Hiroki Kataoka’s artwork requires him to wear double-layered gloves, a gas mask, and a chemical suit.
Cutting corners is a concept he’d never entertain, using only 24-carat gold to bring letters to life on hand-cut and hand-carved glass. Though mirror making is a long-dead art form, with artisans having been overtaken by factories, Kataoka has perfected the craft himself. He says it gives him yet another edge, and that isn’t the biggest one: in truth, he’s the only handmade glass sign artist in all of Japan.
Glass signage began in the United Kingdom in the late 1800s, and quickly became popular across the pond in the United States, particularly around New York City. Unique artisans put their spin on these creations, and they became staples of luxury brands and well-off companies. Taking the time to really look at Hiroki Kataoka’s pieces, especially those used in shopfronts, it reminds us of a boardwalk at the turn of the century. These are more than signs… they are sophisticated and elaborate time-machines, painstakingly crafted by a single pair of talented hands.
The images are impressive, but to gain a deeper appreciation of how each of these highly intricate pieces is created, Hiroki Kataoka details his process on YouTube, with videos updated with relative frequency. (If you’re looking for something intensely satisfying to watch, look no further. We also appreciate the ‘ASMR’ tag.)
Born in Okayama and currently residing in Kyoto, Kataoka travelled to California to study under sign artist Roderick Treece, and began his own company upon returning to his native Japan. He’s worked with well-known brand Dickies, and has created designs for Mr. Cartoon, the famous tattoo artist most well-known for inking Eminem.
You may have seen one of his signs in your travels, but would you ever know a Japanese artist was behind them? Admittedly, these works are atypical of our past Artist Spotlight installments here at OTAQUEST. When you think of Japanese art, you may instantly jump to manga stylings or vivid neon.
Shop signs aren’t the end of Kataoka’s works: how would you like a one-of-a-kind piece to celebrate your wedding reception, or for those residing in Japan, a nameplate at the entrance of your home? Well worth the cost, we’d wager.
Being a glass sign artist is something peculiar and unique, but being the only one in Japan must be a badge Kataoka wears proudly. Though this style was born of the western world, the care taken on each individual step is profoundly Japanese; the integrity and dedication to the minutiae shine through, and no detail is overlooked or rushed. The next time you see one of these hand-painted signs in the wild, take an extra moment.