Visiting Ichiro Kikuta (Dutch: below)
The last time I went to Japan was in 2017. This trip was a bit unforeseen and within a few moments I had bought a ticket to Okinawa. The first week I would stay in the cities Naha and Nago and after that I would fly back to Nagoya to assist papermaker Senda Takanori with cleaning the fibres.
Going to Okinawa was a great opportunity to meet the artist Ichiro Kikuta. In 2013 I first contacted Kikuta regarding traditional Japanese folding screens. At that time I was preparing for my art project at the Mino Paper Art Village artist in residency in Japan. In Mino I combined two traditional techniques: painting with pigments on handmade Mino washi paper. Inspired by Japanese folding screens I made three paintings on so-called 'makura byoubu', or bed screens. This is a screen -now hardly used, but once seen mainly at Ryokans (similar to a hostel) – that you place beside the pillow for privacy and to prevent draught. Kikuta paints on folding screens that he makes himself.
Kikuta picked me up from Nago town hall (I made a painting of this town hall: 'Japanese vending machine 09') and we drove all the way up to a paradise called 'Ada'. Here, Kikuta lives and works. I immediately noticed a peculiar structure of a few poles with a low roof on top. Kikuta explained that it is used to perform rituals. In fact, Ada is known for the annual ritual 'Shinugu festival'. Men are dressed-up with plants and climb the mountain to become gods. After, they descend the mountain to where the women and children are waiting for the gods. The women and children are then cleansed by the gods. Holding branches with leaves the gods touch the heads of the women and children. After this the gods go into the sea where they get rid off the plants and become human again. The same evening the women dance in front of the structure with the low roof. They wear indigo dyed kimono's with bright spots. The more I asked the more I felt that this whole ritual was clouded in mystery. When I asked about what the men are doing on the mountaintop, Kikuta answered that they sing: he hey ho.
In Kikuta's studio
It was on Okinawa that my idea about painting a series of twelve vending machines came to life. It goes without saying that my art and Kikuta's art are worlds apart. Even so, I have a deep respect and admiration for his art. Having had the experience of participating in two artist in residences in Japan, the urge of wanting to paint what you see and feel that very moment turned out to become very meaningful. And because of this I was able to understand Kikuta's art, which he derives from the nature surrounding him.
Kikuta's studio is spacious and light. Big windows and sliding doors make the border between inside and outside very thin. Kikuta displayed the many folding screens in various sizes for me to see. I was engrossed while watching the sceneries of plants and birds. I think I can only explain it through the simple words: I experienced the spirit of nature through the hands of Kikuta. If you are interested in the more poetic and spiritual (I'd say meaningful) way of how a painting and the practise of painting can be experienced from the artists' mind, I recommend the novel 'Kusamakura' by Natsume Soseki.
About Kikuta's art
Kikuta mainly uses ink washes. Because of this, Kikuta adds, composition is much more important. The white (empty) space becomes very important, something meaningful. We all have five senses, but there is also something else, like something from another world. Kikuta explains: For example, a dog can't see colours. Or, inside a cave you don't know about the existence of colours because you can't see them. There is a world unknown to us that exists. Some kind of fantasy that exists beyond our five senses.
Kikuta goes out into nature to draw many sketches of animals and plants. Being in nature is not just in order to observe it: It's important to become part of nature, to be together for several days. Kikuta makes many sketches outside before he paints them on the folding screen. If you want to know more about Kikuta, please go to his website: http://kikutaichiro.com/
Going to Peru
Besides making his own folding screens, Kikuta also makes his own paints from resources he finds in nature. Because I also use pigments I find this really interesting. Over the years I have collected many ready-made bags with pigments. Besides the vividness of the colours, I love the process of grinding and mixing them with glue and water into paint. Also, the fragrances of the many pigments is a real delight. Last year, in the Summer of 2018, I went to Latvia to participate in the '2nd International Painting Plein Air Valdis Bušs' artist in residency. Inspired by Kikuta and the 'Walk of Art' project by Dutch artist Aafke Ytsma, I could no longer contain my longing to nature. Those two weeks in Latvia were really just the beginning of my new journey. In September of this year I will spend four weeks in the Peruvian Amazonian Rainforest. I will learn how to find and make my own natural pigments. Also I will learn how to make ecological paper from resources such like the pulp of banana trees. Just like in Latvia I will take my lightweight easel with me to enjoy painting outside. It's like a dream come true!
Printmaking Studio Itsukaichi is located on a mountain nearby a shrine. The building is a former townhall. On the ground floor are press-machines, hand presses and many tools. On the first floor are the living quarters where I stayed with two Japanese printmakers: Miki Hatakeyama (silkscreen, woodcut and lithograph) and Ayumi Anzai (lithograph). You can view the works I made at the printmakingstudio here.
After Mino I not only came to love Japanese paper, I also very much enjoyed the process of how to make paper. Naturally I got excited when I learned about a paper making workshop just a few kilometres from the printmaking studio. Here are some photos of us making Gundo paper