LUXURYCULTURE.COM - The One and Only Keiichi Tahara


Using architectural tableaus, the artist, designer and all-around creative genius Keiichi Tahara elevates light to an art form.

As any architect will attest, light is the basis of any great structure. Artist, designer and all-around creative genius Keiichi Tahara elevates light to an art form.

It's difficult to define Japanese Artist Keiichi Tahara. From his photographic roots and award-winning cinematic creations to his evolution into grand-scale lighting installations and art-inspired architectural commissions, Tahara's creativity surpasses all boundaries.

Keiichi Tahara's creative career began its impressive course in the late 1960's. Taught by his grandfather, the photographer Yoshitaro Miyagawa, the artist began photographing landscapes. "He did many different kinds of works, because at that time, photography was not very popular. He took astronomy photos, X-rays, even wedding photos! He also did his own work. Around the house, there were always very strange pictures – the moon, stars, skeletons, wedding photos and portraits – and he always told me about the light, how the photography captures the light. He told me all this, and it just stayed," recalls Tahara. In 1972, at the age of 21, the artist headed to Paris to take up professional photography. Over the years, his creative commissions have included the great and the good from the world of art, including fashion luminaries and fellow compatriots Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake.

In each artistic endeavor, light has always been the main draw. The artist traces his interest in light as far back as childhood. "At nine years old, I was hospitalized for eight months. I was lucky, because in Kyoto, my home city, River Kamogawa is there, and from my windows I could see the villa and the sun shining through my window. For these eight months I looked out and just watched how the light moved. Obviously at that time I didn't realize it, but later, when I was about 10 or 11 years old I visited Hiroshima. Fixed on the wall there was a shadow of a man, and this print made an impression on me, because my shadow is always with me, but this shadow was someone else's, and they were gone. I found this very interesting. The effect, the power of the light of the atom bomb..." Such powerful imagery later led to experimentation with liquid light emulsion – the early 19th century process of printing images through the use of light-sensitive silver emulsion – which the artist applied on a grand scale to stone, metal, fabric and glass sculptures. The result was the 1994 Torso series, a haunting collection of Grecian and romantic inspired ephemeral photosculptures.

In the late 1980s, Keiichi Tahara's talent took him beyond photography as he began to receive sculptural commissions, beginning with the 1987 Obelisk of Light for Tokyo's Hikarigaoka Plaza. "It was a new kind of development shop in Tokyo. They asked me, 'Mr. Tahara, can you inaugurate our shop? We want something very artistic, can you do this?' I said yes and created the Obélisque de Lumière – the Obelisk of Light. Then the Japanese beer company Sapporo asked me to make a garden. It was a kind of coincidence; I didn't ask for anything, the people asked me. It was like a continuation of the photography," he recalls.

Spurned by a period of architectural photography in the late 1970s, Tahara's attention was later captured by the wealth of creative possibilities to be exploited within the codicillary relationship between light and architecture. Using an architectural canvas, forms are vivified as each structure becomes a magnificent lightscape. His most illustrious architectural illumination to date is the façade of University of Paris 7, Denis-Diderot. The campus's specialty, dedicated to languages and science, inspired Tahara to look to physics for artistic solutions. The result? A luminous cascade of numbers etched in glass, which has transformed the institution into a city landmark. Tahara's next façade will be Ginza's 888 building, due to be unveiled imminently.

However, like the work of many great architects, what promises to be Keiichi Tahara's most impressive oeuvre currently hangs in the balance. The illumination of London's best-loved landmark, Battersea Power Station. An ambitious project of grandiose proportions, Tahara will join the superb lineup of 15 world-leading designers and architects, including Ron Arad, to bring the 68-year-old structure back to life. "The owner called me from the UK and invited me to meet the 15 architects working on the project, so I thought that maybe he was looking for a sculpture or something. When the project was presented to me, I didn't understand, I mean, there were some great architects there, so I didn't really understand why I was there," he recounts modestly. "Then the owner said, 'Well, Keiichi, what can you do?' So I asked them to give me one month. I went back to Tokyo and decided that If I built something related to design or architecture, then the architects would not be happy, so I suggested that I manage and create the concept for the light." Due to red tape over planning and heritage, the project has been on hold for the past year, but if the latest plan sees fruition, it will undoubtedly become the most exciting sights on the London skyline. "The light is the point, it's like a star. Shooting stars make a line of light... This is an amazing experience," beams Tahara.

Dividing his time between Tokyo and Paris, Keiichi Tahara deftly juggles many artistic endeavors, which for the past four years have included designing for Tokyo's most unique luxury brand L'Ange Noir with business partner Hidezo Terai "Our concept for this luxury shop is only one. We only make one of each. For example, a dress has only one in each size. The customer can order anything and we will make it, but only one. We sell everything; furniture, suits, accessories, but only ever one," he stresses. While his youthful appearance and effervescent character belie his age, the 56-year-old artist often hints at the appeal of an early retirement. But when asked if maybe it is time to take a step back, he surmises, "Maybe I should continue for a little while longer. What is important to me is the relationship with the people who work for L'Ange Noir; the tailors who make the suits, the bag makers, the jewelers, it's very artisanal. There is a relationship between me and the team, so I should continue," he says solemnly, before shouting "No way!" as he roars with laughter. Whether or not Tahara will take a well-deserved break remains to be seen, but one gleans from the conversation early on that it is not fame or fortune that guides this artist, but passion, desire and a talent that is truly unique.

Related Articles

Seeing things in a Nouvel light
Kengo Kuma's Temples of Light
Maurer Trips The Light Fantastic

More Info