Meet celebrity dad: David Hewett

By on July 29, 2011
Photo © Elena Derevtsova
1. Where are you from and What brought you to Japan?

I am from Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. My interest in Japan started through Karate and pottery and when I got to college I began studying Japanese which led to a major in Japanese History. I first came to Japan in 1988 as an exchange student from the University of Massachusetts to Hokkaido University. After that it was love!

2. What is it about Japan that made you stay for 17 years?

My wife thinks I was Japanese in my last life. Everything fits me in Japan culturally that is. I still have to buy shoes for my giant feet in the US. I love Japanese arts and the incredible discipline of the craftspeople. I like the way people assume the best and are generally kind to one another.
We live in the country so it is a little different to Tokyo. We live in a hamlet that has a ‘Ku-Cho’ or ward head, who is great and takes good care of everybody. At first, group thinking that goes into any organization in Japan can feel intrusive to a foreigner but over time it becomes very attractive and one begins to feel a part of a larger family.

On the Art side, I was very fortunate to have won a competition in 1993 to do a 108-painting commission for the Imperial Hotel. This project was really the commercial launch of my artistic career in Japan. Since then I have completed many such projects and held exhibitions over 20 times.

3. Tell us about yourself and your Journey to being a traditional Japanese artist.

I am very interested in Japanese traditional arts and crafts but from the point of view of a modern artist. I have studied Japanese Pottery, Japanese Screen Making and Textile design but have never endeavored to create Japanese themed work. I rather use Japanese traditional materials and techniques to produce art which encompasses tradition as well as the voice of a modern artist with a background in the Avant Garde. Most of my paintings have a story or thought behind them which is more than a representational effort. The screens I make are made in the traditional way with bamboo nails, handmade paper and Japanese pigments. The process is incredibly time consuming but so worth it.

4. How would you describe your brand of art?

Sakamoto Ryoma meets Andy Warhol. As a former Marine and history lover as well
as a layman practitioner of Shinto, I am very focused on those parts of the human experience that require one to show discipline, honor, courage, perseverance and loyalty. My work is often themed around these topics and the titles are often reflective of a longer narrative that is swimming around my head when I am creating. 

5. Tell us about your upcoming events this year and the kind of works that will be on exhibit.

This year has been busy with the move from Tokyo to Nagano. I just finished a year long exhibition at the Four Seasons Marunouchi and on June 30 installed a 12 painting exhibition at the ANA Intercontinental Hotel in Roppongi. The ANA show will be up until the end of September. October 5th – 18th will be an exhibition of over 40 works at Takashimaya Shinjuku’s art gallery. These works will include large and small Japanese Screens as well as paintings and ceramics.

I will also be releasing my second Obi. In 2008 I designed an Obi for Takashimaya that became the #1 selling Obi for them in Japan. The new Obi will be made of silk and gold and each one will take over three months to loom. 

On January 25th – 31st, I will have an exhibition at Takashimaya in Nagoya of about 35 works. I am currently working on some paintings for an office in Yokohama. I often do commissions for individuals and companies. Also, all summer I am welcoming guests to my Nagano studio gallery by appointment at

Updates are always available on my website at
6. You have made a big move from living in Tokyo to the countryside in Nagano. How has this affected your family life?

For one thing, life has slowed considerably. In a very good way. I was formerly the Head of Sales for a major Investment bank so was very busy and had very little time to sit quietly and think. Nagano is cool and beautiful and where we live there are very few people so besides the occasional visit from foxes, wild bore and bear we spend a lot of time together as a family and focus on various creative projects.
I highly recommend it to the readers! 

7. What would be your advice to foreigners Who would like to pursue a similar ambition to be a traditional artist in Japan?

Take a deep breath and be prepared for it to be a slow process. Japanese traditional artists do what they do because they love it.

Passion for the work must be the driving force behind your efforts. A life-long commitment to pursue art is no easy task both financially and emotionally. If you stick with it though, working as an artist in Japan can be hugely rewarding and the great thing about being an artist anywhere is you never retire!

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