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Chiko Nara - Hanga Ten Landscape

From Japan to London: an interview with Chiko Nara, Director of Hanga Ten

Chiko Nara is Director of Hanga Ten, the only gallery across the UK and Europe that specialises exclusively in contemporary Japanese prints. Hanga Ten prides itself in showcasing limited edition prints that are original works in their own right, as each of them has been meticulously hand-printed by the artist. The gallery represents a vast selection of practitioners, ranging from emerging talent to internationally renowned professionals. Since its establishment in London over twenty years ago, Hanga Ten has exhibited at annual showcases such as the Affordable Art Fair,  London Original Print Fair, 20/21 International Art Fair, and Asian Art in London.

The gallery invites artists to London from Japan to conduct talks and print demonstrations.

Services offered include sales of art, consultations and valuations specialising in contemporary Japanese prints. 

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Chiko at the London Original Print Fair at the Royal Academy (RA) in London…

1. Describe your business in 5 words:

“Amazingly beautiful contemporary Japanese prints.”

2. What inspired you to pursue this career? 

After having spent over two decades working in the finance industry, I began my second career as an art dealer almost by chance.  Ever since I was in my twenties, I have been a collector of contemporary Japanese prints so I was already familiar with the artists we currently represent. 

By coincidence, I learned that the lady who started Hanga Ten in London in the 1990s was looking for a successor as she wanted to retire. When I learned that Hanga Ten focused on the artists whom I had come to love and were already so familiar to me, it was really a natural fit.  My previous career involved to a great extent introducing Japanese companies to the West and I have always focused on the link between the two, so the fact that I was introducing Japanese artists to the West was also a natural transition for me.

3. What’s the most wonderful thing about the profession? 

The interaction with living artists who predominantly live in Japan, going there three times a year, seeing their new work in progress and introducing their art to the West.  I think a lot of our success has been based on the fact that we can introduce our artists first-hand, and explain to customers how they create their work.  

Most of our artists are internationally established in their respective genres of printmaking and painting, but these artists may not necessarily be household names in the U.K. It is therefore essential to explain everything about them and their work, and over time, people here have become avid collectors.  

Many of our clients have never been to Japan.  It is, therefore, the most wonderful thing to see a person buy our artwork for the first time, and come back to us time after time. It is also a great thing to put a smile on the artist’s face when he or she finds out that his works have admirers thousands of miles away. The other joy has been to find younger, up-and-coming younger artists on my trips back to Japan as our established artists are growing older, with the oldest being 106 and still working.

4. And let’s get real… What’s the most challenging aspect of the profession? 

You always need to be alert and on top of what is happening, and to be prepared to ride the tide financially and mentally if the wind changes… but this can also be a good challenge depending on how one looks at it.  Other than that, one has to stay physically fit, and also keep up with all the admin!

5. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given

To get on with it and don’t be afraid to try new things.

6. What do you now say to someone who is just starting out? (Maybe it’s that one thing you wish someone had told you!) 

To get on with it and don’t be afraid to take the next step if that is where your heart is.

7. What challenge is the industry facing that art dealers need to address?

The growth of internet sales means that one should be on a good third-party platform as well as selling through one’s own website.  The saturation of art fairs is something one needs to watch carefully and it is important to choose the right art fair for yourself.  Politico-economic changes via such moves as Brexit need also to be carefully watched and understood, especially if you are importing art into the U.K. as we are.

8. If you had to be one work of art, what would you be – and why?


Shinoda - Fountain (2)

“Fountain” (1992) by Toko Shinoda; photo copyright Hanga Ten.

It would be the lithograph print with hand-colouring called “Fountain” created in 1992 by Toko Shinoda, our 106-year old artist who is still working. It is a large dynamic piece which has strong flowing brush strokes, indicating change but it also has a calmness to it.  The fact that the artist and this artwork has seen so much over the century in itself means a lot, and to be that piece of art and see the world from that perspective would be wonderful.

9. What do you personally believe are the best advantages of being part of an association like AWAD, and how have you benefited?

The most valuable aspects I have gained are interactions with other art dealers and the information we share with each other, whether it be about art fairs or looking for an assistant.  It has been a delight to meet different dealers from different fields and backgrounds.

10. How can you make the most out of being a member of a professional network?

By participating when I can in the meetings and gatherings, and even if I can’t attend them,  having access to the minutes of the meetings has been extremely helpful.
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