Studio Visit With Designer Takeshi Miyakawa

Last week we visited the studio of Brooklyn-based Japanese designer Takeshi Miyakawa. In case you didn’t hear, in mid-May Takeshi received a lot of attention for a project he was installing for NY Design Week. But it wasn’t the kind of attention he wanted.

We chatted with Takeshi about his time in jail, Milton Glaser, some new works as well as his current feelings about NY.

You Don’t Belong in Here

Having greeted us in his common uniform – a white t-shirt and cargo pants – Takeshi told us how touched he was by the overwhelming unity and show of support he received from friends, colleagues, fans and even strangers. A facebook page that was set up following his arrest quickly ballooned to over 3500 members. Reflecting on the experience, Takeshi told us he felt very bad over the commotion and delays that resulted in a bomb squad descending over Williamsburg.

Takeshi spent 5 nights in jail, which is a great miscarriage of justice in our opinion, before this whole miscommunication was sorted out. But “it was an interesting experience,” he told us, in a calm manner you wouldn’t expect from someone who shared a cell with drug dealers and suspected murderers. “But I wouldn’t want to do it again,” he added.

In jail Takeshi became quite the celebrity. “You don’t belong in here,” other convicts would say, encouraging him and cheering him on. “You’ll be out of here in no time.” Some even asked him to autograph newspaper articles covering his story. But it wasn’t all fun and games. Fights would break out between inmates, while others were passed out in a pool of their own urine. Takeshi had to sleep in a cramped cell that was freezing cold. It was the most non-ergonomic furniture you could imagine, he told us, demonstrating the only possible sleeping position. “I would love to redesign prison cell furniture,” Takeshi told us.

Takeshi’s collection of miniatures. Before starting a new project, Takeshi always creates a miniature model of the piece.

Serenity Now

As Takeshi was being escorted away by the police, he instructed his friends not to phone Louis Lim before 9am. Takeshi knew that his sleep-deprived assistant had been burning the midnight oil working on his own project, and didn’t want to wake him.

After being takent to the precinct in Greenpoint, Takeshi used his one telephone call to contact, not a lawyer, but the office of Rafael Vinoly, as he was working on a project for them. But at 7AM, the only person around to answer the phone was a security guard. Takeshi proceeded to calmly dispense instructions for a project that was supposed to occur later that day. After jotting everything down, the guard – presumably confused and slightly bewildered – asked if Takeshi needed any help. “No, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine,” he replied.

Anecdotally, Takeshi enlightend us on the intricacies of prison currency. The telephone call renders the quarter far more valuable than it ever would be in the outside world. The average exchange rate for a single quarter amongst inmates? Three dollars.

above: “14+1” is one of Takeshi’s earlier storage designs in which various boxes slide out to reveal additional storage. (psst: there’s a little bunny toy hiding in one of the secret compartments)

above: “Affordable Housing.” Takeshi sees beauty in New York City and draws inspiration from all corners of it – even those often shunned by most New Yorkers.

above: Arguably Takeshi’s piece de resistance, “Fractal 23” was originally priced at $20,000 – a strategy intended to discourage buyers. “It was such a pain in the neck to make,” he said in an interview in 2008. “I don’t want to really make too many of them.”

above: Takeshi showed us his latest table – gorgeous in it’s simplicity and craftsmanship.

above: a miniature model of a work-in-progress table using wood scraps.

I ❤ NY

Takeshi’s idea for his “I ❤ NY” lanterns were driven, quite literally, by his love for NY – a city that had supported him mentally and artistically for the last 23 years. But his love letter was also an homage to the iconic NY-based graphic designer Milton Glaser (designer of the I ❤ NY logo) – a figure, Takeshi told us, who inspired him at a very young age to become an artist. Unfortunately, his letter was sent to the wrong address, misread and misinterpreted.

“Do you still heart NY?” His obvious answer to a question we didn’t really need to ask – “Absolutely.”

Takeshi will, without a doubt, continue to enlighten the minds and hearts of New Yorkers through his creativity. But although released from prison, Takeshi’s case is still ongoing – he must return to court on June 21. The best way to keep up with developments and find out ways to help is to join the facebook page.

Finally, my son Huey (5) had some questions for Takeshi, who was kind enough to answer them.

(special thanks to Masako, who helped make this studio visit possible.)

1 Comment

  1. …just wantde to add my piece to the “arrest scandal”…..Has the world gone completely nuts. The UK has also gone PC and health and safety bananas…where will it all end. On the upside I guess it brought some publicity to what looked like a really nice project..Also I love the storage units. Great idea!!

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