|wallalley project for wallpaintingsin lane Ogijima
[ Interview ] Professor Nobuo Tsuji & Rikuji Makabe
Setouchi International Art Festival 2010 g100-day Art and Sea AdventurehTsujiFYour new work is a sort of installation where you have placed materials on old household walls. This seems to be an extremely new idea when looking at your other works. How did this project come about?
Makabe: The fact that my work would be placed in a surrounding where one can see the sea and mountains in the background, instead of it being placed in a white box of a museum, was an interesting starting point for me. I had already started creating work using patch-worked wood instead of canvas. Before this exhibition in November, 2008, I used to paint everything on canvas, but my current style of creation, where I paint ordinary, everyday objects on mundane material, came as a solution to a question Ifve had;- Can painting come into existence without it being painted on canvas?
Tsuji: Ifm sure that the experimental work was well received, but your latest project has taken a further step by placing it in nature and in everyday life of the people on an island. And this must have made a huge difference to you.
Makabe: That was the most interesting and yet most difficult part of this project. When work is placed in a gallery or a museum you can turn a blind eye to it if you are not interested. But when the artwork suddenly appears in a residential area, it is visible to the eyes of the people, whether you are taken by it or not, it becomes difficult to ignore. One might feel a dislike or on the other hand one might like it. I was under a considerable strain at the beginning of the creation.
Tsuji: You mean the relationship formed was not with the so-called 'Art Fans', but rather it was between residents who are not too familiar with art.
Makabe: Yes. I had to start by considering matters such as gTo whom do I want to show my work to? g, gFor whom am I creating Art? h. And this was a new finding.
Tsuji: How did the residents react to your work?
Makabe: They seemed suspicious at first. I would go round the houses to explain, and they saw blue prints of red, yellow and orange vivid paintings on their exterior walls. They must have had uncertainty towards the change in their familiar scenery.
Tsuji: Putting it mildly, it was like someone painting up your house!
Makabe: It was the completion of the first house that changed the islanderfs reaction. I think their response was favourable.
Tsuji: I find it interesting that you had to consider their likes and dislikes. Most contemporary artists seem to disregard others' opinions or feelings.
Makabe: This time I really had to take that into account.
Tsuji: I believe that to be a good thing. One reason that contemporary art is not very popular, or rather just ignored by the general public, is because artists show little consideration towards the publicfs interest. This self-righteous attitude seems to raise antipathy. It appears that like it was a good opportunity to reflect on the relationship between contemporary art and a man of today, especially when it comes to the relationship on an old-fashioned island with itfs historical culture and itfs residents! By the way, painting on, and combining thin wooden planks itself, is a new technique in comparison to working on canvas. How did this come about?
Makabe: The initial idea was more like a patchwork or a collage. I have been fascinated by over-layering of multiple patterns such as Kimono and Obi-a broad sash worn around the Japanese Kimono. Others such as gUesugi Kenshinfs Kin Gira Dousutou Nuiawasedoufukuh mentioned in your book, gHistory of Japanese Arth, or the mounting of a hanging scroll, where they clash patterns on patterns are also fascinating. The space produced by layering patterns, which is created by sudden unmeaning encounter of shapes, interests me. The decorativeness and sequence seen in Islamic art have also influenced me, and constitutes the starting point of the project idea. The realism of reproduction seen in Renaissance paintings is not found in Islamic art, where idol worship is forbidden. Instead, they explored by means of decoration. My current form of creation has emerged out of these influences combined with my original research theme, gabstract expressionismh. Small pieces of tiles or mosaic coming together to form an enormous screen that covers an entire mosque, is one aspect of Islamic art that has influenced me. I have memories of viewing several of these in Istanbul, and they have formed the center of my work. Moreover, I have been attracted by the decorativeness of gByodouin-Hooudou of Ujih in Kyoto.
Tsuji: What do you mean when you say decorativeness of Byodouin? The interior?
Makabe: Yes, thatfs what I mean. Being a thousand years old we can only see a trace of it, but the interior wall-painting was once covered with rich colours. These also captivate me.
Tsuji: Apart from the Kimono and Jinbaori, a form of coat made of silk, linen or leather, and embroidered, which Japanese Bushi wore at war, Islamic architecture or decoration, interior decoration of Byodouin is equally filled with highly religious qualities. Decoration is often regarded as only a pleasure to the eye, or that it only exists with the presence of another main object. Your work is also decorative, but was the brilliant coloured collage aimed only to please the viewers?
Makabe: No, it is more like nature worship or animism. The paintings consist of silhouettes of trees or cloud and island-like shapes, shapes that one finds in nature. Underlying impulse is my vague feeling of worship towards nature.
Tsuji: That is a slight difference from Islamic decorativeness. Islamic decoration is in itself a religious expression, but does your work aim to express gnatureh?
Makabe: I would actually like to express something transcending nature. Art has a role to express the essence of nature.
Tsuji: Is gnatureh always on your mind?
Makabe: Yes it is.
Tsuji: Such as glifeh in nature?
Makabe: Also infinity, continuity and multiplicity.
Tsuji: Light and shadow are also on your mind?
Tsuji: I suppose the association with nature led to harmony with the residents' taste. Had it been totally abstract and had no association with nature, it would have felt very much out of place.
Makabe: With all eight houses I worked on, I tried to make the best colour and form choices for each place. For example, the first house had a beautiful view of the sunset that inspired me to work mainly with orange and red. Others would be more of blue, green and gold. I extracted elements of each place, and painted what could only be painted on that spot.
Tsuji: That seems more like abstract impressionism than abstract expressionism! Claude Monetfs work becomes absorbed into a cosmic realm in his later years, but does your style also point in the direction of transcending nature?
Makabe: Well, I hope one can surpass nature and feel the Cosmic quality. If Monet had lived another ten, twenty or fifty-years, I wonder what kind of painting he would have made. There must have been a new development. The same could be said of Matisse.
Tsuji: Matisse is another artist who evolved his style from abstraction to a religious realm. He abstracted natural figures such as flowers and human figures, and created a style that became suitable for church stained-glass. I see similarities with your work on Ogi-jima.
Makabe: I find it extremely fascinating to create a large work from small fragments. I use stained-glass like wooden planks, but if I tried working with a large canvas that would be terribly costly. Transportation would be difficult too. That is why I work with cedar planks that can be found anywhere.
Tsuji: I see. Stained-glass is also created by connecting small fragments of glass as it is technically difficult to make out of large pieces of glass. Working with restrictions is extremely important. This is often the case with Japanese art. For example the Ougi, Japanse folding fan, is restricted by its shape of the tableau. But we find amusing compositions or pattern by such by artists as Soutatsu Tawaraya. The Byobu is also restricted in the sense that it is used folded, or stretched like an accordion. Although this folding is large limitation, we find that the artists have well utilised the strange space found when the Byobu is folded.
Makabe: With some of the works there are irregular shapes that are not quadrilateral. For example there is space accentuated by the silhouette of roof, bent or hollowed.
Tsuji: There are hollowed areas too?
Makabe: Yes! Painting should not be set in a frame of common denominator by saying it equals a quadrangle rectangular.
Tsuji: Yes, thatfs a fixed idea.
Makabe: But there were times I couldnft get away from the fixed idea, and it remained a rectangular. I sense I could have been a little more free from the convention.
Tsuji: Maybe you couldnft take a sudden turn in change as you have worked and familiarized with flat screens. I presume you will work towards expressing in reversed conditions such as bent or folded shapes.
Makabe: Yes. The seventh house I worked on has a large plum tree in front of the painting. It is virtually impossible to view the work as one whole piece. I placed the work in the background and used a real plum tree as a backdrop. As it is summer, it is now covered in green, but soon the leaves will fall, and you will see the bared branches and bark. On sunny days, shadows of the branches and leaves fall on the painting. Not only the painted elements, but also natural light and shadow contribute to the composition of this work.
Tsuji: A concerto with nature! That is very interesting.
Makabe: I specifically chose such locations. I owe it to the islandfs landscape and itfs environment.
Tsuji: I heard that you first negotiated with the islanders by saying that the work could be removed at any point, but I find it quite an achievement that they changed their attitude, and said that they wanted the work to be left on location after the art festival.
Makabe: I feel deep gratitude. I lived on the island, and worked in front of the people and communicated with them for three months. Understanding between us grew little by little, and art and painting must have become closer to them in the meantime. Ifve been thinking that modern Japan has very little art in the average household. Didnft the Edo and early Meiji era have more art in everyday life?
Tsuji: Japanese art has always been at one with daily life. Ordinary household changed the scrolls according to the season. They would make an offering, and bring ornaments into the house at New Year, for example, in order to change the internal atmosphere. That was one form of art, but the way we use the word gArth in our modern culture is one of the problems.
Makabe: I understand the word gBijyutuh meaning Art was made in the Meiji era.
Tsuji: It was the creation of this word that made art in everyday life distant. The word had given authorization to art but it became something you view at an exhibition. Although exhibitions provided an opportunity to show brilliant work to the public, they also led to a decline of the enjoyment of art which maybe not have been so brilliant, but nevertheless, it was intrinsic part of everyday life. In some sense contemporary art was a fatal blow. Contemporary art emerged out of a strong art consciousness, the principle of art for artfs sake, including anti-art such as Marcel Duchamp. An ordinary man couldnft understand it but they also didnft readily accept the fact that they understood or did not understand contemporary art. This is the beginning of the tragedy of contemporary art. But your work seems as if you are overcoming this tragedy, and bringing art back into normal lives. At least I feel this possibility.
Makabe: It is my wish to lead art into co-existence with daily life, not to make it an extraordinary thing.
Makabe: Would you please tell me if you have anything else you would like to mention or any other critique you would like to make?@
Tsuji: You have talked about art in everyday life, harmonizing with nature, and respecting nature. These seem to come from your empathetic nature. I made comments that could be taken as criticizing contemporary art, but actually contemporary art was born from a place outside normal civil life, and therein lies significance of art's existence. Providing the viewer with a strange and thrilling experience is also, or rather, its primary role. Although your colourful, decorative style has always been your personal signature, as I look back to your earlier work, which was like a blazing fire, I hope you will not lose the strength and intensity that it carried. Even though I could be asking too much!
Makabe: You have seen my work for the past seven to eight years. Back then, I wanted to go beyond abstract expressionism, and was making abstract work. I now paint a few leaves and branches here and there, but I donft think my work has changed significantly.
Tsuji: Some might say you are making compromises, but in some cases, you have to add these characteristics. For example, without representing branches, the people who live in this particular environment could well be confused. It is the considerate nature of the painter, and yet, if you keep the viewers too much in mind, it could lead to weakness.
Makabe: This project has a duality. One can see leaves, branches or a bunch of grapes when you go up to the paintings, but from a certain distance these shapes lose their identity. Only when you come up close to the work, you find the details. But at a distance, it looks like a complete abstract work. I have made my work as complete abstract.
Tsuji: By the way, it occurred to me that there could be a possibility of scribbling made to your work. Probably not by the residents, but what if a drunken sightseer does that?
Makabe: It isnft very likely to happen, but itfs not impossible either. But I am aware of such possibility, and if it happens, I can paint over it. With the sun directly falling on the work, colour fading is one such concern, but the change made by sunlight is also a change made by time, and I accept these changes. The art- festival goes on for about one hundred days, but once it becomes a permanent exhibit it will certainly fade. But I myself want to have a look at that time-weathered work.
Tsuji: Are there special mediums you used to resist direct sunlight?
Makabe: Ifve worked mainly with oil paints by Holbein, and Western lacquer by Cashew, with durability and light resistance in mind. These are reliable mediums, but the base is wood, and that was more of a concern. I have taken preservative measures with Xyladecor. As it isnft as strong as tiles, choosing other materials would be a future issue.
Tsuji: If you think that Taro Okamotofs mural on Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building was taken down when the location was moved, you might well wish to keep in mind that your work might not be preserved forever. But you can keep on making work in place of them.
Makabe: Yes, I think I will do so.
Tsuji: Yes, you just have to make more than those that will become damaged or broken.
Makabe: For this exhibition I worked on an island, but I would like to work in mountains or foreign towns. For example, it might be fascinating to see them in an old Italian town.
Tsuji: Susumu Shingu is a mobile sculptor who goes all over the world, especially to remote areas like Mongolia, and creates fields full of windmill-like sculptures with children. He is also a contemporary artist, but has a sense of being one who appears to link contemporary art with daily life. I look forward to your work becoming like that too.
Makabe: Placing work in a different background such as in Africa, India or Europe would be very interesting to me.
Tsuji: Yes, and also working in the USA would enlarge your work, as the scale of contemporary painting over there is huge. Of course it will be rather expensive but go out and find a sponsor!
Makabe: Ok, Ifll look out for a sponsor!
Tsuji: I look forward to your positive, committed work!
Makabe: Thank you.July, 2010 at Kita-Kamakura
Born 1932, Professor of Art History. Extensive publications such as gKisou no keifuh, gKisou no zufuh, gHistory of Japanese Arth and many others.