An Interview with Kats Takada

May 1, 2015 at 8:27 pm

Kats Takada“I was born and raised in Chigasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture. I commuted to work in Tokyo every day. In terms of why I decided to come to Canada, there were two reasons: I always thought that the two and a half hour commute was a waste of my time, and I also wanted to get some independence from my parents.”
– Kats Takada –

by David Fujino

The life force is so strong in Kats Takada’s wood sculptures that somehow all talk about art becomes unnecessary, and even irrelevant — and yet, his work is art.

For Takada’s true-to-life figures are people caught at moments of peak emotion. Sometimes sad and introspective, sometimes almost brutishly comical, most of his carved figures resist easy interpretation because they’re so infused with the complicated trials of growing old or becoming ill — the very stuff of life. They’re so familiar and direct. We understand them. Takada`s carved figures simply are.

The following conversations are small and informative excerpts from Norm Ibuki’s online interview with Kats Takada.

Here are Kats’s first impressions of Canada.

“When I arrived, I found the pace of life to be relaxed and I was happy; the next thing I knew, 45 years had passed. I tried using stone once, but when I started carving it just made a dusty mess and I haven’t tried again since. Wood is easy to find, many sizes and shapes are available, and I love the textures and smells that are released when you cut into it with a sharp edge.”

And when asked how he works, the retired truck mechanic answered, “It’s a little different for each use, but, in my case, I generally start out looking for a piece of wood that has the ‘face’ I want already. By this I mean that it has a quality that matches what I envision in my head for the piece I am going to create, and so once I find a piece of wood that matches that, the rest is easy. Most pieces of wood have that already, so I think that every little piece is precious.”

(Norm Ibuki online interview)

These days, while Parkinson’s Disease has slowed him down, Kats is still carving. The 30-year member of the Ontario Wood Carvers Association says that this past summer he’s mainly been a “farmer” working in his garden.

“It’s tough work, because unless the conditions are just right, things don’t grow properly. This summer has been too cold for a lot of the things we’ve planted to grow successfully. Now we have to wait another year to try again.” (Norm Ibuki online interview)

What follows here is my email interview with Kats Takada …

If your sculpture was burnt, or destroyed by vandals, or stolen, what would you do?

Would you tell the police? Who would you tell?

About twenty years ago, I had put two pieces in for display at a small art gallery on Avenue Road. Both pieces were in my opinion, high value. To tell you the truth, I didn’t care too much about one of them, but the other was a piece I carved as an image of my son, and I really didn’t want to let it go. I thought “who would buy something so expensive?” so I didn’t worry about losing it. One day I went to the gallery and discovered  that the piece was missing; it apparently had been stolen. As funny as it is, I remember thinking “Instead of stealing some well-known artist’s work, they stole MINE” and to be honest, it felt good.

If you knew you’d die in one year’s time, what would you change about your way of living — why?

I am turning 70 this spring. In Japan, we call this age “Koki”. It means “ancient and rare.” I like the feeling of tension that this word creates in me. However, I’ve noticed that in all the classes that I have been going to lately, I am the most inept. I sometimes think “Doesn’t anyone get bored by their limitless ability?” I must admit that now, I hope nothing changes for me.

Do you feel your childhood was happy? Was it happier than most people’s?

Yes, I was happy — but I’ll never forget the feelings of hunger that I felt daily. I realized though that everyone was in the same situation, so I thought it was a natural feeling.

What is too serious to be joked about?

Nothing is too serious to not be joked about. Depending on the person you’re talking to, your words could be interpreted as really funny or offensive. I found that it’s easier sometimes to not say anything at all.

Do you want to be famous? … for what?

No, what for?

Your house catches fire. After saving your loved ones, your sculptures and pets, you have time to save one last thing — what would it be? Why?

I’d save the piece of wood I’m working on right now. Apparently I talk to myself when I work. Once the piece is done, I start to lose interest but while I’m working on it, I like to talk to it like it is my friend.

Of all the people you know, whose death would disturb you the most?

My wife. Even I’m smart enough to know how to answer this question correctly.

If you died today — and you were alone — what would you regret not telling someone? Why?

If I haven’t said something by this point, I’ll probably never say it.

How do you feel about your mother? Your father?

When my younger sister was still single and lived at home with my parents, she told me this story — when I would send a letter to my parents, if my father found the letter in the mailbox, he would put it back in so that my mother could “find it” first and read it. When my mother realized what he was doing, she would do the same thing for him. My sister ended up being the one to bring my letters into the house. That’s what my parents were like.

Do you have any idea how you’ll die?

When I was younger, I used to think about it a lot, but lately  — maybe because it’s not too far from reality any more  — I hardly think about it. I know I don’t want to live a long, drawn-out life but I definitely don’t feel like dying today. Knowing me though, when the time comes, I’ll probably scream “I  don’t want to go!”

What goes through your mind when you’re carving a piece of wood?

I probably think about a lot of things, but most of my thoughts are probably inconsequential. In the beginning of the work, I usually tend to put a lot of thought into balance and proportion, but then I just kind of get into it and don’t think about anything in particular.

If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?

I wouldn’t want to know anything; it’s a fact that we don’t know what is coming that makes life so much fun to live, don’t you think so?

When did you last cry in front of another person? Or were you alone?

About a week ago. I was alone.

– Translation by Tatsu Takada –