Honda Syoryu was born in 1951 in Kagoshima, on the southwestern tip of Kyushu Island. His family made functional bamboo products. Helping out with the family business as a child is the start of Honda’s working with bamboo. In 1977, Honda moved to the town of Beppu to attend the bamboo craft training school. After completing the one-year course, he remained in Beppu to study under Kadota Niko, a nationally recognized artist. As the largest center for the bamboo craft in Japan, Beppu offered Honda the chance to measure his talent against many of Japan’s most highly skilled craftsmen and artists.
After becoming independent, Honda began to show original work at local and regional public competitions and was soon exhibiting at the national level in the prestigious Japan Traditional Craft Arts Exhibitions. It was apparent from the beginning that Honda intended to introduce different sensibilities into the Beppu basketry tradition. He often incorporated techniques and styles from other regions to make his vessels stand out. Though there were few collectors in Japan for his major exhibition pieces, Honda became successful designing simple yet elegant flower baskets for daily use. Together with Morigami Jin, an artistic rival and friend, Honda soon became one of the emerging stars of Beppu’s art scene. He taught or mentored a number of young bamboo artists who were drawn to his impeccable technique and contemporary aesthetic, including Kibe Seiho and Nakatomi Hajime.
Sales slowed after Japan’s bubble economy burst, and by the end of the 1990s, Honda was struggling financially. In 1999, Honda was introduced to Robert Coffland of TAI Gallery. Recognizing Honda’s talent, Coffland asked Lloyd Cotsen, a longtime supporter of the bamboo arts, if he would sponsor Honda’s creation of a major piece for the Japan Traditional Craft Arts Exhibition. Honda made a dazzling presentation tray, which the judges rejected, but the work found a home in Cotsen’s collection. The following year, Coffland himself sponsored Honda. Judges once again rejected Honda’s highly original submission. Disappointed that the judges did not value Honda’s creativity, Coffland sponsored Honda again – this time to create a work that ignored the constraints of Traditional Craft Art Association. Coffland wrote “What emerged was a bamboo sculpture entitled Dance that was the starting point of a brilliant series that continues to evolve to this day.” It was a major turning point of Honda’s artistic career. He devoted himself to creating abstract bamboo sculptures, and his new work was embraced by an enthusiastic American audience.
M u s e u m C o l l e c t i o n s
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Museum of Art and Design, New York, NY
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, AZ
Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN
Beppu City Bamboo Craft Center, Oita, Japan