Koutaku Yoshinaga Solo Exhibition "Sanzunokawa no Shiganmichi"
2022.08.19(Fri) – 2022.08.24(Wed)
YUGEN Gallery hosted a solo exhibition by illustrator Koutaku Yoshinaga called Sanzunokawa no Shiganmichi from Friday, August 19 through Wednesday, August 24.
Hidden facets of a popular picture-book artist
This wildly popular picture book artist is now showing off a totally new facet in his exhibition, Sanzunokawa no Shiganmichi. In the Buddhist tradition, Higan signifies the other world, free of greed and worry. Shigan, though, is the human world with all its suffering. In this piece, the viewer stands on the banks of the Sanzu River, where the waves lap at the land of Shigan, without ever crossing over. Yoshinaga approached his canvas with the idea of evoking that view, of wandering along the shores of this mortal world.
Imagining an unseen world
Yoshinaga attributes his sense of otherworldliness to having lived in a 100-year-old house until the age of eight. "If you looked away while you were fixing dinner, when you turned back there could be a weasel eating your food, and we would put down pest control pads and find rows of mice trapped there. It was nothing special. My grandparents had a room at the end of a dimly lit hallway in that old, roomy, ramshackle house, along with a Buddhist family altar. They would chant sutras every morning."
These things shaped him; the teachings of his grandmother, who had been born to a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple, and living in a house where boundaries were routinely broken by wildlife. The presence of things that are adjacent to the space where we live, like the invisible world of death, seeped into Yoshinaga every bit as much as the humidity of the seaside town of Kokura in Fukuoka, Japan.
Yoshinaga also says that his father, who did immigration research in South America, took him all over South America from the time he was in elementary school. His father raised funds to build an elementary school in the Andes Mountains, and he said he still remembers the feeling of shaking hands with a little girl on a trip there. They were the rough hands of someone who had been helping with farm and house work. He saw that behind the world he knew were ways of life beyond his imagination, with people in villages lined with rundown shacks.
"When I was in high school, I met these children who had learned to paint from a shaman, and they were better than anyone in the design department at the school I was going to. Those kids would say things like, 'Someday I want to visit Japan!' with a sparkle in their eye, but I felt like it was a dream that could never come true."
After he returned to Japan and told his friends about those experiences, no one ever understood. He went back to his daily life with the vague realization that all kinds of people live through the same time in all kinds of places, but they simply do not intersect.
Sanctifying every day
Part of the inspiration for this came from his experience of traveling around Asia in 2017, when he had taken a leave from his picture-book work. He saw how religion was rooted in daily life there, with a sacred offering set out at the edge of every food stall. So, he decided to enshrine 365 days as 365 sacred objects. In much the way picture books tell a story through art, he captured the story of each day in an image, a figurative representation depicted as a goshintai.
In 2017, he tackled canvas works for the first time after a long absence with a two-person exhibition called Inochi no Arika (Where does life exist) at Art Space Baku, a long-established gallery in Fukuoka. The pieces were based around the concept of "this" world—what we see around us—and "that" world, the beyond that humans give meaning to. The worldview he presented was unlike anything imagined from his picture books, and garnered much commentary. This latest exhibition offers significant expansions on those two-dimensional pieces. There are around 30 pieces seeing their first display here, including the newly-approached Goshintai Series and the Yonagashikouta Series of small works based on the theme of reaching the banks of the Sanzu after one irreplaceable day.
Bringing the joy of living in the moment to Shigan
In these last few years, with his movement restricted and facing only his own art, Yoshinaga also lost his father and a friend. Those experiences only reinforced the sense of days slipping past. Yoshinaga, who says he has spent his whole live being frightened of death, says that his father's passing in particular showed that death comes to everyone. That made his fear "that lingered on like a nightmare" finally disappear and allowed him to look at death from the joy of life.
In the live painting sessions he has held, he says, children who use their brushes in unexpected places "have allowed me to break down my own pictures, and have softened my fossilized thinking and brush strokes." When Yoshinaga started illustration in 2002, he could find nowhere that would accept his unique touch, and he spent days wondering whether he would have to give up the path of painting. Then, by accident, he found the path to picture books. He devoted himself to picture book artist work as if he were fulfilling a pledge to the only children who had ever accepted his work—the same children he once met in South America who had no "intersection" with the world.
Yoshinaga will continue through his life in Shigan as a picture book artist, but even as "I pursue my core of painting" his art can only take him to the banks of the Sanzu River, where the waves lap at the land of Shigan, without crossing over. He will continue to enshrine the joy of living each day "as a way to complete the revolving lantern of my life."
Yoshinaga has been aware since childhood of the random nature and nearness of death, and his encounter with a deer corpse revealed to him the connections between life and death. Another Higan, a prayer for joy in life amid all of this world's uncertainties is presented here as a prayer for the pleasures of that other world Shigan.
*Some of the works on display are subject to change. please note that.
At the same time as the exhibition is held, it will be possible to view and purchase the works on the YUGEN Gallery official online store.
2017 Picture Book Artist 10 Year Anniversary Exhibition at whitespaceONE, Fukuoka
2018 Dual exhibition Inochi no Arika Shin Yahiro+Koutaku Yoshinaga, at Art Space Baku, Fukuoka
Yoshinaga was born in 1979 He began his career as an artist at the age of 18, and has since worked as an illustrator for various domestic and international media. His first picture book for children, Kyushoku Bancho (The School Lunch Punk) (Kogakusha) became a hit and was turned into a series. He has since worked on several others, including the Yokai Gamatono (Gamatono the Monster) series (Akane Shobo), Boku Datte Ultraman (But, I'm Ultraman!) series (Kodansha), and Waokokko. Along with his major works, he is known for his Japan-wide series of story-time and live events.Go to author page