Steampunk art for geeks: Shovelhead Mutant Lifeform Exhibition
By Mike Hanlon
November 10, 2013
If you are a geek-at-heart, there's likely no more loved artist than Yasuhito Udagawa (AKA Shovelhead). I photographed one of Shovelhead's exhibitions two years ago and it caused an avalanche of interest in his techno-mutant life-forms, so when he emailed me to let me know there was another exhibition on the last day of the International Robotics Expo, I was there!
As you'll see from the gallery, Yasuhito creates insects, fish and animals that look like they are alive, or might have been recently, yet they combine very realistic robotics and metallic structures within them – like hybrid creatures that are part machine, part life form.
Shovelhead's story is a joy. A Japanese salaryman who found himself unemployed just 18 years ago (the company he worked for went into bankruptcy), Yasuhito turned to his passion for making models and the rest is history.
Since then his fertile imagination and fabrication techniques have made him a global name in the technology arena where those with zeroes and ones firing between their synapses seem to develop an instant appetite for his work.
I wrote in my last piece that he is unquestionably an artist worth investing in, and after seeing the prices on his latest work, I still think purchasing one of his works is an investment that will never stop giving (you really do need to see one of these pieces in person to understand magical they are) and increase in value forever.
Perhaps the only thing stopping Shovelhead from becoming recognized as an artist of breathtaking talent is his complete lack of pretentiousness. Two years ago when I told him I wanted to do a story on his artwork for Gizmag, he looked at me incredulously and said, "you know they don't work – they look like they work but they are made of paper mache and nuts and bolts."
That is indeed the point: they really do look like they work. Part of the attraction is that you can spend time wondering how they might work, and what technologies Shovelhead might have had in mind when he built them. Indeed, everyone seems to want to spend a lot of time just staring at his creations ... and he still doesn't understand why we love his work at Gizmag.
Shovelhead's humility shines through when you meet him. His exhibitions invariably involve him running simultaneous craft workshops where he teaches children how to do what he does. I looked around for him when I found his exhibition amongst the madness of the International Robotics Expo and couldn't see him at first – he was sitting at the low tables in the craft workshop, amongst the children, exactly where I found him two years ago to the day.
The prices of the artwork can be seen on the cards in front of many of the models, and are in Japanese Yen. As a rule of thumb, divide by 100 to get American dollars and you'll probably have the same thought I did – "how can they be so cheap?"