Illegitimate children have a long history of sticking it to the world: Leonardo Da Vinci painted, sculpted and invented his way into the history books, Evita Peron pretty much ran Argentina (you know the saying of “behind every powerful man…”) and has a musical waxing lyrical about her. And then there’s Ted Bundy who was, well he was just a very, very angry man…
And sticking it to the world was exactly what Isamu Noguchi did. Despite his illegitimate (we find the B-word a bit harsh for someone as influential as Mr Noguchi) status and his father’s dubious parenting skills, Isamu Noguchi triumphed over adversity and became a world-renowned artist.
Born in 1904 to the celebrated Japanese poet, Yone Noguchi and the American writer Leonie Gilmour, one could be forgiven for thinking that Isamu Noguchi would forge his future from behind the typewriter. As history would have it, he instead invested his creative flair and artistic talents in becoming one of the 20th century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors.
Noguchi showed an early interest in sculpting and was lucky enough to become an apprentice to Gutzon Borglum – the man behind the four faces on Mount Rushmore. Borglum, however, wasn’t too interested in his pupil’s sculpting skills and preferred to use him as a model.
Nearing the end of his apprenticeship, Gutzon Borglum rubbed, even more, salt in Noguchi’s wounds by telling him that he would never be a sculptor. Borglum’s eyesight might, however, have been failing by this time as Noguchi’s new tutor, Onorio Ruotolo immediately spotted his savant-like prodigy.
In 1926 Noguchi saw a New York exhibition of the work of Constantin Brancusi that greatly changed his artistic direction. With the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship under his belt, Noguchi went to Paris and from 1927 to 1929 worked in Brancusi’s studio. Inspired by his mentor’s reductive forms, Noguchi turned to modernism and a form of abstraction – infusing his highly finished pieces with a poetic and whimsical expressiveness that ad an aura of mystery to his work.
Have a look below at the installation of one of Noguchi’s sculptures, a seven-sided water stone, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Throughout the 40’s Noguchi’s designs made quite a splash and around this time the American furniture magnate, Herman Miller struck up a long-lasting – and very lucrative – relationship with the sculptor.
This partnership resulted in many mass-produced furniture pieces that became symbols of the modernist style. Both the Noguchi Table and his designs for Akari Light Sculptures, which was developed in 1951, using traditional Japanese materials – are still being produced today.