Intuitive understanding and sensitive interaction with nature are what fascinates Kiyo Hasegawa most of all, and at the same time, inspires her to depict the landscape not as it really is but as it is seen and felt from the inner spirit of humans. In the cycle of flowers, birds, wind, and the Moon, the painter freezes the serene moments and takes us on a breathtaking journey of airy stains and golden dust.
Japanese painter Kiyo Hasegawa (Tokyo, 1984) graduated from Tama Art University in 2011 and has held several solo and group exhibitions in Tokyo, Kyoto, Helsinki, and London. By using traditional Japanese painting techniques, Kiyo depicts landscapes and tries to explore the relationship between humans and nature. To Kiyo, landscape is an open and vulnerable canvas, easily affected by natural disasters, which often reshape nature and affects how people live.
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Tell me a bit about yourself. How did you start painting?
I am a Tokyo-based Japanese painter born in 1984. I received my MFA in Fine Arts from Tama Art University in Tokyo and have held several solo exhibitions in Tokyo, Kyoto, Helsinki and London. I have also participated in group exhibitions nationally and internationally.
When I was a kid, I enjoyed drawing and like everyone else, started painting with colour pencils and watercolours in a representational way. While studying Art History at university I was attracted to abstract expressionism. Since then, I’ve been trying to render intangible things, like my thoughts and feelings, into the abstract. My current interest lies in depicting the landscape of my mind and the nature of its existence.
When looking at your paintings, I see deep emotions. What do those pale colours and blurred lines have to say about you?
I often paint imaginary scenes that I feel most comfortable with. I imagine walking to a place – a calm, peaceful and tranquil place existing in my mind.
What I find really peculiar about Japanese artists is this exquisite and unique way of depicting landscapes. Can you tell me more about those sceneries?
‘Sansui ga’ is a landscape painting style, originating from China. ‘Ga’ means painting or drawing. Sansui paintings are basically painted with ‘sumi’ (black ink) and brushes. Often, the subjects are mountains, valleys, waterfalls, and rivers, but they are imaginary landscapes, painted in adoration of nature or in respect of religious belief in mountains. I feel intuitively fascinated by certain landscapes and I try to fuse the atmosphere extracted from them into my thoughts. Then I express the mix through my paintings.
I saw on your web page the words of John Berger: “We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves. Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are”. How do those words relate to your art?
In my works, I try to present the atmosphere surrounding landscapes. I think that it is what John Berger calls “relationship between things and ourselves”. What is important to me is to intuitively understand and sensitively interact with nature.
“Humans admire flowers because they bloom for a short period of time. People see mortality in beauty.”
The Moon and birds are prominent in Japanese art, and you have used both in your pieces. What do they mean to you and what is so particular about them?
There is a word in Japanese, ‘Ka chō fu getsu’. Each sound literally means: flower, bird, wind, moon; but the word itself implies ‘the beauties of nature’. These four subjects were considered as essential elements to express nature, and I respect that idea.
To me, your works look as if you have painted them on a wet paper which then dried under the sun that left mystic stains. I’ve heard that painting with Japanese ink is pretty hard. What is it really like?
I use traditional Japanese painting materials such as powdered mineral pigments – ‘iwa enogu’ –, ‘sumi’ (Japanese ink), and Japanese paper ‘washi’, which is made from native plants. As these materials are sensitive to temperature and humidity, they demand artist’s skill to use them in the optimal conditions. Like you imagined, I often paint on a wet paper and use random stains. Sumi is not just black ink, it has several different colours deep inside. When one uses it, one should fully understand its attribution and will need skills to handle it. I try to leverage this intricate colour of ‘sumi’ in my paintings.
When I first saw your piece Adoration IX, I instantly associated it with the art of Kintsugi. The golden dust seems to be repairing something broken. What’s the story behind this artwork?
Thank you for your interesting point of view. Kintsugi is one of the methods for reparation. It shows us that repairing can give or add beauty to broken things. Actually, implying Kintsugi in Adoration IX was no intention of mine. Adding gold was kind of a spontaneous action. I like to give viewers the freedom to feel and think openly about my art. I appreciate what you felt.
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The title of one of your artworks, Ephemera, translates into English as something that exists only for a short time. Do you think art is ephemeral or might it be eternal?
In Japanese culture, there are traditional ideas that everything is constantly changing and that beauty exists in the transience of nature. Humans admire flowers because they bloom for a short period of time. People see mortality in beauty. A similar idea is incorporated in my work Ephemera. What an artist feels or thinks might be ephemeral, but I believe it becomes eternal once it's rendered in his/her art.
Where was the photo of a snowy forest we can see on your webpage taken? Are you still into photographing?
I like to take photos when travelling. The photo of a forest was taken in Lapland (Finland). The snowy, calm and serene landscape enchanted me.
What are you currently up to?
At the moment I am preparing for three upcoming exhibitions, which are scheduled in a couple of months in Japan. I am currently interested in Chinese Taoism and suppose that some concepts of it might be related to the concepts that underlie my works.
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