A sculpture just installed in Winson Green is a milestone in the remarkable life of artist Hideo Furuta, says Terry Grimley.
When the Japanese sculptor Hideo Furuta first came to Britain in 1985, he was a single parent with a two year-old son, living more or less literally on the road.
"At that time I hadn't got a studio, so I made all the sculptures on site," he explains. "So me and my son were both living in a transit van."
They travelled from one commission to another, beginning at Builth Wells Comprehensive School in mid-Wales, an area where Furuta says he still has good friends - there are also pieces by him at Powis Castle and Newtown.
His son was not so much homeeducated as van-educated until Furuta happened to spot an advertisment for scholarships to Fettes College in Edinburgh (best-known old boy Tony Blair), without quite realising that it was the Eton of Scotland.
His son won a scholarship anyway, and later won one to Cambridge, from where he graduated with a PhD in quantum physics two years ago.
Meanwhile Furuta, now based in Dumfries, has built a solid reputation in Britain for his carved abstract stone scultures, themselves influenced by an interest in physics and mathematics.
Last week he was in Birmingham to install his latest commission, Spinning Cubes, in the courtyard of the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre.
This lively social and cultural centre on the regenerated Dudley Road is housed in a new building financed by the Millennium Commission and designed by Birmingham architects D5.
A new extension financed by the Arts Council, housing radio and recording studios, was officially opened by Lord Morris of Handsworth on Friday.
Spinning Cubes consists of six stacked black African granite cubes, each weighing three tonnes and each of which turns successively by ten degrees.
The idea of the resulting 20 ft-high spiralling column, explains Furuta, is to celebrate the past achievements of Afro-Caribbean people in Birmingham, at the same time indicating that they will continue into the future.
"The people at the centre are some of the nicest people I could meet. Also they are very buoyant people, and the possibility that I could take a part in their achievement is a wonderful thing for me."
Compared to much of his earlier work the piece looks severely geometric, but much of the carving has actually been done by hand.
"Some is cut by machine but a lot of it is very rough and I have to work on it by hand. It took 14 months. Boredom is the greatest enemy if you are doing the same thing every day."
Born in Hiroshima in 1949, Furura qualifies for free health care as a second-generation atom-bomb victim, though his family home was sufficiently far removed from the blast for damage to be limited to a dropped ceiling.
He continued to live in the city, on and off, until he was 32.
He studied art in Tokyo but did not finish the course because 1968-69 was the year of aggressive student politics and the art college closed.
At 22 he was in Spain, but he then went back to teach in an art school in Hiroshima for ten years.
Finally disastisfied with being part-time as both a teacher and an artist he accepted an invitation to work in Chile, only to be forced to move quickly to Peru after making an unguarded remark about the Pinochet regime.
"I criticised Pinochet, which was a stupid thing to do. All I said was I didn't like military governments. So I had to escape to Peru. Lima College asked me to work there, and at that time my Spanish was better than my English.
"But wages were so low. I did try going back to Japan but within months I found it very difficult to adjust myself to Japanese society. So I wrote to the British Council."
Furuta is planning a change of direction after completing Spinning Cubes:
However, there is one idea he has had for some time which, if realised, would be the biggest sculpture ever made. It would be a series of 500 metre rings, large enough to be visible by satellite, arranged in a line from Siberia through the Middle east to the Sahara.
"After 9/11 the following year I sent my project to the King of Jordan to make one large piece there. If that is going to happen I would have to train young people in stone-carving. I haven't had a decision yet. It may never happen, but I'm still hopeful."