Sydney based designer Momoko Hatano has become something of a force to be reckoned with.
Born in Fukushima and raised in Sydney via New York, Momoko Hatano graduated from COFA with a major in drawing and painting and immediately landed a job at one of Australia’s most iconic design houses: Dinosaur Designs. She was hired on the back of her drawing talent and, despite having only dabbled in jewellery making at art school, she eventually rose to become head of silver for the jewellery department.
“My jewellery training was really on the job,” explains Momoko. “I had a really great mentor who taught me everything from soldering, polishing, carving and loads of fabrication skills.”
She’s come a long way since then. Momoko Hatano is now one of the Australian contemporary jewellery world’s heavyweights, her work only available at the best addresses in the country – Bassike and Sorry Thanks I Love You among them.
Hatano’s work is always underscored by ethical and sustainable manufacturing – she makes a point of using recycled and transparently soured materials – and is always inspired by nature and the beauty of her Japanese heritage. Previous collections have referenced the phases of the moon, Japanese pearls, and traditional flower rituals, but this time the artist has turned her gaze to one of history’s most oxygen-starved female artists: Katsushika Oei.
Her father was the creator of the most famous wave in art history, but ancient Japanese Ukiyo-e artist Hokusai had a secret weapon: his daughter. Working ostensibly as her father’s production assistant, Katsushika Oei was also Hokusai’s ‘ghost brush’ – and possibly the hidden hand behind some of Hokusai’s most famous works.
Momoko Hatano’s newest collection, Oei, immortalises this uncelebrated maestro in recycled Australian sterling, gold crystal and pearl. Hatano came across the story of Katsushika Oei in their shared home country, where her story is finally beginning to inspire films and exhibitions.
The collection encapsulates brilliant trompe l'oeil cuff earrings, carved pendants, and signet-esque rings referencing Hatano’s favourite motifs: nocturnal celestial activity, ancient tribal jewels, natural forms and sustainable materials.
“I sourced Swarovski crystals in this collection because unlike other gems they are entirely traceable,” says Hatano. “All their crystals are made in Austria and crystals are also recyclable - so Swarovski aligns perfectly with my design and manufacturing values of transparency and sustainability. I also wanted to use the particular kind of red that Katsushika Oei often used in her paintings - and Swarovski offers an amazing range of red hues.”
Many of the pieces in the collection were originally carved out of wax, using sharp carving implements, needle files and flame.
“To me the carving process is very similar to drawing, especially when carving something figurative like a face or a hand,” says Hatano. “I carve the tool into the surface of the wax, almost like pencil to paper.”
Oei is a collection that’s destined to thrust Hatano even further into the spotlight, and catapult her from undiscovered up-and-comer to established designer in command of her craft.
“The issue with ghost artists is that you don’t really know which famous work belongs to them,” says Momoko Hatano. “I think the pursuit of rediscovering these hidden stories and researching them is what resonates with me.”
The rest of Australia, no doubt, will feel exactly the same about her.