David Stanley Hewett

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • David Stanley Hewett

    Main guest

    David Stanley Hewett is an artist based in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture. Active in Japan for 30 years, he focuses mainly on abstract art and ceramics. Hewett strives to create harmony between traditional Japanese art and modern art through creations that make use of gold foil. His work is renowned throughout the world, and he has held exhibitions in locations such as New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

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November 20, 2018

Japanophiles: David Stanley Hewett

*You will leave the NHK website.

The latest in our Japanophiles series, this edition of Japanology Plus centers around David Stanley Hewett, an American artist who produces paintings, pottery, and more inspired by classic Japanese art. Over the course of the program, we learn how Hewett first became attracted to Japan, why his art incorporates gold leaf, and what he has planned for the future.

Hewett, who originally hails from the U.S. state of Ohio, is best known for his striking abstract paintings that incorporate gold leaf. His paintings are also striking for their minimalism: as the artist explains to host Peter Barakan, for many years, he used only three colors: black, red, and gold. These three colors, Hewett says, represent three elements (discipline, passion, and elegance, respectively) of Japan's ancient samurai. From the early days of his interest in Japan, Hewett was fascinated by the fact that samurai were more than just warriors: they also practiced elegant forms of art like poetry and tea ceremony.

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Hewett at work in his studio.

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Black (discipline), red (passion), and gold (elegance).

As Hewett and Barakan mention, many of the ideas about bushido (the way of the samurai), were first laid down on paper by author and diplomat Inazo Nitobe in an English-language book published in 1900—long after the era of the samurai. Bushido was highly influential in the West, shaping ideas about the "Soul of Japan," as went the book's subtitle—one of its notable readers was U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

Nitobe's book, however, was not without controversy. The word "bushido," for example, was not actually used before the Edo period (1603-1868) and, even then, probably not among samurai themselves. One writer even called the book "invented tradition." Nevertheless, there's no denying that Nitobe's ideas have been a huge influence on generations of Japanophiles. It took a long time for his book to catch on in Japan, though. It wasn't until 1985, when Nitobe appeared on the 5,000 yen note, that his interpretation of the way of the samurai really caught on in his home country.

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Later, Hewett began to incorporate blue.

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Hewett shows Peter Barakan how he gives gold leaf an aged look.

Aside from painting, Hewett also produces pottery with clay traditionally used to create Shigaraki ware. Shigaraki ware is named after the region from which it originates near the ancient cities of Kyoto and Nara. The Shigaraki area is known for its large deposits of high-quality clay. Its pottery evolved alongside the tea ceremony; later, Shigaraki became Japan's main producer of hibachi, a traditional heating brazier that holds burning charcoal. As Japan embraced oil and electric heaters, the demand for hibachi plummeted, but ceramics makers in Shigaraki were able to shift to products like flower vases, decorative ornaments, and the kind of art produced by those like Hewett. Shigaraki ware was designated an official Traditional Craft by the Japanese government in 1976. The fact that Hewett chooses to use such a celebrated clay to create his own ceramics shows how deeply he is influenced by Japanese arts and crafts.

As the program progresses, we learn about Hewett's early years in Japan. Influenced by an interest in karate, Japanese history, and art, he moved to the country in 1988 and began creating his own art. One of Hewett's first big breaks came when he won a competition to create artworks for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, a building with a fascinating history of its own.

Originally built in 1890 to accommodate the increasing number of foreign visitors to Japan, the hotel was later redesigned by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His version was completed in 1923 and famously survived the Great Kanto Earthquake, which devastated the city that same year. The hotel also survived World War II. It was used by senior members of the post-war occupation, visiting dignitaries and, later, celebrities like Marilyn Monroe. The Wright version of the hotel was demolished and replaced in 1968, but its front facade can be seen at the Meiji Mura architectural museum in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture.

As we learn, Hewett now makes his home in Karuizawa, a resort town in Nagano Prefecture (which we featured on our Summer Resorts edition). Karuizawa is known as a place to relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and Hewett credits that slower pace—and closeness to nature—for pushing his art further toward simplicity. As Hewett enters his fourth decade in Japan, there's no doubt he'll continue to be inspired by the country in new and exciting ways.

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Hewett applies gold leaf to a painting.

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It's not hard to see why Karuizawa is an inspiring location.

*You will leave the NHK website.