The studio of ink brush painter Ichiro Kikuta is located in Kunigamison, the northernmost part of Okinawa, in an area called "Yanbaru (mountain field)". It is a small village with only 160 people, where the rich nature and unique ecosystem still remain. Kikuta paints the landscape of Yanbaru with only one color of ink to express the cycle of nature, where colors and shapes change constantly and never stop.
Fascinated by wild birds and nature
Kikuta was born in Fukushima City. He was a young boy who was passionate about collecting insects in the nearby mountains, and in particular, fascinated by wild birds and spent his days observing them.
Influenced by his father, whose hobby was oil paintings, he began to pick up a paintbrush himself. For motifs, he chose his favorite birds and flowers. Inspired by the works of the British bird painter Charles Taneycliffe, he began painting watercolors in the style of Taneycliffe.
After graduating from high school he moved to England, hoping to see for himself the countryside painted by Tanichliffe. As he traced Tanichliffe's path, he realized that his work was backed by the traditions of his birthplace.
As a person born and raised in Japan, he wondered if there was something different about superficially imitating Western painting. As he was walking through the streets of Oxford, he suddenly noticed a book of paintings displayed in the window of a bookstore. The depictions of birds and plants were wonderful, and as he flipped through the pages, he realized that it was by the Japanese artist Utamaro Kitagawa.
It was then that he became convinced once again that it was Japanese tradition and culture that flowed in is blood. After returning to Japan, he decided to knock on the door of Japanese painting.
Initially, he wanted to go to the Tokyo University of the Arts to study Japanese-style painting in earnest, but a painter advised him that if he wanted to paint birds and nature, he should go to the mountains and fields to sketch instead of coming to Tokyo. From there, he moved to various places in Japan in search of land rich in nature, and began spending his days painting nature.
Depicting a world where people's lives and nature coexist
It was in 2006 that he put an end to his life of itinerant travel through nature-rich places such as Kaga City in Ishikawa Prefecture, Betsukai Town in Hokkaido, and Yonezawa City in Yamagata Prefecture. He visited Kunigamison in the northern part of Okinawa Island and was completely fascinated the small village that retains the original Yanbaru landscape.
Yanbaru means an area where there is still a lot of nature, such as mountains and forests, and specifically refers to the northern part of Okinawa Island. In this area, human life and nature have coexisted in harmony since ancient times. A wide variety of endemic organisms and plants such as Gallirallus okinawae and mangrove live here.
Kikuta fell in love with the wilderness of Yanbaru. Despite the plan to return home after his week-long stay he couldn't bring himself to leave. Then he asked the mayor of the ward to introduce him to a community center that was vacant, and he moved in the following year.
Typical subjects of ink painting include "bamboo and sparrow" and "plum and warbler," but Kikuta depicts nature as it is in Okinawa. This is because he believes that the essence of ink painting is to draw the scenery in front of you as you feel it with your five senses, without being bound by stereotypes. He paints what he observes with his own eyes, without thinking. It is like meditation, he says.
The Cycle of Life Expressed by "Tarashikomi” technique
His work is based on the Yamatoe style of ink painting perfected by Sotatsu Tawaraya in the early Edo period. Sotatsu, the founder of the Rimpa school of painting, developed Yamatoe, an ancient Japanese style of painting, using a unique composition and a unique technique called “tarashikomi”.
Tarashikomi is a technique to obtain a natural oozing effect by adding ink with plenty of water before the first coat of ink has dried. Needless to say, water is the source of all life forms. Kikuta resonates with Sotatsu's idea of the organic connection of various living things as the flow of water. By making full use of water, he himself expresses the circulation of the ecosystem and the sense of oneness with nature.
In order to maximize the effect of the tarashikomi technique, Kikuta himself made the main body of the folding screen on which the pictures are painted. It is made of multiple layers of handmade Japanese Washi paper, which is said to last for 1,000 years. The surface is coated with Dosa (glue and alum) to prevent bleeding, which gives it the strength and durability to withstand multiple coats of paint.
The simple beauty of the ink shading gives the viewer a sense of healing and peace. If you let go of your thoughts and experience a sense of oneness with nature, you will be able to reach a sense of tranquility in your mind. I hope you can feel such a sense from Kikuta's works.
Born in Fukushima City, he has been familiar with nature in the mountains since he was a child, and spent his high school years observing wild birds. Impressed by the works of British bird painter Charles Tannehill, he moved to England after graduating from high school. In the course of researching the countryside scenes that Tanichliffe painted, he realized that his work relied on British tradition, and he himself studied traditional Japanese painting styles. His style is based on the Yamatoe style of ink painting perfected by Sotatsu Tawaraya in the early Edo period. In 2006, he moved his studio and residence to Kunigamison, Okinawa Prefecture, and began to paint the creatures of Yanbaru on folding screens. In May 2021, he opened his own studio, Yanbaru Gallery, in a corner of the Adagarden Hotel Okinawa.View the works of "Ichiro Kikuta"