Born in Saitama, Japan in 1979. M.A Kyoto University. Guest lecturer of Chiba University of Commerce. After working at some museums including The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura and Hayama, She works in the fields of art critique, planning, and education as a freelance curator.
Snow and Ambition
- Regarding the
works of Season Lao
The Church of St. Paul is a symbol of the city of Macau and a famous tourist attraction. However, the
building, established during the first half of the 17th century, consists now of just the front wall being held up. Standing like a giant bas relief, it seems to be a stage backdrop for an epic
about the rise and fall of this land. Everyone who underwent compulsory education in Japan knows that the Western country first contacted by Japan was Portugal, one of the champions of the Age of
Discovery. Although the two countries' interaction, which began in the first half of the 16th century, went on for less than a hundred years, its traces can be found to the present day in various
fields, such as food and language. However, surprisingly, it is not well known that most of these came to Japan via Macau, Portugal’s base in the Far East. And in the period when Christianity
became a subject of oppression in Japan, Macau also turned into a target destination for followers; it is said that some among them were involved with the construction of the aforementioned
Church of St. Paul. Afterwards, Macau’s development lagged behind due to Portugal's defeat in the fight for hegemony with the emerging Netherlands; consequently, this city welcomes the 20th
century with its Western European civilization, preserved from many centuries ago.
Season Lao was born and raised in this Macau. He was born in 1987, and experienced the transfer of sovereignty to China as a 12 year old. He started his activities as an artist during his studies at the Multimedia Department of Macau Polytechnic University; having searched for the identity of his hometown through research in China and Portugal, he presented it in photographs and videos. Among them, "百年菉荳圍Páteo do Mungo", announced in 2008, holds a very important meaning for his early career. The occasion of its production was the redevelopment heavily promoted in the area at that time. This led to his birthplace, a traditional building group, becoming subject to demolition; upon learning this, he began to produce works focused on the lives of the people living there, and eventually this action brought about the result of preserving the cityscapes in the region. He visited his current base, Hokkaidō, in the following year (2009); he was fascinated by the snowy landscape and the ruins of the coal mines, and decided to immigrate to this place. He fulfilled an important role there as a bridge between cultures; when the Church of St. Paul was built in the Sapporo Snow Festival of 2016, he cooperated with the Macau City Tourism Board in this event, opening an exhibition commemorating the 10th anniversary of his hometown's registration as a World Heritage Site.
Having lived in the North where the year is reset by “Winter” limiting human activities, and having experienced the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, his concept of art creation changed to a more multi-layered and robust one. Namely, it is said that, in addition to the strong interest in human beings and regional communities as seen in "百年菉荳圍Páteo do Mungo", his works came to reflect his observations of nature. His adoption of hand-made washi (Japanese paper), which allows for the visual or tactile perception of plant-based fibers, is also a change that ties into this. The pursuit of such materials culminated successfully in a mixture of "modeling using machines originating in Europe" and "traditional Japanese materials made from plants"; this way he realized works which belong both to the West and the East, and which are both artificial and in harmony with nature.
On the other hand, if we turn our eyes to these pictures, it is possible to discover commonalities with presentations in East Asian traditional painting. Let's give an example here with the painting methods introduced in "Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden" from the Qing Dynasty, which is known as the encyclopedia of Chinese painting. At its beginning, in "picture theory", it cites " The Lofty Message of Forest and Streams ", written by Guo Xi in the early Song Dynasty, where for such extremely basic skills as the drawing of lines and points 12 techniques are introduced. The point to note here is that there are two types of techniques based on the color of the support instead of the ink. Specifically, one method is to create a hazy scene with faint ink, making use of the ground color of the silk canvas; another one is to create what is seen as a waterfall-like motif with an ink coating. Many of Season Lao’s photos are of snowy landscapes, and the snow in these is expressed exactly by the exposure of the support. Furthermore, haze and waterfall, which are mentioned in "Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden“ as examples of presentations that make use of the color of the support, both consist of water in different states; snow is also understood as another such state.
By the way, as a subject, abandoned coal mines have roughly the same importance as snow for Season Lao. The author’s interest in the state of affairs where the source of energy that supported the modernization of the world was left behind by the era might be greatly related to how he witnessed the ups and downs of a culture from up close, by being born in a city symbolized by beautiful ruins, and by experiencing such things as the crisis of his birthplace’s demolition due to redevelopment triggered by the transfer of sovereignty. In addition, experiencing accidents related to nuclear power, which was seen as the next generation of energy, immediately after immigrating, must have had a strong influence on him.
Finally, there is one more thing deserving a special mention. This is the fact that Season Lao always maintains a practical attitude in his activities. He states about his own creation process: “70 percent of it is philosophy and technique, the remaining 30 percent is the objective”. The philosophy is to explore the coexistence of man and nature, the objective is to have people thinking about "continuity". While the subjects of his work are coal mines, which evoke a sweaty sense of machismo, they are polished to convey a very peaceful and lyrical atmosphere. Here, if we regard the works again while being aware of the author's statement, a certain strategy stands out, that expects us to be interested in affluent and intelligent people who are well-versed in the power that moves society. At the same time, the author considers this aspiration to be desirable. He also says that he “wants to bring Macau's contemporary art to the level of the global standard”. A strong determination for his objective, and a wide field of vision—perhaps the blood of the people from the Age of Discovery, who have come across the sea to open up a new era, might be flowing in his veins somewhere.
（Feb, 2018, Gallery MORITA WEB-site http://www.g-morita.com/exhibition/2018/ex000508.html, Artist's WEB-site http://www.season-lao.com/art-photo/?p=2105）
Nimbus and Ocean
- Regarding Hikaru Myoen ”Painted penguins”
Artist Hikaru Myoen can seen to have the approach of a fickle child at times, for he has a fierce
ability to concentrate all of his energies on a specific motif when it takes his fancy, but before long his attention tends to jump to something completely new. What makes him different from an
actual child, however, is that when he puts his mind to something, he has the technical skills and physical ability to realize it. It seems that for Myoen, it is the difficulty of the challenge
that is key, for when something is no longer hard it is no longer interesting. Last year he began painting in an abstract style, having spent two solid years prior to that depicting rubber ducks.
As of this spring, it appears that penguins have already become his new focus. You may think that Myoen has simply switched from floating ducks to another species of flightless bird, while in
reality a big shift has occurred, expressing itself in the form of a highly tangible soft yellow glow that appears around the heads of these animals. Myoen achieves the effect by first spray
painting on the blank canvas. The form of the penguins then emerges through the subsequent layering of pre-determined black shapes, the order of this painting process creating the impression that
the animals are backlit. Spray paint is a new medium for Myoen, who embraces the risk of the paint spattering in unexpected areas due to clogging or the like. This method whereby you cannot
completely control the shape or position of the paint creates a tenser atmosphere during production and requires far more tolerance of chance than when painting with a brush only. When artists
are able to make good use of such mental states, the potential of their artistic expression can greatly expand. According to Greek mythology, gods who fell to earth would be surrounded by a
nimbus, that is, a shining cloud. Later, the word “nimbus” took on the meaning of “aura,” or an “endearing atmosphere.” The ducks the artist previously depicted as his subjects were anonymous
industrial products created for human beings, but in his new works each of the penguins has its own personality, and it seems that at times Myoen is forced to sympathize with these traits. It can
be said that it is here that his interest shifts from an artificially controlled situation to a more realistic world. If you think in terms of the birds’ habitats, it would be like the difference
between a bathroom or pool and a harsh ocean. Not to worry though, his penguins have a nimbus.
（Sep, 2017 NANATASU Gallery WEB-site https://en.nanatasu.jp/exhibition/index.php?id=63 ）
A Free Floating
Point of View
- Examining the Paintings of Shoichi Okumura
I first saw ‘Hoyden Enjoying the Cool of the Evening’ at The Taro Okamoto Award for Contemporary Art in
February of 2017, and it was just a few weeks later that I saw the piece ‘Sunset Journey’ at the Joint Graduation Exhibition of Five Art Universities in Tokyo. Afterwards I found pondering why I
had felt a sense of deja-vu while standing before both pieces.
Shoichi Okumura was born in BeiJing, China in 1989. Within a few years his family moved to Tokyo and he has almost no memory of this early time in China. While he had loved to draw since he was a child, it was in his first year of highschool that he decided to set his sights on becoming an artist. In his teens he admired the work of artists such as Klimt and Schiele, and these influences can be clearly seen in Okumura’s work from his first few years at university.
At 21 years old Okumura decided to study abroad, having felt his mind and body limited by his own inner conflicts. He decided to go back to the country of his birth. In addition to studying brushwork, he also fell in love with the traditional culture of the place. His work changed completely to Eastern subjects, and sumi ink brush lines began to support the fundamental structures of his pieces. This was also the time when he began to focus on old men and young women as his subjects, a pattern which still holds true today. While the melancholic tones of his pieces did recall earlier works, the freeing of his subjects from an enclosed environment did represent an important departure. In these new works, which posses an earthy animism reminiscent of Gauguin’s works in Tahiti, it is possible to see how Okumura changed from personal emotional work to a more universal world view.
It was about a year after his return to Japan that the young women of his paintings would begin their movement. In fact, they quickly became the catalyst for new changes and movement within his work. This change can be seen in how the figures relate to the earth upon which they stand. In the beginning these figures are closely tied to mountains and rivers within the frame, but starting in 2014 they become less and less connected to the ground, with even the ground itself beginning to float unattached to the surroundings at times. Even if pieces of ground are shown they seem to exist only as slight footrests for the figures, never really holding their weight in full (‘Young Woman Landscapes - Forgotten Shangri La’ is an example of this.) In time they began to take poses akin to astronauts floating freely in the space station. The figures look off in a direction different from the one in which they are moving, giving them an air of capriciousness or ambition.
Apart from the figures, the flowers and fruits he paints are also an important part of the works’ charm. In the beginning they were mostly plants viewed traditionally to be auspicious omens, but starting in 2016 he began to incorporate plants from other countries as well, such as a cacti. This ability to mix elements which have been stylized overtime by forebearers throughout a long history, with elements which have been stylized through repeated sketching by the artist, along with the natural ease with which they mix is truly a mark of great skill. He says that the man-made objects such as propeller planes and bicycles are included as a way to introduce straight lines, and thus a sense of sturdy form, into compositions which are otherwise full of organic shapes.
Regarding these sumi ink lines in his work the artist said “The paper and ink are truly in control until the very end” (‘Works of Okumura Shouichi 2013-2014’). “By using the whole body, not just the fingertips, to draw the figures, they become integrated into the lines” (From an interview in March of 2017).
This shows us the great reverence he feels towards the ink and paper, revealing him as an artist who works to create with his whole body. As for his creative process, he begins by drawing directly on the piece, without first creating a separate sketch. While the central figure is planned out somewhat in advance, the other elements are built up intuitively as part of this process. For him to start a piece without bringing it to completion is very rare. For this style of creation to take place with sumi ink, which once drawn cannot be erased, is a testament to the very precise and skilled brushwork of the artist, and to the passion which brings him to say ‘there is still so much I want to draw.’ It is clear that these two elements exist in tandem in his work.
In his work moving forward the artists wants to try his hand at motifs from Southern countries and tropical areas. It seems his work will continue to be held up as an example of work pushing against the idea of modernism. This should serve as a cool-eyed look towards those who seem to focus solely on Western Art. When we stand in front of Okumura’s paintings, it can be easy to become lost in the shiny lips and luscious skin of his figures. However, it is important to remember that these works also challenge the way in which the world currently accepts without question the use of modernism as a universal measure of merit.
I visited the artist’s workplace in late March while writing this article, and at the end of our interview he offered to play a piece for me on the piano. While he began his musical training with classic music his interest currently leans towards music with roots in Africa, techno music, and other genre. That day he played a Jazzy melody for me. As I was listening I found myself recalling the ‘Composition’ series by Kandinsky, in which the abstract works were formed by striving to make music visible. It would seem that these works were the reason for the deja vu I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
It is true that Kandinsky, who brought the art world from modern art into the present day, was raised in the Ukraine, far away from the center of the modernist world at the time. In an era where the people who worked to expand modernism in so many directions have begun to enter into a state of protectionism, Okumura’s works, which come from a study of history, and which layer flowery style with critique, hold very important meaning. Maybe we need to reexamine the world from a place free from gravity, floating free like those young women or Kandinsky.
（Apr, 2017,The Artcomplex Center of Tokyo, "Flavor of Chinese Utopia in Grotto", Artist's WEB-site https://www.shoichiokumura.com/statement）
Spring, Autumns and Moring
- Regarding "Mami Itagaki / Tomorrow's Bread"
I asked if the girl was hooking or unhooking her bra, and the artist laughed with her answer while
promptly straightening me out. “It could be either.”
This exhibition’s title, “Tomorrow’s Bread,” refers to breakfast, a familiar daily scene that is also connected with life and the near future, a bright new day. There is a clichéd phrase about the sun rising on everyone, but of course those in the springs and those in the autumns of their lives have a different number of mornings left to greet.
The ability to make fun of the idea that breakfast is a kind of sacred ritual is the privilege of those too young realize its true meaning. The high schooler here must be such a youngster, dashing through the halls munching on a piece of bread, perhaps running into a transfer student as she rounds the corner.
Put your hand on your heart. On the mornings of your adolescence, what did you desired? Surely not bread. Only those capable of such reflection and of finding the hook will realize the answer to the opening question.
（Oct, 2016 NANATASU Gallery WEB-site https://en.nanatasu.jp/exhibition/index.php?id=52 ）
Flightless bird will
- Regarding ”Hikaru Myoen / COLORS”
Hikaru Myoen is well known for his rubber duck series. I was constantly met by these creators at every
exhibition of his, and I thought to myself, “Could he not someday wave these yellow ducks into the blue sky and move on?” Then this artist decided to take a distance from his signature motif of
ducks, and at the same time move away from the long practiced techniques of oil painting and figurative depiction and began to investigate a new approach of chance and ambivalence. In this solo
exhibition he presents water color works based on the theme “colorful”, as well as open air installation. He also provides a workshop for children and presents the color of sound at the opening.
While it might be a little sad that we are no longer to encounter the cute duck characters which defined Myoen’s career we are certainly to be met with a space of happiness which reveals a
transformation in the artist.
（Sep, 2016 NANATASU Gallery WEB-site https://en.nanatasu.jp/exhibition/index.php?id=51 ）