“Europe in the 1980s did not yet consider ceramics a legitimate art, and it was seen more as a craft. I think I have a multipolar way of viewing things, so I started to look to ceramics to make what I couldn’t do with conceptual art work. The texture of the clay and the way something comes into being through passing over my skin is thrilling, and it feels like it naturally emerges rather than being artificially pushed out. I get away from the reason that is demonstrated in paintings, and I release an intelligence that was buried inside me, and this permeates the work. I feel that mystical quality is something near to my original body and spirit.”
Back in the 1970s when Ikemura was based in Spain and she began her work as an artist, she says her struggle in mainstream contemporary art was aided by the many choices she had to make.
“I’d intentionally forgotten that reckless era for forty years. I threw away the conceptual approach (that was mainstream at that time), and chose to live on a different path. It was a more personal sensation, close to life. I don’t believe in thinking there is a certain “way things should be.” Both people and art are always changing. I want to believe in my own supple rather than fierce strength, and pursue art that vividly develops, bringing an accent to the world.”
From the 1990s onwards, the many works Ikemura has brought into the world have quietly presented prophetic images in a social structure that is itself going through great change.
A strange girl who is sometimes towering, sometimes fainting. A mother and child standing silently. A hybrid fantasy creature. Within these weak figures, life and death exist together, and they seem to have a medium-like power to pass through the world. There is an acceptance of the unknown things to come that is loving and crazy, harboring a thought similar to revelation.
Ever since her 2011 exhibition “Leiko Ikemura: Transfiguration” at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and Mie Prefectural Museum of Art, Ikemura has been more conscious about facing crumbling contemporary social structures than ever. The climax of this exhibition is revealed in an exhibition room where large-scale paintings she has been working on in recent years that express global views of the world in mythical landscapes.
“The work in the first exhibition room, conceptual pieces that express the cycle of life through the seasons, is an approach I had already begun when I was a student. That was a seed that connects to what I am making today. At that time, I already had a philosophy of life and death in my heart. By painting a mythical landscape, I am trying to find peace of mind by thinking about the origins of life on a scale of thousands, millions of years. Humans have a single original form, and it’s possible for us to understand one another, and I live with that feeling deep in my bones. The world today is full of contradictions, but I don’t think power is what we need to change it. Infiltration is what makes a new wind blow, and changes the air.”
Here I focused on the newest work, “Sinus Spring.” Compared to other works in the same series, the rosy color reminiscent of the blood that warmly envelops all living creatures is striking. Ikemura says, “It’s a color linked to women’s bodies and maternity, a color of the burning season. I want to lend a sense of movement and brightness to the unbearable current situation. I hope that it can show the strong connection between life and nature, and the meaning of survival. It is a comprehensive creative work of mine, crossing borders, crossing worlds, aiming for a cosmic sensation. Instead of segmenting off the past, I am future-oriented, including my own consciousness as an artist.”
I witnessed Ikemura’s strong yet soft criticism in nameless creatures and mothers with children who, when surrounded by scenery and protected by the bosom of nature, absorb the uncertainties of a hazy future along with an indefinable tranquility. Ikemura’s honest introspection and premonition penetrate deeply, descending into a broad diversity of lives that have not yet appeared in this world.
Leiko Ikemura, who sometimes calls herself “more of an intermediary than an artist” is one of few artists with whom I feel I want to match my breath and together see how this era plays out.
interview&text:Chie Sumiyoshi photo:Yuko Moriyama translation:Claire Tanaka
Born in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture in 1951. The artist currently resides in Germany. After dropping out of the Spanish Language program at Osaka University of Foreign Language Studies, she entered the University of Seville Faculty of Fine Arts in Spain, where she majored in Fine Art. Next she lived in Zurich, Switzerland, then Nuremburg, before basing herself in Berlin and Cologne from the late 1980s onward. She works in a diverse range of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, watercolor, printmaking, photography, and more. She has a lot of female fans who feel a connection with her social sentiments and the motifs she uses (such as small animals, natural-looking girls, mothers with children, mystical landscapes, and more).
Leiko Ikemura Our Planet – Earth & Stars
Date: January 18 (Friday) to April 1 (Monday) 2019
Closed on Tuesdays
Venue: The National Art Center, Tokyo – Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
Address: 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Opening Hours: 10:00am – 6:00pm (open until 8:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays)
*Last admission 30 minutes before closing
Admission: General 1,000 yen / University Students 500 yen / Children Free