Born in Boston in 1960 and trained within both the US and Japan, artist Makoto Fujimura is renowned on the international front for infusing traditional Japanese mediums and stylistic approaches with Western abstract aesthetics. The incorporation of Japanese metal leafs and powdered mineral pigments onto the plane of kumohada, a traditional paper widely used for Nihonga, has especially enabled Fujimura to reflect upon the ethereal beauty within the depiction of space. Having initially studied painting at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, the artist was determined to retrace his steps towards the roots of Japanese history and culture, ultimately studying Nihonga, a conventional Japanese technique for decorative screens and sliding doors, for six years at the Tokyo University of the Arts as a National Scholar from the late 1980s to early 1990s. It is from this experience that Fujimura truly found and reaffirmed his belief in synthesising the meditative and temporal essence between religion and aesthetics from East and West, notably standing apart from other American-born Japanese artists. As he has explained, “Because I do not belong to any of these categories strictly, I choose to operate and dwell in the liminal, spaces that hover between these arenas.”1

The seemingly unfinished manner of Fujimura’s works, as found in Olana Matthew Six from 2009, in reality underscores a fundamental philosophy within Nihonga, where the significance of the work lies in not “how finished [it] looks, but how unfinished it remains.”2 Olana Matthew Six is especially an exemplar to demonstrate the cultural dichotomy much celebrated in Fujimura’s artistic practice. In the work, a phenomenal mix of dark blue, sky blue, and magenta powdered pigments in different layers dance together on the surface of the kumohada paper, serving as a fundamental prelude to the exquisite coat of scattering gold above. Dominating the upper half of the work, the gold leaf, one of the most signatory mediums of Fujimura’s oeuvre, is in fact “symbolic of the movement of the soul towards acceptance of the divine,”3 revealing hints of the Christian faith that guided the artist throughout his artistic career. As is evident in the work, for the artist, who is also a popular writer and speaker, art is intrinsically and essentially a twofold journey towards greater self-reflection and articulation of ideas with others. 

1 Golden Sea: Makoto Fujimura, Dillon Gallery Press, 2013, p. 7
2 Golden Sea: Makoto Fujimura, Dillon Gallery Press, 2013, p. 94
3 Golden Sea: Makoto Fujimura, Dillon Gallery Press, 2013, p. 40 

Contemporary Asian Art

6 October 2013 | HONG KONG