The Beauty of Useful Things: Samiro Yunoki

Well into his ninth decade, Folk Art legend Samiro Yunoki is still actively generating new marvels in everyday beauty. Samiro Yunoki san’s work was cornerstone in the visual story at Ace Hotel Kyoto, and on the occasion of our first anniversary in Japan, we sat down for a chat about his inspirations, his practice and the power of uniquely eastern art.


Ace Hotel Kyoto: “Mingei” Art [Folk Art] seems to be a common thread at the core of your work. What was it about Mingei that you first fell in love with?


Samiro Yunoki: Through the discovery of Mingei, I learned to enjoy things we use in everyday life such as dishes and furniture. It was the first time that I enjoyed the world through things and their design. Until then, I thought artistic beauty was only found in famous paintings in museums and such. I learned from Muneyoshi Yanagi’s concept “Mingei,” that artistic beauty can also be in every day useful things.


AHK: Your work is very Japanese, yet also on occasion feels influenced by cultures outside Japan. Is there any particular artist or movement, or a specific period of time in another culture, that has inspired or influenced your work?


Samiro Yunoki: [Folk Art] from India, Mexico and Peru. Especially Alexander Girard’s collection at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. The rustic dolls and toys were innocent and lively, I was very impressed.

インド、メキシコ、ペルーなどの民藝。特にサンタフェのMuseum of International Folk Artのアレキサンダー・ジラ―ドのコレクション。素朴な人形やおもちゃたちは作為がなく、生き生きとしていて感銘を受けた。

AHK: Looking at your entire body of work, are there any moments or pieces that represent particular moments in time that have continued to resonate with you? If so, why?


Samiro Yunoki: The pieces I created that are stored at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum. Although culturally Japan had already been influenced by China, the collection in the Folk Crafts Museum are from a time before Japan had ever been influenced by European culture. That collection in particular holds something very strong — a very specific beauty found only in that period of untouched Japanese culture, which really attracts me. I think creating new art inspired from that era is important.


AHK: We’ve been fans of your work for a long time — what was it that made you want to work with us? Is there a piece in the hotel you specifically love?


Samiro Yunoki: Roman from Commune Design thought my creations were interesting and came to see me himself. His impression of my work and my feelings fit perfectly. His source of delight that he felt and expressed, in return made me very happy as a creator. The piece I like very much is the poster I made in the beginning: a tower motif created with Kyoto as the inspiration.

ぼくの作った作品を面白いと思ってくれたCommune Designのロマンが直接、ぼくのところに会いに来て、注文してくれた。彼の印象と私の気持ちとがピタッと合った。そして作ったものに対して喜んでくれたことは、ものを作る作家として非常に嬉しかった。好きな作品は、最初に作ったポスター。京都を念頭において制作した塔をモチーフにしたもの。

AHK: Are there any artists you love, in any discipline, that you would like to recommend to our readers?


Samiro Yunoki: Ben Shahn, Zbyněk Sekal, Matisse, Alfred Wallis, Muneyoshi Yanagi.


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