and then carve?
It depends on what I make. Usually I start to carve a big block by hand rather than say using a 3D CAD approach. I use a Japanese carving knife to make the intricate cuts and shapes.
Where do you collect your broken decks from?
A friend of mine who I began skating with together more than 20 years ago runs a skateboard shop. A lot of his customers leave used decks at the shop when they buy new one.
On average, how long does it take to complete one of your sculptures?
It depends on how detailed the piece is. I think the Nike Dunk I did took 3 months whereas small apples take about 2 weeks.
Does the contrast in colors come naturally, or do you deliberately layer them a certain way?
Yes, I deliberately layer them. I don’t paint anything as well. I think this is something a lot of skateboarders pick up on. Decks usually come in many colors. My favorite decks are from DLX and GIRL. As well each brand and signature model have their own concave. Sometimes it’s daunting task to find decks with the same concave but luckily I’ve stockpiled over a thousand used decks.
Are there currently any limitations on how you create your art (for example the width and length of a skate deck) or could you apply your techniques into making something huge such as a car?
Yes, with my techniques I’m able to make huge sculpture. But I love to make works within the size of stacked decks. I love works that are easy to understand and you can see it was carved out from stacked decks. But I wouldn’t mind making a huge car! Then I would want skateboarders to jump over it!
How did the collaboration with Mark Parker come about? Had big names reached out to you in the past as well?
I received a email from him a few days after my exhibition finished a little while ago. I was really surprised as I instantly recognized his name as the CEO of Nike. For me personally, I’m working in small town on the fringe of Tokyo and I only make small quantities of my work by hand. So I thought to myself, things like this don’t happen to small-time people like me.
Had big names reached out to you in the past as well?
Yes, but I can’t mention that now. Just be on the look out for their projects.
Did Mark Parker request something in particular?
His request was simple and it was to keep the theme of a Dunk, nothing more than that. However, as I went further into it, I told him I wanted to make something with the broken decks from Nike SB riders. There are a lot of Nike SB riders I really respect and that I think are cool. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity from Mark.
On the topic of the skate decks taken from Nike SB riders, how does this enhance the collaboration and piece?
First of all, skate shoes should not be all new and clean but well worn and beat-up. Where ever I go, I can’t help but look at people who are wearing skate
shoes to see whether they are real skateboarders or not. I mean, I wanted to make something that truly looked authentic. After all, it’s a project that features real decks from real skaters from the Nike SB team. Finding some similarities between skate shoes and decks is important. It’s easy to keep good conversation if you have common topic with somebody. I can say exactly the same thing to shoes and their relationship with decks.
Where is the Wooden Dunk now?
I’m not sure, I think maybe it’s at Nike Headquarters in Portland.
Any upcoming plans for exhibitions outside of Japan?
I will be holding an exhibition at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in April of this year. The Dunk will be part of the pieces that will be exhibited. I have some other plans for next year as well which will hopefully be of interest.