Seiya Suzuki: The 18-ton ‘Calligrapher in Exile’ goes on show

Written by By Sajeel Ibrahim, for CNN

John Hammond, curator and historian at the British Museum

A powerful British calligrapher and designer, Seiya Suzuki was an iconic figure, an innovator. Born to Japanese immigrants, Seiya began working with paints at 12-years-old, and started his own training in his twenties. Once he was a master, he was swiftly put into the spotlight. In a 1992 interview, Seiya recalled his illustrious career:

“The earliest ones were done for my family and friends. I don’t think I knew about the power of those miniature things. I was a bloke, a small boy, and so I didn’t know how many people would see them, how people would react to them. But it was very exciting and it was very important for the family.

“Then we sold some to the British Museum and in that time I was working with rock bands, orchestras, studio musicians and later with the Royal Ballet. So all those periods I enjoyed. I don’t think I had a season not working.”

The M.L.B. Arrival, which makes a big screen on which to show one’s work, is one of Seiya’s recent projects. Credit: Seiya Suzuki, courtesy the British Museum

Seiya’s cravat and red velvet bow have become items of great importance within the context of British Art in general and British design in particular. To his critics, he had a considerable ego; to his fans, he had a style.

And so it would be thought reasonable to expect the 18-piece M.L.B. Arrival series would never see the light of day unless payments were paid, which wasn’t the case.

On 8 July, Seiya’s studio went on strike, two weeks before the exhibition was due to open. However, the Arts Council of Great Britain, Seiya’s main employer, accepted the settlement of a £30,000 overdraft loan and a two-year contract. A spokesperson for the Art and Humanities Research Council said: “The council has had a long-standing relationship with the Suzuki studio. We greatly value the production of these fine art pieces and very much hope that the studio will resume to their working practices.”

Apparently, Seiya’s studio’s desire to give a voice to Palestinian refugees inspired the phrase “book of arrival” used for the Arrival series; it’s a reminder of the things that unite and divide us.

Ultimately, the strike was called off — albeit temporarily — and the exhibition is due to open on Tuesday. Which gives us hope.

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