Ken Hiratsuka, Sculptor
"In the beginning I imagined a single line creating a spiral covering the earth. Everything is a line, from birth to death, one line. You walk in a line. It’s like you never step in the same river. Life moves forward. It does not go back. That’s where I am. Here, now. The line does not cross the future or the past, but it’s all connected. The beginning will meet the end."
Photos by Francesco Lagnese
Q's by Upstate Diary
Upstate Diary: How did you create a name for your self in NYC, in the early ‘80s?
Ken Hiratsuka: I was 18 when I began carving. I moved to NYC and continued with stone sidewalks. Granite sidewalks are such beautiful things. In the ‘80s, graffiti took over the downtown scene and it was inspiring. I had found my calling and filled a void with my work on the sidewalks, which was my own form of graffiti. I was the only street artist who used a chisel and hammer on a stone sidewalk.
UD: Did you ever get arrested?
KH: Yes, once, in ’85. Right in front of a bar called Downtown Beirut on 1st Avenue between 10th and 11th streets. The super did not know about my arrangement with the bar. He came out with a broomstick and started beating me after calling 911. I was locked up for the weekend — free ‘hotel’, bologna sandwich and cold tea.
UD: Do you pre-plan the direction of the lines in your carving and why do the lines never cross?
KH: No. This is going back to why I started carving. Manwatching: A Filed Guide to Human Behavior, by the Anthropologist Desmond Morris, was a big influence on me and opened my mind in my teenage years.
In pictures, I saw Earth from space and how everything relates. We, as a whole, are on a path and the Earth is a sphere, a very large round rock. In the beginning I imagined a single line creating a spiral covering the earth. Everything is a line, from birth to death, one line. You walk in a line. It’s like you never step in the same river. Life moves forward. It does not go back. That’s where I am. Here, now. The line does not cross the future or the past, but it’s all connected. The beginning will meet the end.
UD: What drew you to leave the city?
KH: High rents. I had the upstate place 10 years before I moved. That made it a little easier.
UD: Did you grow up in the countryside of Japan?
KH: Yes, in a small city surrounded by rice farms. As a child, I spent time running in the wild. So, ‘country’ was a familiar concept to me.
UD: You want to inspire people to be in closer touch with nature, how does nature inspire you?
KH: Humans are part of nature. Nature inspired me to think about humans and the role of my art in the history of it all. Throughout the ages, art and line art appear in nature and are made both by nature and man. Nature inspired me to connect the lines in my art — to span the whole world. The landscape drawings in Nazca, Peru were also a big influence.
UD: Do grow your own food?
KH: Lots of vegetables, kale, onions, herbs
UD: When people stumble upon your work in nature, do they mistake your carved rocks for ancient indigenous work?
KH: They often do. They have no idea. They think they’ve found something ancient. My art can also be healing in that way if you stumble upon it and it makes you think. In the city or in nature it disrupts your train of thought, especially if you are looking down and are depressed. In my quest to carve the earth I have carved in 23 countries so far.
I’ve had three articles in local newspapers about the rock in the Montauk Sea. The first, ten years ago, was about how the mystery of the rock was solved — when someone else erroneously claimed to be the artist. Then again, two years later, by a different publication… and finally, this year, when a more respected paper finally cleared up the mystery and connected it to me.
UD: What do you look for in a piece of stone or rock?
KH: A hard surface with no cracks, granite, the harder the better. Bluestone is like a drawing paper, flat.
UD: Is attending art fairs important to you?
KH: Goldman Global Arts invited me to the last Art Basel Miami where I carved three large stones in six weeks at Winwood Walls. I am not looking for it but I am happy to go if I am invited. I have three Galleries showing my work: Dorian Gray, Bishop in Brooklyn and Curator Gallery in Chelsea
UD: What are you not particularly good at?
KH: Computers and the Internet. I still have an iPhone 4 and can’t login to my Instagram account, which my friend set up for me.
UD: An unexpected responsibility of rural living?
KH: Fixing a frozen pipe or an old ceiling collapsing. I have a fixer upper and do all the handy work.
UD: Living up here, do you ever feel isolated from the art world? If so, is that a good thing?
KH: I like being in solitude to work on my projects. So, I think it’s a good thing. Somehow people know how and where to find me.
UD: What keeps you up at night? Coffee and the urge to be productive.
KH: What get’s you up in the morning? Coffee and the sound of birds.