Mr. Ren Yano, Japanese Calligraphy Artist
Mr. Ren Yano plays an active role as the only Japanese calligraphy artist approved by the government in Australia. He moved to Fukuoka, Tokyo and then Sydney 22 years ago and since then, his powerful yet delicate and beautiful work has been acknowledged around the world. He also became the first Japanese who obtained a Permanent Residency status as an calligraphy artist in Australia. His dynamic performance involves a huge piece of paper and brush, which entertains a lot of Australians over language barriers. He is active in a wide range of fields such as holding calligraphy classes. He will be performing in the Matsuri festival for the first time in four years. His polished live performance and calligraphy workshop which anyone can enjoy would steal the event. In the interview, he shared his episodes of when he moved the main base of his activities to Australia and his passion for this year’s Matsuri festival.
Make Things Happen in Australia with Powerful Calligraphy Performance
My Life with Calligraphy Started When I Was Seven in a Small Shrine School
Mr. Yano: I started learning calligraphy when I was in the first grade of primary school. There was a shrine behind my house and I used to practice calligraphy around one of the spaces there. Since everyone was learning calligraphy there at that time, which made me think that “Maybe I should try it too” and then started learning. I had never imagined during the time that I would become like this now. Lol
However, I did not continue to go to the calligraphy class. Instead, I started learning in a different class along with a friend I was close to at that time. Actually, there was a great teacher and I think it was lucky that I met him. Many years passed, I entered high school and found that the great calligraphy teacher started teaching calligraphy in my high school at the same time. He used to teach in night classes and help for a calligraphy class which his wife used to hold. I used to admire him because his job was stable public servant , had a wife who worked as calligraphy teacher; moreover, he had a big house, so I dreamed that “I want to live a life like him in the future” when I was a young boy. lol
Moved to Tokyo and Australia, and Go Beyond My Ideal Teacher
Mr. Yano: I moved to Tokyo and studied calligraphy at Tokyo Gakugei University because I thought I could not go beyond the teacher if I followed the same path as his. I used to work for the Kawaijuku Educational Institution as a part-timer when I was a student and then I knew there was a course for students who wanted to enter the Tokyo University of the Arts. This made me realise that I might be able to do something about art in the institution even though it would not be directly related to calligraphy, and then I actually worked for it after my graduation. Interestingly, the course which specialized in art universities was different from a normal course; surprisingly, I saw a nude model and animal moving around when I went to a classroom in morning, and it was a normal situation. Lol
While I was working for the Kawaijuku Educational Institution, I held a personal exhibition four times in Tokyo. There were many students studying art, so I used to think of what to do to survive in the harsh environment and continued to make work again and again. Around that time, I was asked to be transferred from the art course to a general administration department, but I thought I would not be able to get involved in art in the department. Therefore, I decided to quit working there.
When I quit the job, I did not think about the future so much. Since one of my coworkers from the Kawaijuku was taking a working holiday in Australia, I went there to see him. During my stay, I showed pictures of my work to local people and received a good response from them since no one was performing calligraphy seriously at that time; therefore, I thought I might be able to do something with this. After coming back to Japan, I took a student visa and then returned to Australia again. Lol
Became the First Japanese Calligraphy Artist Approved by Australia Government and This Completely Changed My Life
Mr. Yano: Although my life did not go well after I came to Australia, I had a positive mind that even if I could not do well, I could still restart my life again in Japan and then I applied for a visa as an artist. Everyone around me did not believe that I could gain a visa as an artist. Two of visa consultants clearly said that “It is impossible” and declined to help; however, the third consultant told me that “I think it is probably not possible, but we could try if you are okay with not getting the application fee back” and then approved of giving me help.
To apply for a permanent residency visa in Australia, I did a lot of things such as holding exhibitions or workshops and teaching how to write. I obtained these opportunities using connections.
I could eventually receive a visa as an artist in four weeks after these activities were recognised. I was the first Japanese who acquired a Painter (Visual Arts) PR visa. Calligraphy was rare in Australia so there was no risk of affecting job opportunity for local people. In addition, the visa consultant who was in charge of me was going on holiday and I guess he wanted to go through his work before the holiday. That’s why he quickly corresponded to my visa application. It sounds Australian, doesn’t it? Lol
My life in Australia changed a lot after acquiring the artist visa. I could gain trust from locals because the Australian government admitted me as an artist. I started gaining a lot of opportunities for being invited to events as an artist by the embassy.
Any Art Cannot Be Completed Without A Strong Foundation
Mr. Yano: Calligraphy artists work with letters. No matter how hard the artists make efforts on giving artistic quality, there is no point if the letters become unreadable. If the artists change the basic element in letters, they will not work as letters anymore. In order to identify the quality of letters, I would recommend to pay attention to the “white blank spaces” between the lines of a letter. Of course, letters are written in black ink so a lot of people tend to focus on the black colour; however, beautiful letters can be distinguished by identifying whether the blank spaces are created well or not.
In order to develop the skills of creating blank spaces, I teach my students to trace characters shapes and fill surrounding area with black inc and leave white characters shapes on a calligraphy paper. This process is like when you write someone’s face; in other words, you would start with outlining the face first, not because you just want to draw a black line, but because you want to create a white space inside the face. The same goes for calligraphy.
I always pay attention to the quality of the white space, but this is also valued in the whole world of calligraphy. Even work with strong personality that non-professionals may confuse with has the base of a white space. This is as same as the world-famous Picasso’s drawing may look mixed-up but it is actually based on high fundamental drawing skills.
The Mission to Expand Japanese Culture as The One and Only Artist
Mr. Yano: The Japanese language may be a big barrier for foreigners in calligraphy. In order to solve this, I let Australians start with “MOKKAN” style.You may think that semi-cursive script of Chinese characters is a reflection of regular script; however, the regular script was the lastly created style in terms of the history of Chinese characters. Since the regular script is the complete form of letter, there are many rules. The move of hand is complicated even for writing a line, which can lead foreigners to get confused with the number of strokes. Unlike the regular script with many rules, the “MOKKAN” style has not much rules and allows you to write lines one by one, so it is easy to create “white blank space”.
I believe that because Japanese people who reside in Australia interact with Australians sincerity, the Australians become deeply interested in Japanese culture. I myself really appreciate for Australians being welcome to Japanese people as well.
Take Home – Your Own Calligraphy Art Work from Matsuri Workshop as Memories of Summer
Mr. Yano: I would like to have performances which can impress visitors in Matsuri even if they do not understand language and characters. I originally started performing at an acquaintance’s exhibition and then got a very good reputation from Australian people. In performance, I focus on dynamic move so that I can “atract” audience. When I performed in Canberra a while ago, an old Australian man with thirty years of experience in Kendo told me that “I really could feel your soul”. This made me realise that I could convey my feelings to even those who do not understand Japanese Language somehow.
I will have a workshop in Matsuri. I used to provide a piece of paper specialised for calligraphy; however, I have made a change. I have started giving a A3-sized copying paper with cardboard this year so that you can bring your work back home after trying calligraphy. By doing so, you can also display it in your room so that it can remind you of a memory of the festival in summer. Since there are few calligraphy artists except for me in Australia, I am passionate about expanding calligraphy to a lot of people. Therefore, I would like to show great performances and hope you make a good memory of summer with calligraphy.
Interviewer: Hinako Chiba