Shinji Nakaba The perfection of errors
Finding beauty in contrasts and small, seemingly worthless items: with a free spirit guided by nature, one Japanese artist creates sculptural jewellery to wear as badges of harmony and acceptance of diversity.
Shinji Nakaba in his studio in Tokyo, a kind of cabinet of curiosities full of objects, books, boxes and marvels.
The Eastern concept of beauty does not seek perfection but identifies the beauty in tiny flaws and finds harmony in errors. The definition of beauty for Japanese jewellery artist Shinji Nakaba has two aspects – the sensory element, or what we see with our eyes, and the aesthetic concept that he defines as the “fresh beauty” of works of art that convey a sense of never-before-seen beauty and incorporate order, a message, a new style of living and new values. “Making familiar things that no longer communicate value attractive using new expressions is very important to me. I focus in particular on the human body, the face, the hands, the feet – elements that we see every day and that are reproduced in infinite languages of art.
They can seem like obsolete, repetitive, lifeless and tired themes if they don’t have the power to communicate. Because producing works that are increasingly perfect demonstrates the ability of the creator and can lead to success, but at the same time it makes the works themselves less attractive, almost soulless. I try to bring imperfect beauty to my work. It’s a new process for me and it’s becoming my true goal.”
I believe that my mission is to convey through jewellery that everything that exists is equally beautiful, whether it be gold, platinum, iron, paper or waste materials. What is important is that it has a soul; it encapsulates a thought.
This is how Shinji Nakaba, who was born in 1950 in Sagamihara in the Kanagawa prefecture on the outskirts of Tokyo, introduces himself. Raised by a dressmaker mother, he developed a passion for beauty and authenticity as well as respect for women from an early age.
“When I was in high school,” he says, “I was heavily influenced by the counterculture and hippie movements. I have always wanted to live life freely rather than following social norms. I thought about my talents and how I could direct them, and I wanted to earn my living by creating my own art. To achieve this goal, I went through several jobs. I started by learning how to sew in my mum’s dressmaking business. Then I worked as a hairdresser and a shoemaker. It was during this stage of my career that I discovered contemporary jewellery. Rather than being a world of status symbols, it was an opportunity for self-expression. So I decided to study the foundations for creating jewellery.
I was interested in sculpture and antique jewellery, but there were no schools for that, so I had to learn on my own. I sold my car to buy tools and I turned a corner of my room into a workshop. It was 1974 and I was 24 years old.”
Practising yoga, breathing techniques and meditation have also influenced his career, as did experimenting, above all else. “At the end of the 1980s I was concerned with affirming my own style in the world of contemporary jewellery.
I often thought about nature and how plants and animals continuously produce marvellous works of art without thinking about what they are doing. And so, I too started to create works without thinking too much; instead of criticising the ideas that came to my mind, I gave them a shape.”
“Today,” he continues, “the purpose of my work is mainly to break down the boundaries between opposites, such as male and female, past and present, heaven and hell, life and death, good and evil, beauty and ugliness. I think that every piece should contain the two extremes in a hybrid state. For example, learning how to sculpt ancient gems and then using the same technique to sculpt discarded plastic to create a cameo brooch may seem like madness and a waste of time. But I think it’s a very useful activity.”
The power of black
Above and aside: From Baroque to Victorian, by way of the Orient. A black iris that adapts to the human body, becoming a brooch or a ring.
Above. A sculpture-brooch inspired by nature. A work of art to wear and to display.
An exceptional solitaire
Nakaba’s creative power is displayed through unusual combinations. A diamond nestled in a lacquered leaf makes the solitaire even more precious. Below: Sketch and creation of a brooch.
Poetic, essential and meticulous in every detail. Each of Shinji Nakaba’s works are different, unique pieces.
A snake around your finger
This ring in the form of a snake is inspired by the Art Nouveau ‘whiplash’. All of Nakaba’s jewellery contains a precise sense of movement.
The purpose of my work is mainly to break down the boundaries between opposites, such as male and female, past and present, heaven and hell, life and death, good and evil, beauty and ugliness. I think that every piece should contain the two extremes in a hybrid state.
Which explains the extreme variety of his collections and the subjects represented. “I have always loved both precious gems and waste materials of no value. In the 1990s I started using plastic bottles, steel and aluminium cans. The fresh beauty of jewellery, regardless of its price, can be created with any material: it’s the idea that makes the difference, the message it contains and conveys. On the outside it might seem useless and of little worth, but in reality it can create and transmit a great deal of beauty. My creations are very diverse.
They can be inspired by nature, a shape or a material. There is only one recurring theme: a pearl skull that has a special place in my heart. I’m fascinated by the infinite potential of pearls, and I feel that only pearls can actually turn my idea of ephemeral beauty into reality. I like to observe how an innocent pearl can create a dark object – what a contradiction! I have carved skulls in various materials – crystal, ivory, coral and precious stones … but pearls are by far the most attractive. I have come to believe that pearls were born to be skulls; their mystical beauty makes them fairy skulls. I believe that innovation comes from a lawless spirit and from curiosity. There is a saying that goes: when you travel in a constantly evolving world, the only thing that matters is to radiate beauty. Because beauty is like a beacon for the survival of humanity!
The skull is the distinctive trademark of the Japanese jewellery maker’s work. He carves it into all his stones, but his favourite material is pearl: “Only pearls can turn my idea of ephemeral beauty into reality.”