Ryoko Kaneta is heading to the west! In her United States solo debut, the Tokyo-based painter explores nature through ancient Japanese philosophies, depicting it as both timeless and fleeting. In this interview, she discusses her inspiration, art style, and how she bridges the gap between the old and the new.
Firstly, could you please introduce yourself for those who might not know you?
I am Ryoko Kaneta; I was born in 1991 and I live in Tokyo. I draw nature, natural phenomena, and invisible things in the form of girls using character expressions such as manga and anime. My work is influenced by the ancient Japanese idea that God dwells in all things.
You paint ancient Japanese philosophies. What about them inspires you?
I’m interested in our ancestors and their culture. Ancient Japanese philosophies help me to think about my work from a larger cultural and historical perspective.
Obviously, these ancient thoughts are a big part of Japanese culture. Do you feel a sense of responsibility to portray them in a certain way? How do you accurately portray these ideas while still adding your own perspective to them?
I don't have a strong sense of responsibility to create my work in any particular way. Still, I think it's natural to draw Japanese culture as a Japanese person. I draw more realistic and more convincing works by going to sites and seeing them with my own eyes while referring to ancient materials.
What is your favourite ancient Japanese philosophy and why?
It is the Kojiki, which was written around 700 AD. Kojiki is the mythical creation story of Japan, and I am attracted to the tales of the gods, the lands, and events that remain in modern Japan.
You recently made your solo debut in the U.S. with your exhibition, In Our Nature. How does it feel to see your work being celebrated across the world?
I am delighted and honoured.
Although your paintings represent historic philosophies, they also explore the ephemerality of nature. How do you portray this duality in your work?
I utilise larger characters within nature, such as mountains, the sea, and weather, and their representations to express the strength and fragility of nature. I use smaller characters to convey the history and culture of the land.
Colour is something that you use quite vividly. Your paintings are very vibrant but there’s also a softness to them. How do you think colour plays a role in your art?
The vivid colour in my work attempts to mirror nature's own richness, depth, and sparkle. The rich natural colours of nature influence the colours of my work directly.
Your work also bridges the gap between ancient and temporary Japanese culture – you personify elements of nature with female figures that resemble anime and manga characters. Why do you choose to paint them this way? Why is it important to connect the old and the new?
I’ve been aware of manga and anime since I was a child, and drawing pictures with character expressions was natural for me. Connecting the old and the new is a way for me to discover new ideas and themes. While exploring ancient Japanese culture, I was greatly influenced by Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. By multiplying Japanese paintings and Ukiyo-e with modern manga expressions, I am trying to establish my own expression as an artist.
And why do you use female figures specifically to represent nature?
When I see the mountains and the sea, I feel feminine.
Finally, what other ancient Japanese philosophies do you hope to explore with your art in the future?
Japan has various unique customs depending on the region, and God's way of thinking is also diverse. I want to visit more lands from north to south and explore and express them in my work.