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Japan 2023

After three years of being apart, I’ve finally been able to visit my son who is now studying in Tokyo. I feel a part of something very special.

Traditional painted screens

I’m sure this will be the first of many visits to this culinary explosion. A highlight has been two large painted screens at the Tokyo National Museum:

  • 12 panels on two separate screens by Cano Eigaku, called Bugaku Dances and Music, of the Edo Period in the nineteenth century
  • Six panels on one screen by Tosa Mitsunori, called Scene from the New Herbs, Part I, Chapter of the Tale of the Genji, of the Edo Period in the seventeenth century

Each screen is one picture running across either 12 panels or six panels. It’s hard to get your head around how truly epic these are. Designed to divide huge rooms in palaces, they could change the atmosphere of a room. The screens could be packed away and switched according to the event or mood required. They feel so contemporary and fresh – a beautiful, limited palette of flat colour against solid gold leaf. These artists were playing tricks with colour to create an illusion of depth. This is a highly sophisticated use of space, surface, texture and mark-making of different scales and sizes. My sense of perception has been challenged. In my final year at the Slade (1982), I made a huge 17-sided screen that was to be understood in the round. So, I’m now picking up on that conversation about what a painting can do when it’s set free from a wall as a screen. I’m thinking about the potential of a screen as I move towards the colour Blue.


Next came the woodblock prints of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) at The Suminda Hokusai Museum where I saw the Hokasai Bird Park, and Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art with the exhibition of Hiroshige’s Ojisan (older men over fifty enjoying life). I’m blown away by the Japanese aesthetics expressed through flat colour, shaped line, and lyrical mark-making. The influence of these Japanese woodcuts on Western art started with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and followed through to the great colourists. I realise that we owe the Japanese a huge debt.

Full representation of all fine art disciplines

Finally, I was able to see a full balance of Japanese contemporary fine art practice, with painting very well represented alongside sculpture, film, photography and installation at the Mori Art Museum: Roppongi Crossing 2022: Coming and Going expressing their response to COVID.

I feel more at home in Japan than I ever expected. In the West, we may have lost this sense of respect for each other and for beauty, as well as for age, for companionship with nature, and for quality artists’ materials. We have a lot to learn from each other as island races.

I’m looking forward to exploring this extraordinary culture. It has been a real honour to get to know these incredibly generous people who have treated us with deep respect and kindness. I have a great sense of belonging. I feel confident that this will open up a new conversation in my life and work.