Talking Hospitality And Business With David Stanley Hewett

Know more about David Stanley Hewitt and how he became the most prominent foreign artist in Japan.

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These days, art is not limited – not in style, medium, technique, and certainly not in where it can be shown and enjoyed. Many of Agora Gallery’s artists have taken full advantage of the various opportunities available to contemporary artists, and we wanted to learn a little more about pursuing unique projects and how to use those connections to further your artistic career.

In this post, we are speaking with New York-born, Japan-based artist David Stanley Hewett, one of the most well-known foreign artists in Japan. Having held major exhibitions in Japan, Singapore, and the United States, Hewett is known in particular for his abstract works with strong influences from the Samurai code of Bushido and the Japanese Shinto Religion. His works can be seen at The Imperial Hotel, The Okura Hotel, The Peninsula Hotel, Mitsui Trading, and numerous other collections around the world. Having created a large network in the hospitality industry as well as among other businesses, Hewett is always doing something big and new, and we were able to pick his brain and learn his secrets.

David Stanley Hewett with one of his works in the first floor lobby at The Oakwood Premier Tokyo
David Stanley Hewett with one of his works in the first-floor lobby at The Oakwood Premier Tokyo

First and foremost, how did a Midwestern boy end up in Japan?

I began practicing Japanese Karate in upstate New York when I was 14, and my interest in all things Japanese began in the Dojo. At 16, I went away to boarding school in Maine and one of the cooks in the kitchen was an older Japanese man who knew of my interest in Japan. He had worked as a kitchen assistant as a boy on a US Base in Japan after
World War II and had a small book that the US Government gave to the soldiers called ‘Learn Japanese in 10 Days’. He gave that to me and I never looked back.

Later when I got to University, I decided to study Japanese History and Language. I had been practicing pottery for about ten years by then and, at one point, went to an exhibition of Takatori Pottery in Northampton, Massachusetts. The pottery was so different than anything I had seen before – bold and elegant while maintaining its functionality. This chance meeting with Takatori Pottery was the trigger that would have me spending the rest of my life in Japan. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, I boarded a plane for Tokyo where I started to study Japanese ceramics with the acclaimed teacher Kawamura Sachiko in1990.

Your work has been purchased by some of Japan’s major hospitality players: The Imperial Hotel, The Okura Hotel, The Peninsula, Oakwood Premier and others. Why do you think this particular industry is so fascinated with your art?

I like to paint big. Japanese homes are mostly small; so while I do about 4 major exhibitions a year that included all sizes of paintings, I love to paint very large works. In order to do that in Japan, I needed to engage clients that had space, need, and budgets to make that happen. That is my main reason for focusing on hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. The side benefit is that having done commissions for the largest hotels and companies and having my art in very public spaces, I have by default created a trusted brand in Japan. Japan is a very cautious culture. Having the Imperial Hotel, The Okura Hotel, etc. choose my art for their public spaces puts future clients at ease for their own projects.

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One of David Stanley Hewett's works in the Limousine Lobby of The Oakwood Premier Tokyo
One of David Stanley Hewett’s works in the Limousine Lobby of The Oakwood Premier Tokyo

Did you specifically pursue the hospitality industry? If so, how?

I haven’t targeted the hospitality industry specifically, but I do a lot of large projects for hotels and restaurants as wells as commissions for private collections.

“I think in order to be commercially successful as an artist, one really needs to be very practical about the amount of time that is needed to market the work. Half of my time is spent involved in marketing, planning, working on licensing my designs to various companies, and so on. It seems like a lot, but in my experience, it is what is required.”

The days of ‘being discovered’ and then having a gallery manage everything for the artist are mostly gone. I spend a lot of time engaging with architects and interior design companies. I send out direct mail and email campaigns regularly. These people are very busy, and I have learned over the past 30 years that the key to being considered for large projects is to make sure you are constantly in front of the decision makers.

David Stanley Hewett with one of his works in the sixth floor lobby of The Oakwood Premier Tokyo
David Stanley Hewett with one of his works in the sixth-floor lobby of The Oakwood Premier Tokyo

You were selected for The Oakwood Premier project from a pool of hundreds of artists. How did that process unfold?

The Oakwood Premier Tokyo is a luxury hotel that is located adjacent to Tokyo Station. They were looking for an artist that was Japanese but could also appeal to foreigners. I am clearly not Japanese, but knowing their stated objective was very helpful.

I was asked to meet with the interior design company, architects, and owners to pitch my work for three large lobby paintings and 10 works for the largest suite. The owner knew of my work with other hotels and the interior design company also had seen my work before. I did a pitch that included nine small-scale paintings using gold leaf that I thought would be a good fit for the hotel. I focused on the fact that the themes and lines in my paintings are drawn from Japanese traditional painting and history but are contemporary in composition. This turned out to be a good match for what they wanted to project to their clients.

Did the hotel ask you to remain true to your own style or to make adjustments based on the style of their brand?

This is a great question and I imagine of great interest to other artists. The answer is that each artist has to make this decision on their own. If you approach your art as a craft and a way to make a living, then making changes based on client needs and preferences becomes easier. If you approach your art as an expression of who you are and have strong feelings about the integrity of that process, then it is very difficult to do anything but paint what is in your heart. When I do large corporate projects, this is one of the first conversations I have with the client. I tell them that I will paint for the space and walk them through what I envision based on the space and the feel of the environment. I do tell them that I will not take instruction on content, colors, etc. If what I propose is a good match then we move forward, and if not, then I always offer to introduce them to other artists I know.
David Stanley Hewett's ceramic pottery in The Oakwood Premier Tokyo suite room
David Stanley Hewett’s ceramic pottery in The Oakwood Premier Tokyo suite room

I am also a ceramic artist, and for me, because of the functionality of the ceramics I make, I feel completely different when doing a ceramic commission. I did 16 small covered bowls for a Tokyo Michelin two-star restaurant, and they had very specific needs in terms of size and utility. In that case, I was happy to accommodate. But when I did an 8′ x 4′ painting for the same restaurant and told them that was all up to me, though!

How did this project change the way that you work?

Nothing really changed in the way I work. I do think that each new project opens my eyes further to the possibilities of collaboration with clients. When I do a project like the Oakwood Premier Tokyo, the work is very public, and I receive a lot of feedback on the paintings. That can be very useful in terms of getting better at my craft.

Working with goldleaf for a painting
Working with gold leaf for a painting

Will you continue to work with the hotel after this project?

These projects always lead to other projects. After the opening of the hotel, I was commissioned by an architect who saw the lobby paintings. In May, I completed an 8′ x 4′ gold leaf painting for a private residence in Tokyo because the architect for that residence saw my work in the Oakwood. Oakwood itself is expanding across Asia now, so I expect there may be some work in places like Singapore and China going forward.

In your opinion, what is the best way to reach out to organizations or businesses regarding special projects?

Persistence. Never assume that being a talented artist is enough. The world is busy. To be noticed, you have to make some noise.
I send out catalogs to architects, interior designers, hotels, galleries, and museums on a regular basis. Keeping in front of buyers and making sure your content is fresh is very important. Also, writing emails regularly and keeping people up-to-date with your story and journey is very important.

With over 30 years of experience representing artists from around the world, Agora Gallery offers artists the opportunity to present their work to a broad range of national and international art collectors and buyers. Looking for an opportunity to enhance your career? Visit our Gallery Representation And Artist Promotion page for more information.

Learn more about David Stanley Hewett and take a look at his paintings and pottery on ART-mine.com.

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