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Last week, I attended a lovely artist reception for the Japanese artist Akira Takei at CMU’s Multicultural/Diversity Center. That evening, he was there to perform a demonstration with an ink & watercolor painting and then a paper cutting piece. Unfortunately, I only had time to watch him make the first one before rushing off to another event, but I enjoyed seeing how he worked and I gotta say, I admire his guts for doing it in front of an audience. That’s a lot of pressure, even if you prepare yourself very well – like he did; he had drawn an outline of the picture, then he just got to started after everyone had had a look-around, eaten their snacks and such. (Great food, BTW.)

I went back there yesterday to get more photographs of the exhibit and if you’re interested, you can still catch it. They display his art till April 10 at the Bovee University Center in Room 108. To get a look at some of Takei’s art, click here. Oh, and another thing, everything in the exhibit is for sale (I’d buy “Cherry Blossoms in Konga-Jima” if I had the money). I think you have to get in contact with the people working at the diversity center.

Master Akira Takei in his element.

Master Akira Takei in his element.

While he was painting, we were allowed to ask questions: The guy in the blue collar-shirt next to Takei would translate. Some of the people involved in hosting the event further mentioned how he went about making certain pieces, like the wood etching, creating several layers of color and how he applied water color, ect. The translator said that Takei uses a red stamp to mark his paintings and drawings, like a signature, which is common for Japanese artists.

There were many people at the reception, mostly older people who brought their children with them and then some elderly folk, but not many my age. I like that we had a conversation going during the demonstration so it wasn’t just us ogling the artist while he worked in silence. For one, we were talking about how to read Japanese texts, probably because Takei puts a lot poetry or snippets from folk tales/children’s stories in his pictures. Someone was wondering if you’re supposed to read it up-and-down or left-to-right. The translator explained that older texts are read up-and-down, but contemporary writings are read from left-to-right, especially if they’re translated from another language like English. One thing that’s consistent, however, is that when you pick up a Japanese book, you begin reading on the back and move your way forward (right cover to left cover).

Another thing we talked about were the different kinds of animals that live in Japan. If you scroll down and look at the picture Takei painted in his demonstration, the horns were inspired by the deer they have over there. Apparently the deer are so friendly towards humans, they’ll sneak up on you and walk right next to you. There are even deer parks where they have “deer feeders”; you put in some money, get a small bag of food and then you can feed them. That’s so cool.

Takei didn’t say much unless someone asked him a question, which I totally get; when you got a job to do, you have to focus as well as you can. He seemed thrown off when I asked him where he looks to for inspiration. He stopped painting and stood there thinking for a moment. Difficult question, but it’s one I tend to raise whenever I meet another artist. So I’m writing this solely from memory, however, this is the gist of his response:

Finished product from demonstration.

Finished product from demonstration.

There are a lot of mountains where he lives in Japan so he gets ideas from the beautiful scenery. Quite often he draws from stories he loved as a child and he also comes up with something when he reads. Yet – truly – he has no full answer to that. It’s difficult to put in words.

That looks like a pretty good answer to me. I always stutter when people toss me that question.

Now about the art work itself, I think it’s delightful. And when I say delightful, I mean that I like the figures, because they’re supposed to represent Ogres – these terrifying monsters that live up in the mountains – but in these pictures, they’re so colorful and mystical, I feel rather fascinated than intimidated. Then there’s something about the style Takei uses when he paints the mountains and the water: I just feel happy looking at them… delighted.

 

"Cherry Blossom in Kogan-Jima (Bright Rock Island)" (ink & watercolor). POEM: 'Sad Mind -2' by Zhy Shuzhen (1135-1180 AD) (Poem in Chinese on the left; Japanese translation on the right.) Spring time is here and everything turns fresh. Red flowers and green willow trees all try to talk about the feeling of spring. All the sadness in my mind will be replaced by the beauty in yellow birds' singing.

“Cherry Blossom in Kogan-Jima (Bright Rock Island)” (ink & watercolor).
POEM: ‘Sad Mind -2’ by Zhy Shuzhen (1135-1180 AD) (Poem in Chinese on the left; Japanese translation on the right.)
Spring time is here and everything turns fresh.
Red flowers and green willow trees
all try to talk about the
feeling of spring.
All the sadness in my mind will be replaced by the beauty
in yellow birds’ singing.

"Beautiful KOUZAN Mountain" (ink wash). POEM: 'Quatrains' by Du Fu (712-770 AD). In late sun, the river and hills are beautiful. The spring breeze bears the fragrance of flowers and grass. The mud has thawed, and swallows fly around. On the warm sand, mandarin ducks are sleeping.

“Beautiful KOUZAN Mountain” (ink wash).
POEM: ‘Quatrains’ by Du Fu (712-770 AD).
In late sun, the river and hills are beautiful.
The spring breeze bears the fragrance of flowers and grass.
The mud has thawed, and swallows fly around.
On the warm sand, mandarin ducks are sleeping.

**

Artist Statement:

Drawing and painting has been a great pleasure to me and my calling since I was a small child. Perhaps my interest was first instilled in me by my father, a fine arts teacher in Junior High School. At a young age my father’s fine arts preparation room was a dreamlike place full of interesting things for me. It was in this room that I took up art as an avocation. 

For a while just out of university, I was a graphic designer. However, I soon found this to be too limiting creatively so I graviated back to painting and drawing.

For me, this has been a wise choice as I am full of pleasure, almost a child-like utopia state of mind, when I draw and paint.

When I can create and experience, for instance, Japanese Ukiyoe print, Kabuki, or poetry, I am happily at work. And if my work makes other people happy, I am doubly pleased. And let us not forget Japanese humor.

There is no other work that could make me as happy.

 

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