Based in Kanagawa Japan, Hirosuke Yabe creates wooden sculptures using a nata, a Japanese hatchet. With quick, short chops, Yabe conjures a menagerie of human expressions. Ranging in size from just a few inches to several feet high, he stacks faces atop faces, carves a smirk onto a dog, gives 6 legs to a torso blowing a kiss through articulated lips. Like Enkū, the Japanese Buddhist sculptor who carved 120,000 statutes, although some pieces reflect a series of work, no two sculptures are ever truly alike.
Formally trained at Tokyo Zokei University, Yabe cites Eduardo Chilida, Richard Serra, the Mono-ha, and African masks among his early influences. As African masks symbolize a spirit, Yabe’s sculptures not only draw from the abstracted geometry of their forms as many Western art movements have, but they also address the universality of the human experience.
After the 2011 Japanese earthquake and consequent tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown, Yabe saw “that the ideal was broken and that our “modernity” had been driving it.” His work shifted from the more formal to an investigation. “What is it to be human? What is the human being?” the artist asks. The resulting pieces are animals, people, anthropomorphic creatures, even monsters, but all are metaphors of the human condition. They are silly, funny, cute, foolish, lovely, sweet. We connect with these pieces in different ways: my favorite is not necessarily your favorite. In our divided time, Hirosuke Yabe’s work is here to remind human kind of our humanity.