A couple of years ago, I left my job as an entertainment executive and moved my office from Madison Avenue to the fields of Balsam Farms in Amagansett on the South Fork of Long Island. I spent the summer digging and planting on Town Lane and it changed the course of my life. It inspired me to start this blog, which in turn inspired me to get into photography.
I was recently asked to participate in a PechaKucha Night at the Parrish Art Museum in Watermill. PechaKucha is a format from Japan in which creatives from a community talk about and present their latest project in twenty slides, that flick by every twenty seconds. For the event I created a photo series based around the Japanese idea of Shokunin. Coming from film and entertainment I’m very inspired by movies and the inspiration for this series came from the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The documentary explores the idea of shokunin, mastery of one’s profession, as it relates to a sushi master. The concept of shokunin as you delve into it further has many nuances. It’s not only about mastery, but about work ethic, pride in one’s work and dedication. A trend we see so much these days is a return to craftsmanship. After so many years of blind consumption there is a renewed interest in process. I call it a trend, but I actually think it’s more than that, it’s a movement that can help us make the world a better place on a social, cultural and environmental level.
I started off this photo series with three people I think embody the spirit of shokunin: a painter, a baker and a bee-keeper. All very different forms of craftsmanship, but their attention to detail and process and wanting to give something back to the community through their work is what unites them. It’s not the finished product so much that is important, even though that product is what draws us in – because it’s beautiful, or tasty, or evocative – it’s the ritual that goes into getting there.
In this post and in these photos we are taking a look at the work and process of Nick Weber an East Hampton Springs based painter. He has been painting with oil for over twenty years. What strikes me about his work is that he’s not making trendy paintings. He is a figurative painter and while he explores other aspects of painting and ways of doing figurative painting in new ways, like using tracing and cut outs, he is dedicated to an art form that is undeniably harder to market and sell in today’s art world. And there are certain paintings that he has worked on for twenty years – seeing them as never finished. It is a form of devotion and meditation that is immense. For somebody who is so young, Nick is in his early 40’s, that is even more remarkable.
Nick just moved to a new studio where these photographs were shot, but you can see the layers of his work and process – in his tools, in his books, in the objects that migrated with him from one studio to the next. I love the notes he leaves for himself on his paintings, things that he likes or dislikes about them, a reference that comes to mind. There is a fine line between creation and destruction in his paintings. He will create something beautiful and then wipe out the whole thing and start again. You want to stop him, but you know that something rich will come out of this letting go. Spending time with him, photographing him, sitting for him, I was reminded that a huge part of being an artist, a maker is trust – is believing in the process no matter where it takes you along the way.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will share the photos from my time with the beekeeper and the baker and the series will continue, as I fell in love with the idea and the spirit of shokunin in doing this project and realized along the way that to do something well – to do something with intent – is its own form of spirituality and that we would all benefit from bringing this shokunin energy into our own lives.