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PALM LATITUDES

URBAN ART : Sweetart

August 13, 1995|Judy Raphael

Shan Ichiyanachi dips a chopstick into his portable stove and comes up with a blob of molten blue corn syrup. Pulling, stretching and snipping with scissors, he adds red, green and yellow corn syrup, fashioning a sea horse with a fringed mane. The candy man has come to town.

Ichiyanachi, 43, is one of two practitioners in the United States of amezaiku ("sweet candy craft"), a 1,000 year-old Asian folk art. He first saw amezaiku as a boy in Sapporo, Japan, where he watched a street artist create tiny animals and flowers from rice syrup. "Today, amezaiku is considered a low-class art in Japan, a street act," says Ichiyanachi. "There are maybe only 10 candy artists left in Japan."

Arriving in the United States at 19 to study business, Ichiyanachi met a candy master named Masaji Karawsawa (who now works at Disneyland) and apprenticed himself. He has made corporate logos, intricate castles and a white-dressed Marilyn Monroe (which cost $1000). He has performed at bar mitzvahs, on TV and at "heavy-duty parties for major people" like Michael Jackson, George Burns and former President George Bush. This fall he'll appear at the Guggenheim Museum.

Today at Echo Park's Lotus Festival, he's back to being a street artist, charging $6 a figure. Elegantly dressed in tuxedo pants and a white satin shirt, he banters with the crowd. "If you lacquer it, it can last forever," he tells the crowd. "Otherwise, it'll last a few months." His audience of young children, though, is more interested in scarfing down his creations.

Ichiyanachi shapes the hot candy, paints eyes with a tiny brush and swirls red corn syrup like a banner around the stick, until the piece becomes a unicorn, a hummingbird and two green dolphins--all entwined. The whole thing is over in two minutes.

"How much?" says a boy, with a dollar in his hand. "For you," says Ichiyanachi, "a dollar."

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