David Umemoto admits he was forced to burn many bridges with his past in order to build himself a career as a sculptor today. David worked as an architect for a firm in Montreal, Canada, before going freelance for the best part of 10 years working mostly on 3D computer graphics and architectural design for institutional projects such as schools and hospitals. The work was extensive, pedantic and would often take years before a project was completed.
“I can’t really say exactly what drew me into architecture as you are quite young when you have to make that decision. At the time I was also considering arts and mechanical engineering, so I guess it was some kind of compromise… Art gives you much more freedom for creation because of course you have less constraints and rules, but also because you can be independent. You can fully realize what you have in mind without spending hours and hours dealing with budgets, contractors, committees…”
In 2010 David gave up the freelance work and spent a year travelling in Indonesia, southeast Asia. Whilst there he worked with foundries casting in aluminium, bronze and glass. It was the catalyst that inspired David’s transformation from architect to artist.
David describes the essence of his sculptures as a kind of “primitivism” taking inspiration from the ancient arts and architecture of the Americas, Polynesia and Africa.
“I like the way they used arts as a language, a scripture, a code, a way to communicate with the nature, the outer world, or whatever unknown. Their sculptures were tools, their buildings machines. Their composition uses very basic geometry and symmetry and repetitive patterns. I would like to think that anyone, anywhere, with simple tools and local basic materials could build my structures.”
When David returned to Canada he no longer had access to foundries “at a reasonable price” and so he began experimenting with other materials. The benefits of working with concrete soon presented themselves; not only as a universal medium, but also as a very precise material as concrete doesn’t warp or shrink like metals during the casting process. Aesthetically concrete has a tangible texture that both captures light and intensifies shade. The beautiful simplicity of this humble material allows the sculptures to speak for themselves without the need for shock and awe devices.
David approaches his sculptures in a very similar process to how he would begin his architectural projects.
“I always start with a constructive grid, then I sketch plans, elevations and sections. I work a lot with elevations, trying to keep a good balance with the proportions of shapes and openings. My work being very monochromatic, light and shadows are really important.”
The choice of concrete similarly resonates with the architectural profession, most famously during the Brutalism movement of the 1950’s to 1970’s. But there is so much more to the movement than the hard, soulless structures of governmental and institutional buildings. Brutalism was inspired by leaders of the modernist movement such as Le Corbusier; a Swiss born French architect and artist who aimed to create better living conditions and enhance society through pioneering new housing concepts.
“For me, he was the most influential architect of our time. He had a unique way of creating works that were equally rigorous and poetic.”
In David’s ongoing series of sculptures he creates an Artificial Landscape using geometric cubes and modular infrastructures which can be reorganized and reused to create new works. Photographic prints of some of these combinations create the illusion of an abandoned city on a real-life scale, like ancient Babylon or London’s banking district on a weekend. These structures invoke a multitude of emotions in the viewer; from an ignited curiosity to a sense of isolation, observing in an almost hypnagogic dream state.
“In my work, I try to create spaces and objects that can be view halfway between natural and manmade, in construction or in decay, futuristic or ancient…”
In David’s forthcoming series, he aims to delve further into the creation of artworks suspended between nature and man by approaching landscape design in the spirit of Japanese rock gardens.
“Their idea is not to imitate nature, but to get the essence of a natural environment and create contemplative landscapes that can serve as an aid to meditation.”
A selection of David’s work can be found at the TRNK showroom in NYC. He is also developing a new collection in collaboration with Hub in Australia that is scheduled to be exhibited in their showrooms of Melbourne and Sydney in 2017.