Talk about myself
Q What led you to be an artist?
- I've liked painting since I was a child. One of my remote relatives is an artist. As soon as I entered elementary school, I started to learn painting at his place. I wanted to start earlier, but he told me that I was too young and had to wait until the age of six.
- In elementary school, I liked painting, doing craftwork, playing with clay and building miniature houses. I was good at those activities too. I wanted to become an architect in the future. Actually, I have never thought about becoming an artist in my life. Even now I feel the same. I just like painting, that is why I do it.
Q How was your school life?
- I was born in Tsurumi. My house happened to be near St. Joseph's elementary, junior and senior high school. I went to protestant missionary schools from nursery to high school. The only exception was my elementary school which was public. I could say that I have some connection to Christianity in this way, though I never thought the morning and evening services and the Bible classes were enjoyable.
- Toward the end of high school life, I suddenly felt like going to an art college as if my childhood memory had flashed back. Because l had done little practice on drawing up to that moment, I spent an extra year before entering a girl's art college in Higashi-Koenji in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, where my major was in oil painting. I spent all my years in girls' schools- my junior and senior high school were girls' and the college too.
- I enjoyed every second of my college life. I was painting all day, which I loved the most, and it came to some fruition too. Professor Mikio Ikeda known for Japanese traditional painting, highly acclaimed a piece of my work, and he even included it in a book of his own work. It was such an honour and also a delightful memory. At the end of my college years, I received a prize for the best graduation work of the year too.た。
- I derived great pleasure from painting, and I felt like carrying on, since I had got a taste for it. So I entered the postgraduate school of Musashino Art College. Actually I was supposed to work as a jewelry designer at a jewelry shop in Motomachi, Yokohama after graduation. However, I came across a notice of entry conditions of postgraduate art schools and applied to it. I was in the mood that it would not do any harm even if I did fail, and luckily I passed it. So I decided to go on, and apologized to the owner of that shop.
- In contrast to college life, the postgraduate school was agony. It was a long journey to Kodaira where the school was, and I was also attending the remaining classes of a teacher-training course at college. In addition to double schooling, I lost my way in my own expression. I was no longer aware of what style was appropriate for my thoughts and ideas.
Q What did you do after graduating from the postgraduate school?
- The symptoms of atopic dermatitis appeared and got worse. A school offered me a job of an art teacher, but I had to turn it down due to my illness and decided to rest for a while. The skin is the surface of a body and it must be related to my own artistic feelings to some extent. I suppose it was a sign of my inner struggle in the form of a disease.
- At that time, being sick brought me nothing but pain, and I had no idea what was wrong with me. When painting in oil, you use volatile solvents which may aggravate such symptoms. So I switched media from oil to water painting. Then a friend of mine fortunately told me about a teacher who could give lessons of a mixed medium of oil painting and tempera which turned out be exactly what I was looking for.
Q Could you explain more about that medium?
- It looks new but in fact it is a very old method developed in the Renaissance. In the transition of art media from fresco to oil painting via tempera, the mixed medium was developed sometime between the tempera and the oil periods. Instead of canvas, you paint a wooden panel with plaster diluted with liquid glue to have a good foundation. And then you make a rough sketch and paint with white tempera paint dissolved with egg and resin on it. On top of it, you paint with oil colors.
- It allows the colors to come out vividly, and detailed description becomes possible. The coarse texture of canvas tend to hinder delicate brushwork. But I liked to draw details and did wish to work meticulously. As a finishing touch, you leave one brush stroke after another with an extra fine (sable) brush. Though it may not be visible from far back, it gives a very soft touch to a painting when combined with the layer of white tempera beneath.
Q Was this the turning point of your career?
- Yes. Ten years after the encounter, I started copying Rennaisance artists such as Raphael and Carlo Crivelli. I also became familiar with religious paintings. Before I came to know the mixed medium, I used to paint huge pictures in oil. People told me that they looked like Henri Rousseau's work as they were fantastic and surreal.
- As I went on reproducing, my own style gradually grew. I developed an atmosphere of fantasy while painting in oil and then I combined it with the old Renaissance style. When I was copying Crivelli's work, the style had changed gradually from his into my own. I carried on producing my own series of "Virgin and Child" afterwards for nine years. I do not know the exact number, but there are more than 100 pieces.↗
Q What made you start the series of "Revelation"?
- In 2009, an owner of an art gallery suggested "How about painting 'John's Revelation' ?" I have known about the book because I went to mission schools and always wanted to try that once. I thought it would be a challenge.
Q What do you mean by a 'challenge'?
- Obviously I was afraid that it would be very difficult to interpret, but at the same time I was curious about how to present it in painting. There are few artists who have painted "John's Revelation". So I felt it would be very challenging.
- As you all know, "John's Revelation" is written in figurative language. One possibility was to interpret all those symbols and to create an imaginary world as it inspired me. However, I decided to faithfully reproduce the world depicted in the book this time. Perhaps it was paradoxically more difficult than following my original inspiration.
Q Why was it more difficult?
- You have to put all the elements of stories from each chapter together in one panel, which size is F8 (455mm x 379mm) this time. You have to make a lot of choices such as which part of the stories to select, and the position and the emphasis of the elements. If you paint by inspiration, you would not have these troubles, would you? When I had a hard time finding the solution, I came across a woodcut print of Albrecht Dürer. This year, I had a chance to see some of his original artworks on exhibition at the University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts, in Ueno. It would have been impossible for me to paint this series of "Revelation" without that encounter.。
- Besides, I was requested by someone to paint an omnibus work packed with multiple motifs. I was lucky to have that experience as well and those events led me to work on "John's Revelation".
Q How did you feel when you finished your latest work?
- I started from January 2010 and finished my eleventh painting on March 10, 2011. Then the next day the Tohoku Kanto Earthquake struck Japan. I was greatly taken aback by the coincidence. The Earth was split, and hailstones fell down from the sky as "the Apocalypse" says.
- It is March 18 today. The nuclear meltdown threat is still far from over, and the aftershocks have been continuing. I had become anxious about giving an exhibition of mine in May, and publishing this art book in the aftermath of the disaster. But I thought I should do it all the more.
Q Can you be more specific?
- What I mean is that although is a difficult time, the world presented in chapter 21 and 22 will become a reality in time. So through my work, I would like to tell anyone who is suffering right now, never to give up hope.
Q Do you mean "the kingdom of God" will appear as Christians say?
- No, it is not necessarily a Christian idea. People always ask about my name 'Joeshin' which is a name of the Buddhist priesthood. I am actually a Buddhist, or a mountaineering asceticist to be more precise. Mountaineering asceticism is a mixture of Buddhism, mountain animism, and elements of ancient Shintoism ( a Japanese traditional polytheism ). I do not discriminate against any religion. God loves everyone unconditionally, therefore it makes no sense if differences of race, ethnicity, and religion matter.
Q How do you relate yourself to Christianity?
- I am not a Christian, but I visited many sacred spots in Greece, Turkey, and Patmos in 2001, then Assisi and the Vatican in 1992 and 2009. I felt at home especially in Italy, as if I returned to my childhood home. I could pray for many hours in Italian churches. I even thought I would like to live in Italy.
Q The One is All and the All is One, isn't it?
All religions comes down to one.
Lastly tell me what you would like to do next.
- I would like to work on the chapters which remain untouched this time, and after that I would try an inspirational version of "John's Revelation".
- The interpretations vary, but I personally do not think it is a story of conflict or judgement. The new Heaven and the new Earth ( new Jerusalem ) should equally come true for every human being. Because of human frailty and immaturity, we have many problems. But I hope the world becomes one from my heart after going through this time of an ordeal together.
- I am training myself day by day to let go of my ego and to draw and paint at God's calling.
- March 18, 2011