Alumni in the ANU Art Collection series
The Art Collection fills an important role of enriching the creative, cultural and intellectual lives of students and staff on the ANU campus. First established in 1949, it comprises over 2900 paintings, drawings, sculptures, limited editions prints and photographs, ceramics and glass objects by significant artists.
Alumni students and staff from the ANU School of Art and Design (previously Canberra School of Art and ANU School of Art) are numerously represented in the collection through purchases, generous donations by artists and patrons and through the School of Art and Design’s Emerging Artists Support Scheme. In this series of posts we introduce a selection of alumni artists and their works in the collection, and give a brief insight into their lives and art practices.
Kensuke Todo graduated from the ANU School of Art with a Masters (Visual Arts) Sculpture in 2004. His sculpture, A Height, 2006, (mild steel, 710 x 540 x 520 mm) was donated to the ANU Art Collection through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Randi Linnegar and Robert Linnegar in 2019.
In a recent conversation with Kensuke Todo he reflected on the influence of an unconventional upbringing and the journey that led him to both study and live in Canberra. Born in Japan, the Kyoto family home of Kensuke’s early years was surrounded by forests, parks and paddocks. As he grew and suburbia intensified around him, he came to realize that both the home his father had designed and his family life, so supportive of creativity and individuality, were uncommon. Kensuke’s parents encouraged him to follow a creative career, though it took extra years of study to gain entry into the university of his choice. He observed that in Japan a strong sense of individuality, creative interest and insight, bought challenges with it, including some sense of isolation and dislocation. It was with this awareness in mind that he came to Australia in 1999 as an exchange student at the ANU School of Art (now the ANU School of Art and Design).
Kensuke used the process of shifting between cultures to confirm a sense of self. In a new environment he experienced the opportunity to recreate himself, and despite communicating in a language he was still learning, he made good friends. Enrolling in postgraduate studies at the ANU in the early 2000s he experienced recurring nostalgia as he moved between Japan and Australia. The reflections on architecture and social culture that emerged from this became the source of inspiration for his work. He recounts being fascinated by the architecture of ordinary cityscapes and using them to inspire his sculptures. These were places that were almost depressing, reflecting daily life, not glorious architecture. Everyone squashed together, living on top of one and other, each with their own stories. In his series of sculptures, which includes A Height, gifted to the ANU Art Collection by Randi and Robert Linnegar, he responded to apartments, staircases, multi-story carparks, elevators, escalators, and bridged highways. These he saw not as clinical archetypes but as bearers of emotion and reflective of humanity. In moving these buildings and architectural structures from their city contexts he enabled them to become embodied, personified.
Kensuke’s work in part stems from his observations of those closest to him. His father’s passion for architecture is embedded in the sculptural observations of suburban and high-density living spaces. Then in 2016 he commenced work on a series ignited by observing his son lifting up a heavy rock; an interaction that realized unexpected creative inspiration. It was large and his son was small and it almost dropped onto his toes. Kensuke picked up the rock and in feeling its weight, registered the strength of his son. He appreciates the process of learning and growing alongside his kids, a mutual giving; says they surprise him in many ways. He categorises his earlier work as influenced by the father figure and then notes the shift of the influence to the son. Exploring this connection is part of a searching for identity, where he is coming from and where he is going, being human.
Today Kensuke Todo lives in Canberra. He has a sculpture studio at Strathnairn Arts and works as a conservation technician at the National Gallery of Australia. He is currently working on an outdoor sculpture commission for a private collection. Still inspired by the rock, he is constructing a pond with a channel through which water flows. He describes it as similar to the work of Korean Sculptor and painter Lee Ufan. Working in bronze, a relatively uncommon material in his sculptures to date, he says the learning curve of welding and fabricating with this material can be frustrating but ultimately the challenge is rewarding and enjoyable.
Kensuke Todo exhibited a survey show at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery in 2014. For images and text on the show see https://dhg.anu.edu.au/events/kensuke-todo-a-survey/