MISE Natsunosuke Solo Exhibition “Diverse Gods”
April 27 ～ June 23, 2014
installation view photo: YAMAMOTO Tadasu
Painting of Japan by MISE Natsunosuke
While producing works using what we call materials of ‘Japanese painting’ such as mineral pigments and washi (traditional Japanese paper), MISE Natsunosuke questions continuously how the way of painting called ‘Japanese-style painting’ should be, and thus he refers to ‘Japan’ itself in his creative activities. In Mise’s works, motifs that are modern, topical and/or familiar to him are used, which make his works appear to be a visual diary of the artist. Also included are motifs symbolizing Japan stereotypically such as a great image of Buddha and the Rising Sun flag, and also Adamski’s UFO and Nessie whose tricks have already been revealed, and subcultural motifs derived from manga characters. Being linked together prolifically, they build up a great image with immanent contemporariness. It must be true that he grasps them as reality, but when motifs and materials which remind us of history are added and integrated into the subject matter of ‘Japan,’ they are expressed as a horizontal axis depicting our contemporary age rather than ‘my’ personal feelings at ‘this specific time and place.’ And they are accumulated along the vertical axis of history.
Having graduated from the Department of Japanese Painting, he is naturally interested in materials and motifs of ‘Japanese-style painting’ as well as its system and historical development, and so, he has often mentioned them in various contexts. His interest is not limited to them, however. The subject of ‘Japan’ in his work often seems to be used as an intermediary to connect themes of artists, who have an awareness of contemporary issues, to the old layers of history. That has become more apparent in this exhibition and his new pieces produced for the exhibition.
As he frequently dismantles, revises and reintegrates his works in the past to create new pieces, it is difficult to define standards of his ‘new works.’ It would be safe, however, to say that Painting of Japan─the small basin universe is his new piece. Fields below mountains, huts and man-made sculptures such as ancient tombs similar to natural objects, and a range of mountains behind them are depicted in detail with ink and whiting on washi. The mountains are composed of those painted mountains and small pieces of torn paper forming a circle in the center of the picture. Those small hilly fragments are weakly connected one another as if they were joining hands, so that the whole work is made up with a sparse space in the center. Mise mentioned that when he tried to represent a sort of self-portrait of Japan in this work, there was an image of the national flag of Japan on his mind.(1) When you turn to the back of the work, you will find it covered with gold leaf. Small mountains on the surface with a variety of identities are replaced by a single color. The motif also overlaps with this country’s co-fantasy. The surface seemingly gold at first glance has deteriorated here and there and become darkened with rust. This indicates his implied judgment of the situation of Japan and structure of society.
'The small basin universe’ in the title comes from Shobonchi-uchu to Nihon Bunka (Small Basin Universe and Japanese Culture) written by cultural anthropologist YONEYAMA Toshinao who questioned the unity of Japanese society/culture and clarified the regional diversity of Japanese culture.(2) This thesis aims for, so to speak, local reinstatement, focusing on regional diversity of Japanese culture, dispelling the notion of myth fixed in modern times that Japanese culture is unitary, and envisaging the construction of local cultures open to the world. Mise’s work quoting the title from this thesis(3) that is oriented to restoration of provincial regions clearly shows not only his thoughts on ‘Japanese culture’ but also his interest in the potential of contemporary art(4) explored through his folkloric approach. His interest in the pre-modern folkloric elements were indicated in his works before, but it was probably after 2009 when he assumed a new post at Tohoku University of Art and Design in Yamagata that his coming in contact with the customs of the Tohoku region from a folkloric perspective had not a little impact on his interest. He has adopted ‘Painting of Japan’ instead of ‘Japanese Painting’ as the translation of Nippon no E for the first time in this exhibition. It is probably because his works are not traditional Japanese paintings but they are paintings depicting ‘Japan’ diachronically as well as synchronically.
In the venue where Painting of Japan─The small basin universe is on display, several pieces of small mountain-like fragments, which are parts of the work, are shown in glass showcases with respective names. (fig.1) Being displayed along with Painting of Japan─The small basin universe, they showcased the ‘individuality’ of each mountain aggregated into a single flag, adding another meaning to the work. Thus, in his works, the form, materials and the nature of the substance are often deeply involved with the meaning and content of the work.
In Painting of Japan─The small basin universe, eyelets are made directly in the work to suspend the painting in the center of the gallery, so that the form itself becomes ‘a flag which appears to be streaming in the wind’ and ‘a flag that is crumbling,’(5) or by being put up as a national flag floating in the air like a fictitious symbol, it reminds us of a risky relationship between painted mountains (=regions and people) and the flag as a whole (=nation). Viewers can go around to the back of the work. Doing so, they find that the large landscape painting with a sparse space in the center reveals the texture of flimsy paper. Not only the material itself is eloquent but also the texture of the material spoils the fiction of ‘image’ created by the painting.
As for Painting of Japan─Laughing Moon, there are his sketches, pieces of old paper and pencils pasted on it, gaps in seams and twisted-paper strings used partly on the picture. (fig.2, 3) Viewers, who are touring the world of the painting enjoying looking at details as they approach a huge image of billowing smoke, which reminds them of eruption and explosion, are suddenly pulled back into the three-dimensional world. If Mise, because of his distrust of images(6) brings in fragments of reality and three-dimensional objects, he seems to be trying to follow the style of collage and papier colle, which introduced reality onto the ‘sacred’ painting. On the other hand, however, the picture layout bringing out the best expression of the material reminds us of the way of making up the image on the picture without losing much of the natural texture of the material, just like gold leaf and mother-of-pearl inlay found in Japanese traditional crafts and paintings.
On the other hand, Trying to Change This Moment into Eternity (fig.4) and open fifth (fig.5) are paintings, each of which makes us feel the volume of materials in itself in the space. In this exhibition, both ends of the work are lifted off the wall so that ‘sides’ of the picture are created. That has made it possible to introduce a part of the painting as a substantial mass in the space, and at the same time, in contrast to the flat part, they look like forming a frame while being a part of the painting. What is more, the two on display in the same format are symmetrical on the left and right, so that viewers perceive the wall space in the middle as a blank space created in the center between the two paintings. That reminds us of the relationship between the real space and space in a painting whose boundary is ambiguous as shown in Japanese antiques, such as a plane flat painting on the wall, sliding doors and folding screens put in the three-dimensional space, and calligraphic works on painted scrolls whose images are linked one another. Needless to mention Roland Barthes’s ‘empty center,’ this structure is repeatedly used as ‘Structure of Japan’(7) in similar vein of his pictorial structure using symmetrical images and a blank in the center of Painting of Japan─The small basin universe and Divers Gods (2013)(8), his new work that was not exhibited at ACAC this time. Thus, it can be said that his aesthetic liking in the old layers of history and association with history are not only perceptible in the materials and motifs.
Mise quotes real affairs onto his painting and depicts various deplorable situations of Japan using images that strongly impress us as collapse, distortion and chaos. Even if he expresses them in a manner in which physical fragility is emphasized as in Painting of Japan─The small basin universe, the work still keeps the strength of an inviolable image floating in the air. This only indicates that he is presenting, through his painting, something that has overcome chaos and collapse or something that will replace what we have lost. That leads to the exhibition title Divers Gods, but it does not necessarily mean the religious God. It is used as a symbol of an idea, ideal or something like vision─even if it is a fantasy. I think that, simply because he owes it to his painting, he does not use a single clear form but uses vague images like something like a flag, God, mountain and fumes, which are big and give us an overwhelming impression being able to reflect stories on viewers’ minds. For this exhibition, he wanted to position the overall display slightly higher than usual. It indicates that he believes in the power of art as a symbol, not as mere decoration or an object of pleasure, and intends to revive the role of art in the society, although he uses familiar motifs and his pictorial images have close affinity with space and substances in real life. Here, I can see how the artist strongly desires, in order to live in this unstable world, for the advent of something that goes beyond paintings based on personal feelings and judgment, without giving up his own sense of body and subjectivity.
(1) Interview with Mise, AC2, No. 15, July 1, 2013. (Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori Public University)
(2)YONEYAMA Toshinao, Shobonchi-uchu to Nippon Bunka, (Iwanami Shoten, 1989).
(3) Surrounded by mountains and separated by the watershed, a town in a basin is where people, things and information gather. Relatively it forms a closed community and is likely to have its unique history and cultural tradition. Based on such a geographical feature, a unique spiritual world constructed by local residents is called ‘small basin universe.’
(4) According to his comment in the closing talk ‘What is Tohoku Painting?’ as well as in the dialogue with KUSANAGI Natsuko, director of the Hiratsuka Museum of Art, MISE Natsunosuke x KUSANAGI Natsuko, “Dialogue for Painting of Japan’,” in Mise Natsunosuke: Painting of Japan, Seigen-sha, 2013, pp. 101-103.
(5) Ibid. footnote 1.
(6) His comment at the opening artist talk, April 27, 2013.
(7) The dialogue with KUSANAGI Natsuko, director of the Hiratsuka Museum of Art, MISE Natsunosuke x KUSANAGI Natsuko, “Dialogue for Painting of Japan’,” in Mise Natsunosuke: Painting of Japan, Seigen-sha, 2013, pp. 101-103.
(8) The work was created at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, but it was shown at his solo exhibition Painting of Japan, held at the Hiratsuka Museum of Art, July 13 through September 16, 2013.
My first visit to the Aomori Contemporary Art Centre (ACAC) was in January 2013. Even after living in Yamagata Prefecture for four years, I felt Aomori had a marvelous amount of snowfall. I sought out an exhibition space similar to a kamakura, a rough equivalent to a Japanese igloo, as the location for my art.
The actual production of my work began in March, at a time when a particular resident of Aomori City was grappling with production in the studio. When we discussed the theme of her relationship between herself and Aomori’s famous apples, she laughed, “My prints are expressions of the love I have for my hometown.”
Amid the production cycle of drawing, eating, and sleeping, I was saved by the cheerfulness of the cleaning crew at the residence facility. One of the female crew, who also moonlights as a part-time inventor, took a look at one of my works in production and told me, “This is the universe.”
Aomori’s deep snows steadily gave way to spring after a repetition of blizzards and fair days, which resembled waves which continually lap against the shore only to retreat to the sea.
Once as I was finishing production on my work, I was struck by a modest sense of wonder. In my work, I had to take the utmost care to connect and graft fragments of Japanese paper together. Whether to match, disconnect, or layer the fragments, or to make the fragments collide?the relationships lie in the way the paper is overlaid, and their accumulation represent the present world itself.
As I continued to ponder these relationships, the fragments began connecting themselves right before my eyes one day during production. It felt as if a landscape of the world was taking form without any intervention on my part.
After much contemplation, I decided on a title for the exhibition: “Diverse Gods.” It was originally intended to question the existence of contemporary beliefs and their relation to art, but I learned soon after my arrival that individuals with occupations such as fortunetellers, shamans, and mediums all share the common title of kamisama, the Japanese word for god, in Aomori. At the northernmost tip of Honshu, I hit upon the idea that we may have lost something along the distorted path of modernization.
I was reminded of the obvious here in Aomori: that a work of art ultimately begins with the decision of an individual. You could also say that I was only able to resolve the dilemma of beauty and that unavoidable aspect of artistic vanity by creating value for my work beforehand.
It was the honest, hard-working people of Aomori who taught me this.
photo: YAMAMOTO Tadasu
Painting of Japan─the small basin universe, 2013. photo:YAMAMOTO Tadasu
Painting of Japan─the small basin universe, 2013. photo:YAMAMOTO Tadasu
fig.1 Meditation, 2013. photo:YAMAMOTO Tadasu
fig.1 Shut in snow, 2013. photo:YAMAMOTO Tadasu
fig.2 Painting of Japan～Laughing Moon～（detail）
fig.3 Painting of Japan～Laughing Moon～（detail）
fig.4 Trying to Change This Moment into Eternity., 2010. photo: SENO Hiromi（FLOT）
fig.5 open fifth, 2012. photo: SENO Hiromi（FLOT）
Painting of Japan～Laughing Moon～, 2013. photo: SENO Hiromi（FLOT）