#33 Miwa Komatsu
Miwa is a professional Japanese modern artist.
Born and raised in Nagano with rich nature and various animals, she has made art works with the theme of her unique views on life and death from
the animals that she encountered when she was little. Receiving reviews of praise for “49 Days”, a copper engraving that was made when she was in college, led her to become a professional artist. She is renowned as an artist who added her statue of lion dogs by Arita porcelain to the permanent collection of the British Museum in 2015. Her picture, made at her event in New York in 2016, was recently purchased by the World Trade Center as a symbol of world peace.
Photo: (c) Miwa Komatsu official website
Interview with Miwa Komatsu
– What made you decide to become a painter?
I inherited a special power that enables me to see lion dogs called koma inu in Japanese or unique animals, which you can see in my drawings, and I have had amiable feelings to them since I was little. When I was little I enjoyed drawing these unreal animals together with existing animals that I found on books. Nagano prefecture, where I grew up, is known for many boutique museums and I grew up being exposed to the genuine arts at these museums, which my mother took me out to. So since I was young, I thought pictures were drawn for public display, and I was dreaming of having my art pieces shown at museums. On address books at museums where I visited, I often wrote my dream; that I wanted to be a painter when I grew up.
– What part of art fascinates you the most?
Recently I’m very interested in creatures that were depicted in music and art pieces in the old days. I think people back then were able to see more objects than we do now, and they expressed what they saw in their arts. It helped to release the souls of these animals. In this sense, I believe art was more than just a display in the past.
When I see great pictures or meet talented artists, I feel my soul is refreshed. Pictures give us an opportunity to take our soul and minds to a next level through their power of showing us more than what was portrayed. This is what I really like in the art.
– How do you come up with the unique ideas of your art works?
Meditation helps my work and I have a meditation space at my workplace in Tokyo. My art essentially depicts lion dogs that I saw at shrines when I was little, or fairies or holy animals around mountains that I encountered outside of Japan.
When I went abroad to small urban cities with parks and nature in them, I found fairies that pretended to be humans came by. In most cases, they stared at me with big eyes. This led me to think these symbolic eyes help pure features to get away from evils. That’s why I have emphasized the eyes of animals in my pictures. Also, in the foreign countries that I have visited, I learned interesting histories of the mixture of various religions, which affected the holy creatures living there. By intentionally having them in my drawing I sometimes felt my souls were relieved. So in my drawings you can enjoy the mixture of what I have included on purpose and what I have just seen in the past.
– How can you see fairies or creatures that seem to be living only in an imaginary world?
In most cases, I coincidentally see them. They appear in front of me when I don’t intend to meet them and they don’t show up when I ask them. They sometimes come to see me while I am sleeping. Also, I have seen them accidentally pop up when I was looking at mountains. Fairies are normally not interested in humans so they tend to ignore you when you call them. But when I sent a message telling them that I am dare to see them and draw them in my art pieces, they appeared from somewhere. Sometimes I can only hear them.
It is interesting to see how these creatures are different in one country to another. They look different depending on where they come from. The same as humans, the fairies are influenced by energies around them as they grow up. So yokai, strange and supernatural creatures in Japan, have different appearance from fairies in Western countries.
– The theme of your art works has been the view on life and death. What made you choose thetheme as an artist?
Fairies are living in a very pure world where life and death are next to each other. So I was originally scared by the fairies. Pivotal events that I experienced in my real life and influenced my view on death were when I faced the death of my pet animals. They lived long and passed away due to a disease in the end. In many cases these animals didn’t stop their heart beat while I was sleeping. They strived to extend their lives until I came to see them. Once they died, their bodies suddenly got lighter and I encountered a moment when their souls left their bodies.
When I was around 18 years old, my grandfather passed away. All family members except for me went to see him the night of the day before, but for some reason I was able to foresee it would be in the following morning. He died soon after I went to see him in the morning. I saw the grandfather’s soul smoothly left his body, which led me think that he would go to the same world as my deceased pets. From this experience, I also felt a way a human’s soul goes to another world was exactly the same as animals. This means humans and animals are equal in that sense. So I feel in the world close to Gods that we don’t really recognize, everyone is equal no matter if you are human or animal, and that world has more freedom and purity. In my artwork of “49 Days” (*), I expressed my feelings that death isn’t the end of your life as from that moment you are in the world that everyone is equal thus how your souls behave matters. It was when I was 18 years old.
(*) In Buddhism, a dead person’s soul is said to be floating between this world and the Afterlife for the first 49 days after the person passed away in preparation for new life. Praying by his/her relatives helps him/her to go to a heaven-like place in the Afterlife on the 49 th day after he/she passes away.
Photo: (c) Miwa Komatsu official website
– Can you tell us about your art pieces for the group exhibition at the Waterfall Gallery in NewYork in 2016?
The theme of the group exhibition was sustainability and I thought it perfectly matched the life long theme of my art works. A pair of lion dogs in Arita porcelain and an artwork of lion dogs in the middle were on display at the exhibition. Lion dogs are supposed to protect a sacred area around them, so they are normally put on a high stand and not many people have looked into their eyes. However, I decided to intentionally make lion dogs whose eyes can look into eyes of the audience. Since lion dogs appeal to your soul and not to your body, they love you if your soul is pure and beautiful. When they love you, the Earth loves you too. I believe living your life in your own style is what sustainability means and I wanted to send this message through my art pieces.
– Do you see any difference in reaction to your art works between Japanese and non-Japanese?
Through this exhibition in New York, I realized how you feel the beauty of souls and hearts is the same in any country. However I found it difficult to explain what “komainu” (lion dogs) is from an artistic standpoint. “Komainu” is called a lion dog in Western countries. Lions belong to feline and dogs apparently belong to canine. So when my komainu art piece was first introduced in England, people were surprised at this unique creature of the mixture of animals from different families, and they said it looked like a lion but not a dog. Also some people said it was more like a dragon. Komainu is originally from “shinjyu” (sacred animal), but shinjyu changed its style when it was mixed with dogs in Korea a long time ago. Due to its complex history, it is hard to explain a root of komainu to people who see komainu for the first time, but it is interesting to see how people react to my komainu art works. Someone from England said komainu looked close to gargoyles. Gargoyles changed their appearance when it was introduced to Europe from Asia.
In Asia, it was a creature that protects sacred areas but in Europe it looks more like a devil. I am interested in learning the history of gargoyles and hearing about it from people from different countries as it may help me to find out the origin of the main character in my art pieces.
– What virtue of Japanese cultures do you want to introduce to people outside of Japan?
What I want to emphasize in Japanese culture is coexistence of “wa (harmony)” and “yamato damashii (Japanese spirit)” as Japan has high tolerance to different cultures and religions. Japan has gone through a sad time when “shinbutu-shugo” (literally “syncreatism of kami from Shinto and Buddhas”) and “haibutsu kishaku” (“separation of Buddhism and Shintoism), but we still see some remains from the time of these years. This makes me think we have an ability to make different things to one and accept it and in that mindset there is no discrimination to religions and races. As I said earlier lion dogs represent various cultures and animals and it is almost a symbol of affection, which I really like in Japanese culture. I have made statues of lion dogs in Arita porcelain. This style is originated in the area around the town of Arita in Japan, but it was first introduced by a man named Yi Sam-pyeong from South Korea when he found a place to make potteries in that area. Arita ware is widely known as a type of Japanese porcelain but if Yi Sam-pyeong had not come to Aria it wouldn’t have existed or it would have been developed by a different person from China or some other countries way later. As long as 400 years of history of Arita ware is a result of contribution by Yi Sam-pyeong and even now in Arita you can see how much people appreciate him who is from outside of Japan. This is just one example but you can see Japanese culture has been formed by taking in cultures from different countries. I would say Japanese culture is connected to cultures in the world and in a sense that it has accepted various different cultures from outside of Japan you can feel love and peace in it. So I believe including Japanese culture in my art works is implicitly sending my message of peace, and “yamato damashii (Japanese spirit)” is something that make it possible. That’s why I believe an idea of “yamato damashii” is important and want to introduce it to people outside of Japan.
– What do you want to do in the future as a professional artist?
Through having a chance to have my art works on display at the Waterfall Gallery in New York, I strongly felt I had to catch up with the scale of the exhibition. I want to put my affection more to my art pieces so that they harmonize with the gallery space. Since I received a lot of vibes in New York, I am motivated to draw new pictures very soon.
I also want to spend time to make my artworks in New York. I have expressed energy that I felt deep inside the world not just energies that I felt from the surface of skyscrapers to my art works. New York is a place that attracts people from all over the world, and that’s why New York has a lot of pure energies. But I didn’t truly feel these energies as I didn’t have a chance to draw pictures in New York yet. I believe something that leads to world peace lies in New York, so I have to make my art works in New York. There are still a lot of things to do, but it was a good opportunity for me to have a chance to display my works at Waterfall Gallery in New York because it helped me to change my mindset and let me realize what I really need to do going forward. In the future, I want to make interesting art pieces based on what I learned from my exhibition in New York.
Miwa is a professional Japanese modern artist. She was born and grew up in Nagano where she was exposed to beautiful nature and various animals. Encountering the death of these animals since she was little has helped her to shape her unique views of life and death, which can be seen in her major art works. “49 Days” a copper engraving made when she was around 20 years old, received rave reviews due to her high technique and originality, and it led her to become a professional artist. Her recent artworks have extended to acrylic painting and Arita porcelain with a theme of death, gods, spirits and sacred animals, some of which she has seen in her real life. She made her name worldwide by her artwork of “komainu”, lion dogs by Arita porcelain being added to a permanent collection of the British Museum in 2015, the participation of a group exhibition in New York in 2016 and World Trade Center’s purchase of her picture drawn in New York 2016. For more information about Miwa Komatsu, please visit her website at http://miwakomatsu.com/