“Through the observation of the small things around us. I believe that we find the form of the big world.” – Tomoyuki Kambe
[星に願いをWish Upon the Star, 2010]
Innocent World is an exhibition of Japanese-style paintings by emerging artist, Tomoyuki Kambe 神戸智行. Japanese-style painting, otherwise known as Nihonga, originated in the late 19th century (Meiji period) and took inspiration from the rich heritage of traditional Japanese art. Considered a modern art movement, Nihonga evolved with the times reflecting contemporary issues and themes. While some artists may continue to depict conventional Japanese themes and motifs, most contemporary artists explore a range of subjects relevant to their context.
The single most identifiable characteristic of Nihonga is the medium. Artists who paint in the style of Nihonga use time-honoured materials and a select combination of mineral and synthetic pigments. Much training is spent understanding how pigments work, how to grind them precisely down to the exact milimetre to achieve the right hue and how to prepare them with nikawa (animal glue) so that the pigments adhere to the paper; all these not before priming the paper in layers. Then the artists have to understand the way of the brush and how to manipulate all of these to create a final work of art. Depending on the effect they want to achieve, gold and silver foil is also used for a decorative touch.
Nihonga paintings have a distinctive appearance- they refract light due to the sized particles found in the pigments. Just like how oil paintings carry that glossy sheen, the colours in Nihonga appear to shimmer ever-so subtly by bouncing light off the surfaces of the paintings. This delicate visual acuity has to be experienced in the flesh as photographs in catalogues can never reproduce such sensation. Another dynamic feature of Nihonga is how paintings change in appearance when seen in different light according to the times of the day.
Kambe’s solo exhibition showcases around 15 works- all of which depict nature and the beautiful forms which can be found within. In some of the paintings, there are little things waiting to be discovered if you find time to do so. And as soon as you spot a lizard or a lady-bird hiding among the leaves, you start to notice the presence of others in the works and you want to look for more. The artist engages us in this act of looking and searching and brings us back, even if for a brief moment, to an innocent world where once as children, we indulged in the very same activity of discovering life in nature.
Kambe acknowledges that everything coexists in relationships to one another, all coming together to give form and meaning in the world. While each living thing is uniquely original, it is the sum of these that make up the world. When he paints these small elements of nature, he illustrates their connections and brings to our attention the affinity of relationships in our societies.
This is Kambe’s first solo exhibition outside of Japan and also Singapore’s first exhibition of Nihonga paintings. The exhibition also includes a small display of Nihonga raw materials which are largely unavailable in Singapore. The works in the exhibition include new paintings displayed in various formats as well as a series of screens from the collection of Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine in Fukuoka.
Despite international audiences being no stranger to modern and contemporary Japanese art, Nihonga remains one of the least known artforms outside of Japan. The exhibition and education initiatives by the Japan Creative Centre present a wonderful introduction to the beautiful world of Japanese-style paintings.
Innocent World runs from July 20 – August 3o at the Japan Creative Centre.
About Tomoyuki Kambe 神戸智行
Born 1975, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. Graduated from Japanese painting (Nihonga) course at Tama Art University. Exhibited in China, Korea, the United States. Collected by the Sato Museum of Art and the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture.
[ photo permission granted by the artist]