Known For: Blossoming flower paintings, seasonal foliage paintings, and fruit studies. Yoshida implements the aesthetic of kūkan - or ‘negative space’ - in her works to create a sense of atmosphere, presence, and feeling.
Sato Sakura Museum・( 郷さくら美術館 )
Mariko Yoshida was born in 1969 in Kyoto prefecture. In 1995, she completed her graduate studies in Nihonga at Kyoto Seika University. In 1999, she held a solo exhibition at Gallery Maronie in Kyoto. In 2005, she created paintings on fusuma (sliding screens) for Daikakuji temple in Hokkaido. In 2006, she was included in the 9th Edition of NEXT, which consisted of a group of contemporary artists whose activities centered around Kyoto. In 2009, she exhibited work in the inaugural Kyoto Nihonga Shin Exhibition, held at Museum EKI Kyoto, and in 2012, she was included in the Japan-France Arts Festival at Daikakuji temple in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture. In 2014, she received the Curator’s Award for her piece in the 2nd Ohka-sho, Annual Sakura Exhibition held at Sato Sakura Art Museum in Tokyo. In 2015, she exhibited as part of The Beauty of Rinpa is Alive in Kyoto at The Museum of Kyoto.
Artist Talk with Mariko Yoshida conducted in 2019 during the opening of ‘A Study in Contrast.’
Self Introduction and brief introduction to Nihonga Japanese Painting
I’d like to start of by thanking everyone who has come out for the opening reception of this special exhibition - ‘ A Study in Contrast.’ I would also like to thank everyone at Sato Sakura Gallery for their hard work in the planning of this event and for creating the opportunity for my works to be shown here in New York City. I would also like to thank my mentor, without whom I would never have entered my works in for the Sato Sakura Museum contests, nor would I have ended up here today. And finally, I would like to thank my interpreter who is allowing me to share my thoughts with you this evening.
Have any of you had the opportunity to see ‘Nihonga’ before? Are there any particular pieces that spring to mind when you think of ‘Nihonga.’ (Only a few in the crowd raise their hands, but none can recall a particular work from memory.)
I am often asked what the difference between ‘Nihonga’ and western paintings is and I most often will refer to the differing ways in which colour is applied to the painting surface - that is to say, whether an artist uses oil or nikawa - an animal gelatin - or other binding agent.
Moreover, I believe another major factor that differentiates these two schools of art is the application of ‘kukan,’ or ‘empty space.’ Kukan is the feeling of the space between. This is an artistic tradition born from the topography of the Far East and is featured heavily in the art of East Asia and more specifically, Japan. In Japan, we do not refer to the area where nothing is drawn as simply ‘the background,’ but instead, we treat it as a fundamental part of the overall composition. This intentionally created ‘space’ conveys a feeling and a sense all on its own.
Let us delve deeper into this idea of ‘Kukan.’
Instead of being ‘dead’ and ‘nothingness,’ this ‘blank space’ is in fact the ‘air’ of the place depicted here - it breathes life into the motif or subject, and in fact shares the space of the canvas with the rest of the composition. It is is within this space that important details about our space like ‘humidity,’ ‘temperature,’ as well as ‘scent’ and aura’ reside. It is with this space, that we convey these fundamental aspects of the composition.
For example, let us pretend that we were going to make a painting depicting me within this space here. This space consists of many things: the overall ambiance of the gallery, everyone here, our collective breath, and more, - all of this has its own colour and takes up space. Simultaneously we are also seeking to convey my ‘aura’ or the energy that I myself am emitting in the space. The tension, elation, and other feelings you yourself have towards the me can also determine the amount of ‘kukan.’
The ‘Kukan’ can be as large as my aura. For instance, if you were to draw a mega star that sells out arenas, there is no telling how large you could make the ‘kukan.’ In this way, we determine the size of our painting surface.
On how she chooses her motifs:
All of my pieces on display here today depict actual places and scenes in nature.
I begin my compositions by searching for the perfect spot. More than looking for the ‘perfect subject’ I like to think that I seek to find the perfect location. I value physically going out on my own, sitting with my subjects, and composing them on the spot. I find the act to be very ‘analog’ - as I generally am either walking around or driving around when I find my ‘spots.’
Instead of a concrete idea of what it is I’m looking for, I simply carry with me a sort of ‘floating image’ or ‘essence’ of what it is I wish to paint. My outings to find this feeling in nature are like little ‘adventures.’ I decide upon my ‘spot’ without hesitation using intuition and feeling alone. When I find the spot that connects to that feeling in my heart, I stop everything and am set upon the point from which I will compose my piece. It’s almost like a chance meeting - or fate. It's like the feeling when you find that one special person out of all the myriad of people in the world.That feeling of utter elation when you meet the person of your dreams. It’s like the moment when all else seems to fade away, leaving your hearts’ desire almost shining before your very eyes.
On the process of sketching her motifs in nature:
After deciding upon the ‘spot,’ I begin to sketch.
From sunrise to sunset, I spend my time sketching the entirety of my subjects. It is during this stage that a technique I call ‘parallel viewpoints’ is very important. There is an idea that one should always compose a subject from the same point of view. However, I see it differently. I wish to convey the truest essence my motifs. Therefore, I view them from below, head on, and 3 and 5 ladder steps above. If I were to draw always from one height, I would only ever end up drawing the bottom of leaves as I stare up at them. That is to say I would end up only showing that which I can see from one my limited point of view.
My sketches only consist of the outlines- nothing more. My ‘parallel viewpoints’ method differs from techniques striving to create ‘3 -dimensionality’ - an effect created when light reflects and refracts off the surfaces of objects. However, as the light changes and shifts throughout my long day spent sketching, the sense of depth and dimension changes and is thus - not ubiquitous and merely a product of natural changes outside. As I do not seek to manipulate or alter these natural truths, I always sketch only the outline thus conveying only the essence of the thing itself.
On the ‘rhythm’ of composition
I like to think of my sketches as having a particular rhythm or ‘flow,’ that changes depending on the shape and form of what I’m drawing. As I draw, music emits - changing as the leaves take shape and vary in size, direction, and position - the air between the leaves and the branches weaves together a veritable concerto of beautiful sounds. The leaves are the rhythm section, the branches, twigs and vines create the movement, and the flowers are the crescendo. I believe this ‘music’ of my compositions is an incredibly important part of the essence my pieces hold.
I believe plants too inspire compositions that have their own unique music and rhythm. At some point during the long period of time when I am sketching out the form, I feel like the composition also begins to take on a personality too.It is from that point that I begin to feel a sort of connection with the piece.
What kind of personality does it have? What does it’s voice sound like? In this way I begin to familiarize myself with the true heart of the piece. All the time spent during this process is contained here within the Kukan of the painting. Conversely, I try to get a small taste of the plant’s environment - a bit of its daily life if you will, by sitting for an entire day - sometimes for several days even.
On both hot days and on rainy days, nature bestows its blessings upon the forest. The sound of the birds singing, the feeling of a small breeze, the sensation of the slightly damp air, the light as it filters down through the trees, the lizard that scuttles by in bursts - this experience and the time I spend soaking it all up is what ultimately becomes the ‘kukan’ of my canvas.
From the music and rhythm of my sketch, to the energy of my subject, the colours, the atmosphere of the space, the surroundings, and even a little bit of my own experience, all of it is put into my art.
On viewing her works:
Once the ‘kukan’ is sufficiently applied to the painting surface, the essence then begins to emit from the piece itself. This essence is intended to gently wrap itself around those who view the paintings. Within that aura is light, temperature, a breeze, and fragrances - almost as if you had stepped into a misty sauna. I want everyone to feel into this with their eyes, and your entire being. Step before the painting, take a deep breath, and sense the painting for yourselves.
Nihonga was not originally put in frames as we see it here. It was instead, placed inside homes and was part of everyday life. It was not hung or displayed as you see here, instead it was installed as ‘byoubu’ and existed as part of the home life. Originally, Nihonga was not made into small snippets or images as we see here, it was painted onto the wall itself, without borders or breaks. Nihonga both co-existed and assimilated effortlessly into life.
I’d like you now to open your minds and hearts, and face these works from a variety of angles- as I once did when composing them. Better yet, I invite you to take off your shoes, sit, and enjoy them from a different perspective...
I am always deeply moved and surprised each and every time I find my perfect ‘spot’ for composition. It is not until the very moment that my heart feels stirred by the perfect ‘spot’ and until I finally render that essence onto the canvas, that I truly know what I am interested in, what I feel moved by, what I feel reverence towards, and what it is I want to impart.
In that moment, I feel deeply that which has both changed, and that which has remained unaltered in my heart. It is with my eternal desire to continue chasing these moments, the desire to truly know the vector of my heart, to find and compose the greatest possible embodiment of ‘Kukan,’ that I will continue painting Nihonga.
I Thank you all for listening.