Over the summer, residents of and visitors to Rapid City had the opportunity to meet a world class sculptor and view his work at Main Street Square. But as with any artist, there’s a real person behind the images they create – a person who’s often not visible to the public.
Today we visit with sculptor Masayuki Nagase to learn about the man behind the art.
It’s a quiet Saturday morning in September as I sit beside Masayuki Nagase…about to share in a daily ritual for the Japanese artist.
"What are we about to have here? " I ask.
“Oh…we are drinking barley tea,” Yuki Nagase replies.
"And this is something that you have all the time?” I ask.
“Yeah, I everyday bring this barley tea.”
“And is this something that comes from Japan?” I ask.
"This is from Japan, but in Asia people drink…especially in Korea…it’s very popular. If you go to Korea in the restaurant…first they serve this barley tea. It’s roasted barley….like coffee. But no caffeine.”
“No caffeine?” I ask.
"No caffeine,” Yuki confirms.
"What’s the point?” I inquire.
Yuki laughs and explains, "You don’t run around like crazy.”
Although Yuki Nagase hasn’t quite been “running around like crazy”, the sculptor has spent the entire summer season working on fast forward – whenever the weather allowed – to create The Passage of Wind and Water at Rapid City’s Main Street Square. The 5-year sculpture project is the largest privately-funded public art venture in the country and has already drawn substantial media attention to the artist and the city he’s working in.
Setting aside his hammer and chisel, Yuki has agreed to talk with me about some of the things that define who he is – as an artist and as a man. At the core are his spiritual beliefs. As the city starts to come to life, we move to a nearby office to continue our discussion. The barley tea comes along.
“Let’s talk about my backgrounds, my experience,” Yuki suggests. “Where I grew up. I grew up in a little old city called Kyoto…in Japan. That’s a very unique town cause it’s the capital and there are hundreds and thousands of shrines and temples over there. And…within that environment I absorbed all the….impressions and informations about Japanese traditional things…including religions.”
Although Yuki grew up in a family that followed one school of Buddishm, he notes that all Japanese families keep the Shinto traditions.
“Buddishm came through China and Korea during…fifth century,” Yuki explains. “So, before that we are under Shintoism solely. And Shintoism is a kind of Pantheism and people believe in a…(sighs)…divinity in nature. So all of nature’s elements is God.”
Yuki notes that the beliefs of Shintoism and the traditional spiritual beliefs of the Lakota are very similar. And like traditional Lakota, those who follow Shintoism do so every day in all aspects of their lives. But growing up where he did may have engrained the Shinto spiritual beliefs into Yuki’s personality even deeper than the average follower.
“In Kyoto, there are many shrines," says Yuki. "That’s a place where we used to play…as kids. They had a good amount of space. So that became our playground.”
Although Yuki wasn’t completely aware of the spiritual significance of his play areas as a child, he does think back on those days with reverence.
“That’s kind of a deep experience for us,” Yuki recalls.
And the depth of that Shinto experience has always been reflected, says Yuki, in his art.
“My work, if I look back, is always based on my relationship with nature," Yuki observes. "And I’m always inspired with the beauty of nature. That’s a connection to my original experience living and growing up in that environment.”
Yuki Nagase had the opportunity to immerse himself in his art as well as his spirituality during his visits to the Badlands this year while researching The Passage of Wind and Water project.
Though the Shinto religion doesn’t celebrate the spiritual Christmas season, Yuki will continue to follow his daily traditions of respect for nature as he celebrates the arrival of a new year and the opportunity to further share his gift of sculpting.