After branding for global giants like Nike Inc. and Apple Inc., U.S. artist Alexander Gelman focused his attention on products with more of a local flavor in Japan.
He now presents traditional Japanese crafts in ways that can be best understood by international audiences.
One example is his chess table lacquered in black and sprinkled with gold powder. It is currently on display at the Discovery Museum in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
Gelman, 44, who works out of New York and Tokyo, produces items that combine traditional Japanese craftsmanship and contemporary art.
He chose chess, a game played around the world, as a vehicle to introduce the originality of Japanese lacquer ware. The chess table was created with lacquerers from the Yamanaka district in Ishikawa Prefecture, a noted production center.
After studying graphic design and branding for global corporations, Gelman switched his career track at the age of 40.
He advocated a “postglobal” concept, saying people will look for original products based on local culture. Gelman himself looked toward traditional Japanese culture.
Gelman, a student of karate and an admirer of kimono, said he was surprised by the way Japanese view “time” because it was entirely different from the U.S. notion of “time is money.”
Japanese craftsmen, for example, will take months to produce a single lacquer ware or an ink stick.
Gelman says time is one of the ingredients of their creations.
The exhibition at the Discovery Museum runs through July 16.
“His creative and planning capabilities make traditional Japanese crafts internationally competitive,” said Makoto Kawai, director at Japan Airport Terminal Co., which organized the exhibition.
Gelman would not discuss his next project. He said there are many plans, but, like culture, they will change.
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