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Dillon Gallery’s Makoto Fujimura Exhibition, ‘Golden Sea’

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Julie Hamilton met Fujimura during her studies at Baylor over their mutual love of Georges Rouault. Leaving Texas, she traveled to Duke for graduate studies in theology and art history, interning a summer at Dillon Gallery. She is currently a creative resource scholar for the Fujimura Institute and recently contributed a chapter for Fujimura’s retrospective monograph Golden Sea concerning his work in collaborative and performance art due out this May.

Golden Sea, Makoto Fujimura’s Exhibition, By Julie Hamilton

Trained in the techniques of Japanese Nihonga, Makoto Fujimura offers a seasoned yet innovative vision in his upcoming exhibition Golden Sea at Dillon Gallery, with vanguard approaches to traditional materials. This midcareer exhibit testifies to Fujimura’s significant transition in his artistic career, approaching a new horizon in his visual aesthetic by reimagining possibilities in contemporary art. Ever-excavating his intuitive vision through process-driven methods, Fujimura credits his inspiration for these works to phenomenological experimentation with fresh techniques and materials.

Golden Sea

In a studio visit I had with Fujimura two years ago, he was certain that his painting Golden Sea would not be exhibited in Chelsea, seemed too personal for a public audience. However this May, Golden Sea is the central piece and title for both his retrospective monograph and documentary. Why the transition? I consider this exhibition to be more autobiographical than others, emitting Fujimura’s lyrical confessions through both the brilliant malachite and gold in his Golden Sea, as well as the grisaille shadows in his Walking on Water—Flight. Typically Fujimura is commissioned for focused projects that concern particular themes. In contrast, four of the featured paintings for this show were made extrinsically to his Soliloquies (2009) Four Holy Gospels (2011), and QU4RTETS (2012) exhibitions. These pieces were created concurrently with those collections, but are peripheral in their subject matter. These marginal paintings could be considered autobiographically revelatory of Fujimura’s central themes: sublimity and pathos, community and isolation, revelation and ambiguity, generativity and absence, articulation and silence—essentially paradox. While Fujimura avoids concrete pictorial realities in this exhibition, his dance-like movements through form and color convey paradox as a way of life by navigating beyond apparent binaries.

Walking on Water- Waves

Originally intended as a response to the devastating Japanese tsunami in 2011, the Walking on Water series became a reality for Fujimura as he waded through the flooded Dillon Gallery this past October, losing numerous works. Yet the “walking on water” reference alludes to more than the event of Sandy. For Fujimura, it is also an encounter with the impossible, even the miraculous, an ability to maintain peace amidst the storm. At first glance of this series, one might think back to Mark Rothko’s late works, as well as Yves Klein’s anthropometries. But the third painting in this triptych is perhaps the most conceptually profound. Entitled Banquo’s Dream, this piece was born amidst the storms of Sandy. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth after seeing his son C.J. play the character of Banquo in an October performance at Bucknell University, Fujimura notes his own internal tempest mirrored the churning winds outside his studio on his farm in Princeton. The tensions and anxiety in his composition process paralleled Banquo’s emotional trauma. By utilizing untreated burlap as a base (like his Emily Dickinson’s Trinity, lost in Sandy) an inordinate measure of Nihonga pigments are required to saturate the painting’s surface, which Fujimura initially resisted. His “ghastly” poetic gestures of oyster shell resemble draped gossamer, a fragile and ephemeral veil unable to obfuscate the gold. Likewise, Banquo’s dream offers an anchor in the midst of Shakespeare’s nightmare, “affirming the deep psychology of human experience interacting with divine mystery.”

Walking on Water-Banquo's Dream

Standing in front of these large canvases, Fujimura asks his audience to enter into the space of being overwhelmed in the disorienting environment that he has created. Mineral traces on his obscure surfaces range from faint to gratuitous, offering an intimate experience for the viewer who attends closely to his particular employment of materials. These pieces punctuate Fujimura’s career as open-ended investigations, asking more questions than they resolve. Leaving space for mystery, Fujimura’s paintings are hospitable to self-discovery and even hope of epiphany.

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