Creativity is a stone’s throw away

Some things really do run in the family, be that blue eyes, red hair or simply a love for rocks. Through his art, Hirotoshi Ito has redefined what it means to carry on the family legacy. His aim? To challenge the way we see the world.

It starts with stones. Hirotoshi was born in 1964 into a family with a long history – five generations to be precise – of working with stone. And while he had planned to take over the family business, his interest in the arts led him to Tokyo where he attended the Tokyo University of the Arts.

Initially, the artist was drawn to metal smithing and his time studying allowed him to develop his understanding of the art of sculpting, moving beyond the technical skills he had already learnt from his family. But soon enough, there was a return to his roots.

He is now known for his striking stone sculptures. Some incorporate carved-away sections designed to look like unzipped openings that reveal realistic, toothy grins, as well as surrealistic scenes of machinery and mining. Other sculptures present stone as a pliable material, taking the form of a piece of cake and a folded shirt. 

Artificial materials didn’t captivate him in the same way that natural ones did. He didn’t want to create his own canvas, he wanted to find one. Stumble upon it, even. He was seeking collaboration, and through it, inspiration that takes the form of the lines and cracks that trace the surfaces of the rocks he uses in his work. 

By relinquishing complete control over every aspect of his artistic process, Hirotoshi raises the question of whether an artist could even have it in the first place. Hirotoshi may be responsible for the artistic choices that he makes, but he is ultimately also a product of the experiences he’s lived. His way of working with stone is different to his family’s, but it’s still stone.

So, what is the significance of his work for us as an audience? Is it just about unearthing the magic that resides within the seemingly mundane? Perhaps to an extent. However, through those knowing, unzipped carved smiles, he’s arguably also asking us to look for the potential in the world around us too. A potential that doesn’t necessarily equate to beauty.

Regardless of how we choose to see Hirotoshi’s creations, what remains undeniable is their power to unsettle. Confronted with unfamiliar scenes on familiar surfaces, we go in search of what resounds with us. Because in the end, the meaning that we take from art comes from what we know, and sometimes that’s stones.