Hope 2 希望２, mineral pigments 150 x 200 cm, Private Collection.
In the distance, the morning sun peaks over the mountains of Chôkai鳥海山, casting a warm blanket of sunlight across the horizon. The mountains, whose name suggests the resemblance of a bird in the sea, weave in and out of the painting like restless tides. Much of the landscape is rather sombre- enveloped in an elegy of grey and drowned in muted shadows. Some respite however, is found in the stirring of life in the light and what the snow-dusted peaks have come to reveal . The sun, an ever-reassuring presence, rises above and illuminates the heaving ridges.
Mountains have always been close to the heart of Japanese culture. Revered as sacred sites where Gods were said to dwell, they offer sanctuary to meditating priests and welcome thousands on arduous pilgrimages. As one of the most enduring symbols of Japanese culture, they have been admired, written about and painted. From the poems of hyakunin isshu (one poem each by one hundred poets) to Hokusai’s prints and the paintings of Yokoyama Taikan, mountains have soothed and inspired many. These are the feelings that stir when we encounter Hope, by Nihonga artist Yuriko Kitano.
In the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake, Kitano looked for ways in which she could help those who had lost their families and homes. In her search, she found the answer in her paintings and in the magnificent beauty of Chôkai (mountains that borders Akita and Yamagata in the Tohoku region). Just like Nihonga masters before her time, they too, used art to encourage and inspire. During Japan’s participation in the war in Asia and the Pacific, Yokoyama Taikan’s images of Mount Fuji and the symbolic rising sun served as encouragement for the conscripted. Post-war Japan found hope in Higashiyama Kaii’s country Path道 that veered into the unknown. Decades later, a young Nihonga artist working in Yamagata offers the same precious hopes and inspiration in her art.
In Hope, there is immense comfort in knowing that the sun will always rise and the advent of each new day continues to bring hope and symbolic new beginnings. Kitano hopes that her work will encourage and inspire those who continue to face adversity and loss arising from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.
Many of Kitano’s large-scale landscape paintings are inspired by the abundant nature of Yamagata. The artist’s respect for nature and admiration for harmony in natural environments has been a consistent theme in her work. Kitano’s works are opportunities for quiet contemplation — from pounding waterfalls to swirling river currents, and magnificent mountainous ridges. Each scene, an impermanent beautiful state is delicately captured and brought to life in her paintings. The piercing sunlight right at this juncture in the sky balanced by stirring mist awakened from its slumber is an impermanent moment never to be seen again in the same way. From a culture that places much joy and appreciation in the impermanence, Kitano understands this well and successfully captures beautiful impermanence for our enjoyment.
Yuriko Kitano graduated from Tohoku University of Art and Design with a major in Japanese painting in 2012. Having held a solo exhibition earlier this year, Kitano hopes to continue her practice as a Nihonga artist and realise her childhood dream of exhibiting at the Inten *oneday.
*The Inten is an annual art exhibition organised by the Japan Art Institute. It is a prestigious art exhibition showcasing the country’s finest Nihonga artists.
Postnote: Just received news that Yuriko has been selected for the Inten! Congratulations!!
References and Further Reading