We caught up with Ikebana artist Tamayo Hussey at her secluded and tranquil Japanese-Welsh fusion home tucked away in the forests of the Wye Valley. We sat down with her to enjoy a freshly brewed ginger tea and chatted about Tamayo’s formative journey with the floral architect Yoshio Karimai in Tokyo, about how art and science complement each other in her ikebana practice and what she and her husband Nigel learned about themselves after having built the Fforest Lodge, their beautiful dream home that has been featured on Grand Designs.
After inviting us to try our hand at making our own ikebana, Tamayo kindly offered us a practical demonstration of the process of creating a flower arrangement, explaining to us the meaning of Ikeduende and the multifunctional nature of the the Japanese tatami room. Having seen Tamayo absorbed in the creation of this fragile and momentary art piece, we realised that Ikebana is a lot more than simply flower arranging: it is a process whereby the artist embarks on a spiritual journey of expressing the intimate relationship between human beings and nature; it is a form of meditation that suggests a kind of temporary dissipation of the self in the act of creating naturally changing, living sculptures.
For those who do not know you, who is Tamayo behind Ikeduende?
Tamayo was born in Japan and moved to the UK over a decade ago and now lives in a lodge inside a hidden forest with her family. She is petite, loves British humour and believes in magic. She likes to walk in the forest, especially through the wild, ancient forests around her home.
One day, she and her family ended up at a Japanese larch tree covered in deep moss. The moss was thick, like an evergreen carpet. The fresh moist air had a settled humidity and made her want to breathe in a long, lingering breath. In and out. The carpet of moss was inviting to touch, the feeling on her hands tingling and pure. Her kids’ reaction was more physical than sensory. They were running, bouncing on the soft moss on the ground.
She remembers that she used to do this herself too near her home in the Okutama Valley near Tokyo when she was a child. At that moment though, she felt she belonged to the forests of the Wye Valley and decided to build a home there with her husband and opened Ikeduende.
Ikeduende offers its guests the experience of Japanese flower arranging within a bespoke space.
Through the process of creating a flower arrangement, you discover its fragile and delicate nature. Creating a momentary art piece helps one to develop a positive attitude, an appreciation to nature and an ability to concentrate deeply with his/her hands work. This is a simple yet direct way of enriching one’s life.
In 2018, Tamayo is going to take part in events both for UNESCO and as commemoration of the Japanese Tsunami in 2011. She continues to explore how one can use flowers to make a difference to the world around us.
Who or what sparked your passion for ikebana?
My mother shared her passion for plants and flowers with me from an early age. She had her own collection of plants in her garden and introduced me to the weird, wonderful world of horticulture.
Ikeduende – how did you come up with the name for your ikebana practice and why is it meaningful to you?
For me, ikeduende sums up the two main passions in my life. Ike comes from Ikebana, which means Japanese flower arranging, though it is a lot more than simply flower arranging; the artist becomes very involved in and affected by the process while their senses – touch, smell, sight and a sense of space – create a unique art piece, like a sculpture, but alive, a naturally changing sculpture. Duende is taken from the world of flamenco and translates roughly as “fire” in English. It is the spontaneous sensation a flamenco troupe feels when reach an elated state while singing, dancing and playing together.
Can you tell us more about your formative experience with the floral architect Yoshio Karimai in Tokyo?
Karimai-sensei lives in Tokyo, near the Imperial Palace. His way with flowers is simply sensational. His style and approach to flowers is very anti-establishment, his ethos is “no rule is my rule”. He never refers to his works as Ikebana but they certainly contain its influences and elements. His pieces are epitomized with elegance and wildness, strength and delicacy, freshness and maturity, all in exquisite detail. Karimai-sensei also composes stories or poems to accompany each piece. But the best thing about him for me is the experience of sharing a moment with him in his studio, watching him construct a piece and share in his creation. His studio is full of antiques, bronze vases and a multitude of small objects. Every corner is occupied with old vases, pots and paintings or a scented smoke rises from a stone-carved tortoise. He always welcomes me with his big smile. He wears a colourful silk shirt and a pair of leather slippers. His skin is tanned and he is drinking a glass of Dom Perignon.
He has his own authentic taste in flower arrangement, in his studio space, in his attire and in his life; a philosophy I have always sought to emulate.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
The light emanating from my grandparents’ house around dusk after I had spent hours playing with my siblings and friends. The feeling of running on dry brown ground without shoes, my knees covered in cuts and bruises; it’s a mixed feeling of sadness for the end of the day and of warmth for my return to the family hearth. My grandmother always kept outer shutters open for me so I could see the evening meal being prepared and my grandmother singing in front of the family shrine.
Tell us a little about the Fforest Lodge and how the relationship with this environment influences and inspires your art?
The sheep on the hills, the winding roads, the seasonal colours on the mountainside, the different scenery every morning infused with sun and fog, the narrow steep hills, the brown water coming in with the tide, the muddy moist undergrowth, the different shapes of leaves, people at the pub discussing the next festival etc: all these sights and sounds permeate my space and inspire my art.
What is the most important lesson that you’ve learned about yourself after all the hard work that you've put into building the Fforest Lodge?
Never build a family house while your children are small.
Me and my husband were young and reckless. We didn’t know how much the hard work would suck away all the precious time with our children. That one year, we didn’t watch our children grow close-up. It was a harsh lesson to learn.
In acknowledging that, however, we also learnt that you should not be afraid of new challenges. We love the house now and are, in a small way, proud of the fact that our house contributed a piece of history to the British timber industry. Our project showcased the use of a local source for British construction and gave us a deeper connection to the area.
How do people who attend your workshops relate with the spiritual significance of ikebana?
I love watching my guests be drawn gradually into their own relationship with their arrangement, and as the day progresses, lose themselves to the art form.
What is the most frequent question that people who attend your talks and demonstrations ask you?
About the technique of ikebana, in particular how to place a branch in order to create a form that pleases them.
How does the art of ikebana fit in with the contemporary lifestyle and interior design?
In our house, we keep one room empty, the Japanese tatami room. The room is visually quiet and subtle. There is no table, no chairs, no furniture. In the alcove at one end, there hangs a single water colour painting below which squats a small seasonal flower arrangement.
I like to keep this room empty because then I feel I can do anything in there whenever I want. We use the tatami room as a multi-functional space, as a guest room, as a yoga/meditation/exercise space or as a venue for the tea ceremony or ikebana itself.
Having an emptiness inside our living space creates a room in our mind. This idea links to the practices of Ikebana and tea ceremony.
Tell us about your passion for Flamenco. Are you a dancer yourself?
When I perform flamenco, my feelings come out. As I stomp my feet on the floor, I release all my tensions, frustrations and I lose myself in the music. I forget everything. It feels like I am dreaming. I am not a dancer but I love the feeling of imagining myself as a dancer!
You are also a Fine Art and Biosciences graduate. How do Art and Science complement each other in your ikebana practice and philosophy of life?
My scientific curiosity and my artistic expression sit comfortably side by side. Science, itself, is also extremely creative, so I don’t see a distinction necessarily. But when you make a flower arrangement, you are essentially killing the flowers. The act of decay is the science; the beauty of its decay is the art.
You have also lived in Holland. How was Ikeduende received there?
Ikeduende didn’t launch in Holland as much as I hoped. But I enjoyed observing their passion for plants and flowers.
How does a regular day look like for you?
In the morning, I stand silent for a while before my children wake and sip green tea gazing out of my window at the forest and stream beyond, noting the changes of the scene from the day before. After getting the kids to school, I go for a walk, either alone or with a friend. I pass the rest of the day carrying out the daily chores, content in my surroundings, which still make the ordinariness of the day special.
What was the best advice that you have ever been given?
“Make sure you marry someone who makes you laugh” from my mother.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind and get inspired?
I like to go to a place that I have never been to before, often alone. To an art exhibition perhaps, or my favourite lingerie shop. I also love reading books, and talking to friends and learning about the sudden changes in their lives.
How do you see Ikeduende evolving in the future?
I am holding a workshop in February and organising a new event in March in commemoration of the Japanese tsunami in 2011 and I am taking part in a UNESCO event to be held in Tintern in 2018. I am excited to see how things shape up in the coming year.
And now a Max Frisch question: Would you like to have a perfect memory?
A perfect memory of what? How do we know it’s perfect?
I would like to say, imperfect is perfectly perfect for me.
Can you recommend us:
A book: My Kingdom by Yoshio Karimai, published by Sue and Emma (2004)
A song: Mezquita by Vincent Amigo (2005)
A poem: A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver (1983)
A film: Dolls by Takeshi Kitano (2002)
Thank you, Tamayo for the insight into your creative and personal realm.
Official website: Ikeduende
Interview answers ©Tamayo Hussey
We are Irina and Silviu and we do everything together.
Our story begun in Transylvania while studying Philosophy at the University and we have been inseparable ever since. From translating philosophy books to changing diapers, creating collages together and documenting our reality through photography our togetherness became a lifestyle.
For the past 8 years we have called Wales home, the land of hiraeth and Celtic legends, of rugged coastlines and dramatic Brecon Beacons.
If you feel a connection with our aesthetics and vision we would love to hear from you.