Fujimura in the Press

Reviews

Review of “Golden Sea” exhibit
Brookyln Rail | By Margaret Graham

MAKOTO FUJIMURA Golden Sea
by Margaret Graham
DILLON GALLERY | MAY 9 – JUNE 8, 2013

Makoto Fujimura’s recent paintings exist on the cusp of paradox, visually collapsing the arc between macro and micro, the celestial and the terrestrial, the corporeal and the ephemeral, destruction and rebirth, tradition and innovation. For the past three decades, Fujimura has religiously revisited these and other binaries, searching for the aesthetic language to voice and resolve them. Process has proved to be an important part of this task: his art is a novel combination of traditional Japanese Nihonga technique—in which the artist takes ground-up minerals and applies them with hide glue, layer upon layer, to paper or canvas—with the visual cues and content of Western modernism. The resulting images are immersive and highly lyrical but carefully controlled, abstractions riddled with literary allusions, internal dilemmas, and phenomenological queries. Their surfaces are splendid but often difficult to get inside. As such, Fujimura is like the T. S. Eliot of contemporary painting, creating art as a response to tragedy and leaving it at the altar of humanity in the hope that it might provide beauty and consolation in the midst of devastation, sorrow, loss, and decay.

Much in the same way that Eliot’s The Waste Land is understood as an oblique yet poignant response to the disenchantment and alienation that plagued Europe in the wake of World War I, the works on view in Golden Sea can be understood as Fujimura’s meditative rejoinder to both the disastrous tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011 and Hurricane Sandy (which coincidentally struck just days before the artist’s show was originally slated to open at Dillon Gallery). The show revolves around its central subject, that of the awesome and awful power of water, with a certain muted fury, each piece drawing upon erudite references and the artist’s personal experiences in an attempt to strike a balance between water’s cleansing and calming qualities and the horrible havoc it can wreak on a single psyche, a family, a city, or an entire civilization.



The three large and admirably raw works that comprise Fujimura’s “Walking on Water” (2012) series are particularly effective. “Banquo’s Dream”—named for the prophetic vision that spares the noble foil of Shakespeare’s Macbeth—is all sandy grit and white wisps of vapor anchored by a rag tag assembly of drifting golden squares; it feels unsure but right, pleasantly undecided, or “open” as the artist described it. “Waves” offers a smeared, aqueous glimpse of deep blue cosmos that drags its breakers across a blissful swath of negative space. Up close, however, it becomes clear that Fujimura has considered William Blake’s summons “to see a world in a grain of sand”; one can discern the rough texture and slight glint cast by light refracting off each individual granule of pigment, crossing and compounding what lies on either side of the fine line between heaven and earth.

“Flight” is without a doubt the crown jewel of the trio: the image is absorptive and deeply psychological, composed of an immense slate grey canvas on which an azure and navy apparition hovers alongside a barely discernable strip of dusty green and a tiny starburst of golden yellow. Floating side-by-side, these three spectral non-entities struggle for existence amongst each other and against the dense background that threatens to snuff them out. This image embodies nothing less (or more) than a single emotion felt in a single moment of time—whether that emotion is boundless faith or ardent despair is impossible to tell. The uncertainty is thrilling. Imbued with all the gravitas of a Rothko and the subtle metallic salvo of a Pat Steir, this piece is an exquisite example of the uncompromisingly successful outcome of Fujimura’s intrepid impulse to push his work into arcane and daunting territory.



For a body of work that is so intensely saturated with spiritual quandaries and grave intellectualism, Fujimura’s paintings are surprisingly lithe and easy to look at. His palette is restricted mostly to neutral tones, shades of blue, and pure, bright gold with splashes of softened technicolor. In the show’s title piece, “Golden Sea” (2011), a textured ground of cerulean, black, turquoise, and dusty rose is filtered through a veil of erratic gold tiles which harken back to those seen in Japanese byobu and Renaissance triptychs. Yet unlike their traditional predecessors, Fujimura’s surfaces are far from pristine; rather, they are scumbled and full of holes, mercurial and fraught but still lovely, like sunlight reflecting off tumultuous surf. One of Fujimura’s great strengths—in this painting and in others such as “Golden Sea Ruby” (2013)— is that he has not only made a referential use of gold feel innovative, but that he has retained the metal’s richness while simultaneously showing us just how earthly, and how disarmingly human, it can be. This is not the gold of royal bling but rather that of a careworn chalice, combining the pathos of an ancient utensil with the intensity of the hieratic rite.

The smaller “sketches” on view in the project room of the gallery are, unfortunately, less engaging. Works such as “Golden Sky” (2013) and “Golden Psalm” (2013) feel too laborious and too neatly tied-up; they lack the openness and imperfection found in Fujimura’s other pieces, and as such fail to fully engage the viewer. Fujimura’s most successful paintings are those in which he embraces the longing and fear that accompany the search for resolution. In such pieces, to borrow the apt words of Eliot, there is “an easy commerce of the old and the new,” each form is “exact without vulgarity… precise but not pedantic, a complete consort dancing together.” Viewing them is an aesthetic experience not to be missed.

Makoto Fujimura: The Four Holy Gospels
August 2011 | Thermelios | By Bruce Herman
Four Centuries of Love and Suffering for the Word
August 2011 | The Wall Street Journal | By Barrymore Laurence Scherer
The Return of the Religious in Contemporary Art
January, 2011 | The Huffington Post | By Matthew Milliner
Refiner’s Fire: Makoto Fujimura’s Journey Into Paradox
By Gregory Wolfe

The only hope, or else despair

Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—

To be redeemed from fire by fire.

- T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

 

To immerse oneself in the sequence of works by Makoto Fujimura known as “Water Flames” is to undertake a journey toward the mystery and beauty of paradox. As with the record of any journey, the viewer of these works has a choice: you can merely glance with pleasure at the passing sights, or you can imaginatively enter the path of the artist.

If you choose to become a fellow traveler, you are likely to discover that you not only travel alongside the artist, but also in the company of those who have gone before him. “Water Flames” derives its initial aesthetic inspiration from the poetry of T.S. Eliot, and in particular the late work, Four Quartets, written during and immediately after the cataclysm of World War II. Eliot’s experience of the war was direct and immediate: he remained in London throughout the conflict, serving as a fire warden, walking the streets each night after the air raid sirens had blown all the clear signal, searching for fire and survivors.

That Fujimura should find such a powerful resonance with Four Quartets in the months and years following 9/11 should come as no surprise. Like Eliot, he struggled to come to terms with the reality of evil and of suffering on a massive scale. For the artist, the challenge is how to remain totally honest about the darkness and yet find hope—a hope that itself must shun any hint of sentimentality.

The more Fujimura delved into the richness of Eliot’s late masterpiece, the more he came to realize that Eliot himself drew upon his own artistic guide: Dante Alighieri, the greatest poet of the Middle Ages. Dante, who had known both war and exile, had, in turn, relied on the Roman poet Virgil, whose epic, The Aeneid, dealt with the moral and emotional conflicts within a budding empire.

Of course, in detailing the historical precedents that inform the “Water Flames” series, one cannot ignore the centrality of the Nihonga tradition of Japanese art.

To speak of all these strata of aesthetic influence may seem overly precious, but for the artist engaged in a high-risk attempt to make sense of pain and grief, companionship on the journey is a necessity, not a luxury. The need to reach out and find kindred spirits across the ages is a universal phenomenon. As Eliot puts it in Four Quartets: “the communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”

In the spirit of Dante and Eliot, “Water Flames” traces a journey—one might almost say, a pilgrimage. As the work of each of these artists attests, the inner and outer landscapes that appear along the way belong to the realm of paradox. To call a collection of paintings “Water Flames” is to boldly invoke paradox.

But what do we really mean by the word? For some people, it merely signifies mystification—mumbo-jumbo without substance. But for others paradox is the only language we humans have to approach the precincts of mystery.

There are various mathematical and scientific paradoxes that are baffling to the mind. But the deeper, more emotionally compelling sense of paradox is that of an apparent contradiction that somehow manages to embody a larger truth. The best paradoxes always makes sense, at least at the level of our intuition. The language of love—whether human or divine—is full of paradox. We speak of love so powerful that it hurts, of darkness that illuminates, of dying in order to live.

So, too, with the paintings of “Water Flames.” Here we have water creating fire, as Fujimura pours his pigments and awaits their ignition upon heavy Kumohada paper. The mineral elements of earth are crushed and ground only to be reborn in the airy lightness of translucent color.

Fire destroys but it also purges impurities, clears away choking brush in order to allow for more fruitful growth. As Fujimura has stated, he resonates most with the section of Dante’s Divine Comedy known as the Purgatorio, where the souls experience suffering not as punishment, but as the “refiner’s fire,” a paradoxically painful and joyous experience. For Dante, sin and evil are not blithely turned into mere stepping stones; they retain their power to haunt and wound. But even a wound can break something open so as to reveal another beauty beneath the surface.

In his artist’s talk on “Water Flames,” Fujimura quotes Eliot on Dante:

Because he could do everything else, is for that reason the greatest ‘religious’ poet, though to call him [merely] a ‘religious poet’ would be to abate his universality. The Divine Comedy expresses everything in the way of emotion, between depravity’s desire and the beatific vision, that man is capable of experiencing.

While Fujimura would never compare himself to Dante, it is safe to say that he, too, achieves a universality in these works—a language that can speak to people across the diversity of human experience.

Nor should we be surprised that Fujimura’s explorations of fire has taken him in the direction of monochromatic works. Nothing can be more paradoxical than to penetrate the heart of something that seems to be singular only to find that within that unity is a hidden multiplicity, a richness that a broader palette would have obscured.

That the culminating work o this sequence should be a monumental piece entitled “Golden Fire” has a sort of epic inevitability about it. Gold is the quintessential element we think of as requiring the refiner’s fire. It is a heavy substance that somehow lifts into what the writer Milan Kundera has called “the unbearable lightness of being.” This element, found deep within the earth and created thought he turbulent processes of change, becomes something that symbolizes the eternal and unchanging. Gold is the possession of kings, and yet we often speak of the common person as having a heart full of it.

In the terrible fires of Hiroshima and 9/11, as well as the daily ordeals we all face, the gold within the human heart may yet be glimpsed. It is the special role of gifted artists like Makoto Fujimura to remind us of this paradoxical truth.

“Loop Press Exhibit” a mix of perspectives
September 2006 | The Spokesman-Review | By Julianne Crane
Making Church Artist-Friendly
November 1997 | Christianity Today | By Karen Beattie
A Faithful Art: Makoto Fujimura and the Redemption of Abstract Expressionism
March 2005 | The Weekly Standard | By David Gelertner
Master In Depth
February 2010 | The Weekly Standard | By David Gelernter
Makoto Fujimura and Hiroshi Senju at Dillon
November 1995 | Art News | By Gerard Haggerty
Street of treasure in Santa Fe
July 2001 | Denver Post | By Kyle MacMillan

[ Makoto Fujimura is featured near the end of article ]

No one seems to know where the ranking was derived, but it is said here that the gallery scene in this historic Southwestern setting is the third-largest in the nation as measured by sales volume.

Whether that is precisely true is not all that important, because it's clear that with more than 200 galleries of all kinds, the New Mexico capital has to be included among the most active art centers in the country.

It also happens to be one of the most distinctive.

The bulk of the galleries line Canyon Road, a curving, tree-lined street that runs for about half a mile up a small hill not far from downtown.

Most of the firms occupy handsome, converted adobe residences. The Canfield Gallery, 414 Canyon Road, is in one of the oldest such structures, a house dating to the 18th century, with short doorways that require many people to duck walking through.

The quality of the city's art varies radically, with much of it consisting of reproductions and cliche cowboy and Southwestern imagery targeted to the tourist trade and having little enduring value.

That means visitors looking for serious work have to be discerning and work a little bit. Toward that end, what follows is a look at some of the worthwhile art exhibitions that are on view. Even if many of these shows are over by the time readers make a trip here, the galleries mentioned can generally be counted on to have something of interest on display.

A not-to-miss gallery is James Kelly Contemporary, 1601 Paseo de Peralta. That it is across from SITE Santa Fe, the city's internationally known contemporary art center, is hardly a coincidence.

Showing through Sept. 22 is "S Books, O Books and Other Books," a fascinating exhibition of more than 40 works by Ed Ruscha, an internationally known artist whose murals adorn the Denver Central Library.

Most are found books - everything from "Beacon Lights of History" to "Smart Money Moves for the '90s" - that he has transformed into artworks by painting the letters "S" or "O" on their covers in acrylic in a range of typefaces.

"O's, like S's," Ruscha wrote in an artist's statement, "had a similar attraction - O's look at you. S's look to the right, in profile. Both letters have similar roly-poly dimensions, the same snaky gyrations."

Also included are five photos, such as "Raggedy Book on Slant," in which everything has been blocked out except one or more book spines, as well as a group of his artist books, such as "Sayings," with text drawn from Mark Twain's "Pudd'nhead Wilson."

Book art has been a part of Ruscha's work since the 1960s, and in this realm, like the many others in which he works, he constantly finds new ways to challenge himself and the viewer.

Works by another major artist, Milton Avery (1885-1965) - whose independent, semi-abstract style never fits into any easy classification - can be seen through Aug. 11 at the spacious Riva Yares Gallery, 123 Grant Ave., near the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.

As suggested by the lengthy subtitle, "The Nude and Other Subjects, a Retrospective View: 1929-1963," the exhibition deals mostly with Avery's figurative works and contains few of his more deliberately abstracted pieces.

Many of Avery's best works are already in museums, and these examples vary considerably in quality, but there are some standouts, such as "Diver" (1945)," an alluringly quirky painting with odd perspectives, and the handsome watercolor "Fisherman's Cove" (1938).

About a block from the Riva Yares Gallery is Charlotte Jackson Fine Art, 200 W. Marcy St., which focuses with a few exceptions on monochromatic art - paintings that are all one color.

On view through Aug. 6 in the gallery's clean, white spaces is a group show aptly titled "Red, Yellow and Blue," and it demonstrates how much individuality is possible within this seemingly constrictive painting subcategory.

Easily the largest of the private spaces here is the widely known Gerald Peters Gallery, which moved in 1998 into its impossible-to-miss complex near the base of Canyon Road at 1011 Paseo de Peralta.

Among the shows in the gallery's 8,500 square feet of exhibition space is one devoted to 15 paintings, watercolors and drawings by Harold Gregor, a distinguished professor of art at Illinois State University in Normal.

This offering, titled "From the Road, From the Trail, From the Sky," runs through Saturday and offers a compact look at different sides of the work of Gregor, one of this country's top contemporary landscape painters.

Among the most striking selections are three long, narrow panoramic oil-and-acrylic pieces, which are impeccably executed and offer plenty to draw in and keep the eye engaged. One of the best is "Illinois Landscape No.149," which is 18 inches tall and 90 inches wide.

Contrasting with those are Gregor's slightly abstracted aerial views of farms and rural landscapes, in which the non-objective colors have grown increasingly intense in recent years and might best be described as fauvist in "Illinois Flatscape No.69."

Particularly striking in this series is "Illinois Flatscape No.46," which has been realized in a kind of impressionist style with meticulously applied daubs of oranges, greens and other colors.

Much less successful are Gregor's awkward watercolors.

The Gerald Peters Gallery is also one of the top sources in the United States for works by major historic Western painters, and good examples are consistently on view somewhere in its galleries. Other firms that handle such work include the Zaplin-Lampert Gallery, 651 Canyon Road.

One of the oldest and most respected galleries on Canyon Road is Bellas Artes, which is at 653. Through Aug. 4, it is presenting "Beauty Without Regret," an attractive, high-level group show with works by 21 nationally and internationally known artists.

The show, which was curated by painter Robert Kushner, was conceived independently of the "Beau Monde" biennial running concurrently at SITE Santa Fe, but it deals with many of the same aesthetic issues.

Highlights include: Debra Bermingham's "Angel Wings," a meditative, oil-on-panel still life painted with a vaguely dappled effect, and Makoto Fujimura's "Gravity and Grace (Passage)," a translucent, waterlike abstraction.

Another Canyon Road fixture is the previously mentioned Canfield Gallery, which specializes in historic artists, particularly those associated with the Taos modernists, such as Lawrence Calcagno (1913-1993).

He was born in San Francisco and attended the California School of Fine Arts with Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko. He moved frequently thereafter, maintaining a home in Taos, N.M., for about two decades in the latter part of his life.

On view through Saturday is a solo exhibition of more than 20 of his paintings. Though his work is based in West Coast abstraction, it went through sometimes startling transformations of style as his career progressed.

A number of Colorado artists are represented in the galleries here, including Lauri Lynnxe Murphy of Denver, whose playful constructions and toylike sculptures are featured through Thursday in a one-person show at Helix Fine Art, 670 Canyon Road.

A portrait by Heidi McFall of Colorado Springs was included in the massive Eighth Realism Invitational, which concluded last week at the Van de Griff-Marr Gallery, 668 Canyon Road. And two pieces by the respected ceramicist Richard DeVore of Fort Collins are featured in "Beauty Without Regret," along with major examples by former Coloradans George and Betty Woodmen.

Hiroshi Senju and Makoto Fujimura at Dillon
Art in America | By Robert Kushner

It would be naive to think that the only significant art today is being produced in Europe and North America. Yet when we offer museum space to works from other cultures, we chauvinistically persist in selecting art that validates our domestic dialogue. What about artists who work within traditional idioms and mediums, but wish to contribute to a global dialogue? Hiroshi Senju and Makoto Fujimura paint in obdurately traditional Japanese techniques; they use semi-precious minerals ground and mixed with animal gelatin on handmade Japanese paper mounted on board. Lapis, malachite, cinnabar, gold-an alchemist's arsenal applied to contemporary discourse.

For Senju the images are monochromatic waterfalls. The ground is a mysterious steely gray, obtained by heating blue azurite powder until it blushes black. The white, watery elements are sprayed and poured ground oyster shells, which create a waterfall in the process of sliding down the vertical surface. The resultant image is not so much the painterly evocation of the same forces tat create falls in nature. There have been many waterfalls in recent art, but Senju's, while poetic, have something of the monumentality of Niagara Falls itself. In this new series they are direct and powerful, their light, harshly radiant-almost too bright. Senju insists on adding delicate ripples with a fine brush at the foot of the waterfall, and then small billows of mist rising from the point of impact. An orthodox process artist would eschew these artifying touches, but for Senju the poetry would be incomplete without them. The pigment, free to create its own course, is a metaphor for the painter's temperament, the desire for artistic freedom.

Fujimura's work, although using the same materials and techniques, yields a bittersweet, contemplative moodiness and a more complex psychological journey. He directs us to the ethereal beauty of misty river bottoms, bridges and trees, evoking both Japanese rivers and the marred natural beauty of New Jersey wetlands near which he lives. Pigment is applied in pools of color, and there are calligraphic indications from which landscape begins to coalesce. Upon these sweeping vistas Biblical quotes are inscribed in smudged gold ink-messages of hope amid despair. It is mildly startling to find someone today referring to Isaiah's "crown of beauty... and garment of praise" and meaning it. In combination with the somber landscapes, the effect is emotionally explosive. Our thoughts cease as we gaze into the velvety midnight blue, or the gray-green spring mist, yearning to share Fujimura's confidence in redemption. It is an act of artistic courage to place these tender meditations so candidly before the Philistines.

Simple Truths
2003 | International Herald Tribune | By Booyeon Lee

Contemporary artist Makoto Fujimura paints with sincerity, using precious minerals traditionally used in nihonga paintings. In a painting called “Still Point-Evening,'' crystalline particles of gold, silver, cinnabar and malachite are mixed with animal-skin glue and layered on shimmering opaque blue, to clear, simple effect.

In this picture, he tries to communicate a message of redemption, refuge and hope through his idea of “absolute beauty.'' This is considered absurd in the postmodern art world, New York-based Fujimura says, and that was particularly so two decades ago when he began his career.

“In the art world back then, and to some extent today, if you do something beautiful, it was seen as a cop-out. You have to shock, you have to use irony, or at least have an ironic stance, if your execution is beautiful,'' said Fujimura, 42, a Japanese-American artist who was recently appointed by President George W. Bush to an advisory board to the National Endowment for the Arts, which makes recommendations to the President.

His strokes, which leave traces of pulverized minerals, depict both the beauty of human pathos and ethereal perfection. His latest series of works, called “Still Point,'' to be shown at a Christmas exhibition at Takashimaya department store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district, are based on a verse in a T.S. Eliot poem called “Four Quartets.''

Fujimura, who like the late poet has a devotion to Christian beliefs, depicts Eliot's “still point of the turning world'' as the absolute stillness found in the eye of a storm, then connects this phenomenon to the birth of Jesus Christ in “Still Point-Evening.''

“A lot of art is created out of the storm. It's about conflict, it's about shock, living in despair, darkness and hopelessness,'' said Fujimura, who was in Tokyo recently to prepare the December show. “But here, Eliot is saying no, you can create better, if you get to the eye of the storm.''
That's where Fujimura believes he is at, as an artist with Christian values who must speak to a contemporary world far more secular than Eliot's mid-20th-century audience.

“I am trying to create a still point in my work for people, where they can experience grace. This exhibit will somehow make people stop and think, and at least want them to be still, to know that God is there.''

The two greatest forces at work in Fujimura's art-Biblical references of grace and redemption and techniques used in nihonga-began shaping his life during his time in Japan from 1986 to 1992 as a scholar sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Rebelling against postmodernism, which holds nothing-including beauty and truth-to be absolute, he said he pursued beauty in his art but found none in his life.

“It's almost like being an opera singer, having this extraordinary performance and returning backstage and realizing she doesn't have anything in her heart to capture that transcendence in her own life.'' He found that transcendence at a candlelight Christmas worship service in 1987.

“There was this level of authenticity in that room, a level of beauty found through common voices that I needed in my life,'' he says.
The ultimate form of beauty, he concluded, was found in love, and ultimate love, Fujimura says he found in God.

Back in New York City, he is one of the many “Ground Zero artists'' whose studios were located near the World Trade Center. In the aftermath of 2001 terrorist attacks, he spearheaded Tribeca Temporary, a six-month exhibition of Ground Zero artists, including Denise Green, the last student of abstract artist Mark Rothko.

In 1999, he had responded to an earlier national tragedy after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, which left 12 students and one teacher dead. Deeply moved, Fujimura took his three children on a search for wild columbine flowers in the mountains of Colorado. The series of works that resulted, called “Columbines,'' depict the delicate flowers as the young lives lost. They were displayed in two U.S. cities and in Tokyo in 2002.

In a country where artists are often lumped with liberals, the Bush administration was charmed by this successful Christian artist who subscribes to conservative values. Last month, the White House sent him to Paris as an adviser to the U.S. delegation to the 32nd UNESCO General Conference, which marked the end of the country's 19-year boycott of the organization.

“I feel very passionate about building international relationships. I was a recipient of the Japanese government scholarship and benefited from this dialogue tremendously,'' he said. “There are a lot of things the U.S. could be doing from the top level to invite international dialogue through the arts, which is getting more and more difficult because of security reasons.''

The paintings by this devout artist, however, leave one longing to partake in his confidence in redemption.

Makoto Fujimura at Belles Artes Gallery - Gravity and Grace
September 2002 | THE Magazine | By Richard Tobin

The view from Mount Pisgah: Reflecting on the Guggenheim's ambitious 1996 retrospective of abstract art ("Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline"), critic Calvin Tomkins wrote that "abstraction did not lead to the promised land of new truths and new freedoms" that lay beyond the limits of representation. Tomkins went on to note that two great precursors of abstraction--Matisse and Picasso-- were content to view that promised land from a lofty distance, eschewing pure abstraction in their own work (a point underscored by the major "Matisse Picasso" show that opened last May at London's Tate). In a review of the same show, Robert Hughes observed that "none of the more exalted claims made of abstract art over the past century have worn well" -- neither the new spiritual orders of Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian at the start, nor, at its apogee, the Abstract Expressionists' "oracular guff about existential confrontation...."

For all that, abstract art was indeed "the defining style of the twentieth century" (Tomkins), and both critics seem to ascribe that achievement to two factors. First, abstract artists produced some of the most beautiful and dramatic visual encounters of the century. Second, in the very act of breaching the bounds of representation, abstraction vastly broadened the scope of artistic activity by redefining the boundary itself as "the border between what's abstract and what isn't..." where "so much of the most interesting art of the 20th century exists (Hughes)." Perhaps that is what the Guggenheim show's curator, Mark Rosenthal, meant in his catalogue essay when he proffered "something else" as the elusive element that abstract art must possess if it is to succeed.

The seven abstract paintings of Makoto Fujimura on view last month at Bellas Artes have that "something else." Fujimura builds horizontal, monochromatic fields of intense atmospheric blue or red through layered applications of native-ore pigments suspended in an animal-hide glue medium. The crystalline particles of azurite and cinnabar refract through the brushed layers of paint to imbue the surface with the lustrous sheen and intimations of alternately fluid or marble-like depths. In several works the artist animates the color field with a central gestural form drawn by repeated calligraphic brushstrokes, evoking the cryptic narrative of an ink painting or a classical landscape scroll. Fujimura's description of his work aptly captures the visual effect: "As the light becomes trapped within pigments, a 'grace arena' is created, as the light is broken, and trapped in refraction. yet my gestures are limited, contained, and gravity pulls the pigments like a kind friend."

The relatively moderate scale of the paintings resists the epic gesture and monumentality attained by Abstract Expressionist precedents. Yet it does assure the fragile tension of grace and gravity that elevates Fujimura's art to a poetic dimension beyond the direct visual appeal of pure abstraction.

Other Coverage

What Japan Needs After 3/11
April, 2011 | ByFaith
Tragedy and Trauma Inspire Soldier’s Art
January, 2011 | Stars and Stripes | By Mark Patton

 

WIESBADEN, Germany — War and conflict have provided artists a canvas of creativity for ages. Just look at Picasso’s “Guernica” or Ernest Hemingway’s war-time writings for a couple of examples.

A traveling art exhibit spearheaded by an Army sergeant continues the tradition by using the backdrop of 9/11 and the current conflicts as a tool for troops to overcome trauma. The exhibit is titled “Reflections of Generosity: Toward Restoration and Peace.”

Sgt. Ron Kelsey, 30, is the founder and creative director of the exhibit. Kelsey, an Iraq war veteran, currently serves as the scheduler for the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Europe in Heidelberg.

The exhibit features paintings, sculptures and songs from military members and international artists. Kelsey’s wife, Kyla, is a professional opera singer and serves as the exhibit’s music director.

“Sometimes, as soldiers, we kind of shelter ourselves from trauma, we almost cage ourselves, or put ourselves in a box,” Kelsey said. “The exhibit gets the soldier out of the box. It cuts the chain of trauma that binds them to the event.”

Trauma is something Kelsey has seen firsthand; in fact the roots of “Reflections” were spawned from tragedy.

A decade ago, the Covington, Ky., native was an Army Reserve soldier. He also was an art and religion student at Wabash College in Indiana who received an internship with New York City artist Makoto Fujimura.

“When Ron came in, he had the entrepreneurial quality that I look for in my interns. ... He had this intensity, too, which made him an ideal person to have in the studio,” said Fujimura, a presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts and founder of the nonprofit International Arts Movement.

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Kelsey arrived in New York City one month before Sept. 11, 2001.

He recalled watching the events unfold on an old black-and-white television set at the Bronx Armory Building and rushing to 32nd Street to check on his fellow art students.

“I smelled the smells of war,” Kelsey said. “The same smells I smelled on 9/11, I smelled in Iraq, just that burning.”

A few days later, Fujimura told Kelsey that tragedy shouldn’t stop him from being an artist, advice Kelsey has passed on.

“Seeing him as an artist deal with the lives lost around him, I was able to use his experience to learn how to respond to Iraq myself,” Kelsey said. “Now I’m able to teach other soldiers how to respond and use art as a form of healing.”

Kelsey’s most recent exhibit ends Saturday at Heidelberg. He has led two previous exhibits at Fort Drum, N.Y., and Ansbach, Germany, and he plans to open another at either Kansas’ Fort Riley or in Italy on Sept. 11.

The U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt has also expressed interest in being a host to the exhibit, and there are talks of taking it to the Pentagon.

“Sgt. Kelsey’s artwork demonstrates that soldiers are often Renaissance men and women, in that they are highly skilled soldiers who have creative talents as well,” USAREUR Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel said in an e-mail.

Kelsey, who hopes to become a military chaplain, had to turn down an offer to take the exhibit to a gallery in New York City because of the cost. Kelsey pays most of the transport costs for the artwork out of his pocket.

Heidelberg Arts and Cultural Center director Ed Codina, whom Kelsey credits for helping to organize the most recent exhibit, hopes the military will offer full-sponsorship of the program in the future so it can reach more troops.

Balancing his military career, marriage, three kids, his exhibit and serving as military liaison for the International Arts Movement takes some work, but Kelsey’s supervisor, Sgt. 1st Class Steven Cooper, said Kelsey doesn’t neglect his Army duties.

“I wish I could pin staff sergeant on him right now. ... He’s the first one at work all the time and you have to push him out of the office,” said Cooper.

Despite the growing popularity of his art — a lithograph titled “Homecoming IR Flag” recently was purchased at a charity auction for $500 by Ed Gillespie, former counsel to President George W. Bush — Kelsey wants to remain a non-profit artist.

“I’m not here to take money from soldiers,” Kelsey said. “I’m here to support them.”

For more information on Kelsey’s work, see www.reflectionsofgenerosity.com

Faith in the Useless: Art as a Space for Reconciliation
October, 2010 | www.curatormagazine.com | By Justin Whtmel Earley
The Art Of Faith / Makoto Fujimura
November 2010 | Relevant Magazine | By Jessica Meisner
The Gospel According to Makoto Fujimura
January 2010 | Patrol Magazine | By Stewart Lundy
InTheMo: The Plumed Horse
November 2010 | InTheMo
International Arts Movement founder to visit Nanjing
September 2010 | Hello Nanjing | By Jimmy Olsen
Desingers Redefine the Political Machine
October 2004 | The New York Times | By Gwena Blair
Art Aflame (Cover Story)
December 2009 | World Magazine | By Mindy Belz
The Good News in Oil and Acrylic
November 2008 | Christianity Today | By Tony Carnes
Re-Imagining Reality — The New Culture Makers (Featured on the Cover)
September 2008 | Christianity Today | By Tim Stafford
Makoto Fujimura: Golden Fire
December 2009 | The New York Sun | By Maureen Mullarkey
Evangelicals seek role as ‘creators of culture’
July 2007 | Associated Press | By Eric Gorski
New York’s New Hope
December 2004 | Christianity Today | By Tony Carnes
Envisioning The Future
April 2010 | WORLD Magazine | By Marvin Olasky
Future History
Art and Antiques | By George Melrod

In style and in content, contemporary artists are bearing the stamp of epochs past.

Bridging the past and present, two Japanese artists, Makoto Fujimura and Hiroshi Senju, adapt traditional techniques to a contemporary sensibility. Still in their early thirties and considered to be among the the leading painters in Japan, Fujimura and Senju studied Ni-Honga (or Japnese-style) painting under the same master. But each implements that tehniques -applying mineral pigments to fine paper stretched over wooden panels-to distinctly modernist ends. Fujimura uses such jewel tones as malachite, vermillion, cinnabar, and gold to create lust, abstract colorfields. Senju, one of three artists selected to represent Japan at the upcoming Vencice Biennale, uses crushed oyster shell against oxidized axurite to create luminous waterfalls. For all their elegance, his radiant spumes brim with violent energy, recalling stop-action photos or even atomic blasts (as in Waterfall, below). The two artists are being reunited the Dillon Gallery in New York, where their work will be on view May 18-June 8.