“…everyone has fond memories of sweets.”
Within Japan’s kawaii culture, one artist stands out as a pioneer of contemporary confectionary art — Osamu Watanabe. Since graduating from Tokyo Zokei University in 2003, he has focused on pursuing a wholly unique style of resin whipped cream and candy art. Mr. Watanabe meticulously creates one-of-a-kind pieces with only his deft hands and piping bags, touching upon the culture he grew up in as well as reimagining the works of Western masters. His whimsical signature sculptures have found recognition both in Japan and abroad with international exhibitions held in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Turkey.
In this interview, we talk with Mr. Watanabe about his artistic origins, what his work means to him, and what the future holds. (This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Table of Content
Sweet Island by Osamu Watanabe
Art Inspired by Childhood
When did you develop your style of resin confectionary art?
When I was a student at an art university 18 years ago, I was searching for my own unique style. This is when I discovered the possibilities of confectioneries. Since childhood, the shapes and colors of sweets have remained a distinct memory because of my mother teaching at a confectionery school.
Why did you decide to pursue this style of art instead of becoming a pastry chef?
Because of my mother’s profession, sweets were always plentiful. Therefore, I never really had an inclination to make my own or pursue pastry making as a career.
Finding a Place in Japan’s Contemporary Art Scene
“…no one considered my works as fine art, because there was nothing to compare them to.”
Were you ever afraid that your work wouldn’t be accepted as fine art?
I never feared that my art wouldn’t be accepted. I was more interested in how the art community would respond to my unconventional expression using artificial sweets. I enjoy the act of producing art, so in the times where I was unsure of myself, I found my path by continuing to focus on the work of creating art with my hands.
Compared to conventional artists, how do you think your choice to focus on this medium affected your career?
When I started producing art in this style, no one considered my works as fine art, because there was nothing to compare them to. This lack of recognition didn’t stop me, and I continued to create and exhibit my art. It was when the Japanese art critic Shuji Takashina, who was awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government, featured my work in his book that I realized that continuing my own creative pursuits was important.
What kind of reactions from viewers are the most fulfilling for you?
When I sold my first work, I was very happy. At the same time, I felt my responsibility as an artist. The fact that there was a collector who bought my work meant that I had to guarantee my value as an artist. That was when I decided to become fully committed to my art.
What was the first art piece you sold?
It was a piece that expressed “karesansui” (Japanese rock garden) with resin whipped cream. I entered it in a competition sponsored by the city of Tokyo, and it was bought by Tokyo’s governor at the time.
“…in the times where I was unsure of myself, I found my path by continuing to focus on the work of creating art with my hands.”
What is the most difficult part about making your art?
The most difficult part is decorating with resin whipped cream. To achieve the desired look, I use two different types of piping bag tips and control the technique by adjusting my grip.
What does decorating famous art pieces with artificial confectioneries mean to you?
By decorating artwork that is well known and expressing it in my own way, I am able to tell a new story.
Which of your artworks is your favorite?
My favorite artwork that I have created is Kuniumi, which is based on ancient Japanese mythology.
Traditionally, confectionaries are primarily experienced through eating. What does changing this experience solely into a visual art mean to you?
I believe everyone has fond memories of sweets, and my aim is to remind people of this positive association through my work. People tend to imagine and recall the flavors, colors, and shapes of sweets in an exaggerated way. Therefore, reconstructing the colors of our memories leads us back to that happy feeling.
Happiness by Osamu Watanabe
Looking to the Future
“Recently, I have become interested in figuring out where my artwork fits within a historical context…”
How has your art, vision, or direction changed from when you first started?
In the beginning, I pursued art because it was fun. Recently, I have become interested in figuring out where my artwork fits within a historical context, as well as the meaning behind producing each piece.
What would you tell aspiring artists who are creating unique art?
Your originality is yours alone, so I recommend that you don’t give up and continue working on producing art. Making art can be done throughout your life. As such, I hope aspiring artists will not push themselves to the breaking point, but rather continue making art for many years to come. I, too, try to follow this precept.
What are your future aspirations?
I would like to show my artwork globally and continue to share my world of confectionary art. Currently, I am planning to show my work in Indonesia and France in the near future. In addition, I would like to continue making art and grow its value to collectors.
Where to Buy Osamu Watanabe Art
TRiCERA is proud to include many of Osamu Watanabe’s one-of-a-kind works among our growing offerings. If you are interested in learning more about other emerging artists from Japan, please visit our contemporary art page.