Darrell Petit: Beauty of Origins

I first discovered the monumentality of Canadian sculptor Darrell Petit’s work when I visited his website while doing research for this interview.

poster for Darrell Petit Exhibition

Darrell Petit Exhibition

at Akira Ikeda Gallery / Taura
in the Yokohama, Kanagawa area
This event has ended - (2006-11-04 - 2006-12-09)

In Reviews by Ian Chun 2006-12-04

Although images on a computer screen cannot convey the full scale of his work, I could not help but stare in awe at the sheer tonnage of his massive stone sculptures. Images however could not capture the original beauty of the stone, nor the living energy that the sculptor draws out of it.

Darrell_Petit1.jpgSo it was with deliberate purpose that I journeyed down past Zushi in Kanagawa to Taura. Squeezed in between forested hills and the ocean are warehouses of a shipping company, one of which has been converted into the cathedral-like exhibition space that is the Akira Ikeda Gallery. It was here that I met Petit, and he talked to me about his exhibition 1994 & 2006.

The exhibition represents a look into origins, both of the artistry that he has developed over the last twelve years and of the process of creation. Petit explained that he created the three stone pieces that are on display during his time in Kyoto, where he researched the use of stone in the parallax of Japan Zen gardens and the use of traditional Japanese stone-working techniques.

Returning to Japan now more than 12 years later and rediscovering these sculptures revealed to him the influence Japan has had on him and also reminded him of a period in his artistic development when artistry was left raw, unenhanced and unencumbered by technique. His experience of sculpting stone was less developed a decade ago, and reflection on these early pieces has allowed him to rediscover the genesis of his relationship with stone.


Darrell’s work is imbued with his deep appreciation for the beauty of stone. The Norwegian Fjord blue Pearl granite found in Circle of Life (2005) is a kaleidoscope of blue, crystal and slivery gray, while Untitled (1994) is made of sakura mikage, a Japanese granite speckled pink with mineral aggregates, revealing traces of iron that recall timeless Japanese images.

Whereas many people see stone as a permanent, unchanging element of the earth, Petit’s many years of experience working in stone quarries has taught him that this material is in a perpetual alchemical state of fluidity and transformation that has continued for millions of years. Thus, his stonework is often less an imposition of concept onto material than it is a refinement to elicit the original essence of a living entity.

It is here that one begins to see the influence of Japan on Petit’s artistic philosophy. Like the animism of Shinto and many other ancient beliefs found throughout Asia, Petit sees the living energy contained within the stone and forms a relationship with it when working on it. Whether he applies flame to igneous stone, splits the stone in half, or decides to leave the natural surface untouched, Petit draws attention to the natural beauty of the original material.


By contrast, Petit’s 2006 works entitled Blue are superficially a stark departure from his previous endeavors, but form a dialectical contrast that strangely complements his early works. The two new sculptures are freeform frames wrapped in translucent sea blue stretch wrap that works as an energizing reminder of the ocean just a few dozen meters away. The blue transforms the frames into metaphoric representations of the crystals that color much of the granite Petit normally works with.

However, the contrast for Petit is in the time and process of creation. Compared to the months and advanced technical skills required to search, transport, and sculpt material that weighs several tons, the plastic framework and sheeting, salvaged from the transporting of his pieces, is as malleable as clay. Thought and emotion are transposed immediately to the plastic—“it allows you to move at the same speed as your neurons,” he explains. “It is without the mountain of logistical complexities involved in moving and transforming monumental sculptures in stone.” For Petit, working in plastic is working on form uninhibited by knowledge and technique.


The location of the Akira Ikeda Gallery in Taura makes a casual visit to Darrell Petit’s exhibition, 1994 & 2006, difficult for most Tokyo dwellers, but for those willing to make the one and a half hour journey down to Taura, the trip will open your eyes to the beauty of origins.

Ian Chun

Ian Chun. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Ian attained his BA at Brown U. and his Master's at Sophia U. Having spent his last ten years in Japan writing for various publications, then building products and brands for a Japanese manufacturer, Ian currently travels between Japan, Hawaii and New York as a freelance writer, translator and marketing consultant. His insights into Japan can be found on mlatte.com. » See other writings


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