Japanese painter Ms. KANEMARU Mikako is the 36th International TAKIFUJI Art Award winner (2015). After completing her postgraduate studies at Tohoku University of Art and Design, Ms. KANEMARU works for a living and at the same time she continues to make art. The association that appreciated her creation very much, has invited her to create her first ceramic work as an invited artist for the Traffic Culture Exhibition 2019. The work, entitled “Wave of the Seasons”, was created using KANEMARU’s unique technique of baking ceramic plates and then breaking them into pieces for collage. We look forward to seeing more of Kanemaru’s work in the future. (Interviewer : NISHIKAWA Megumi, September 2019)
“Let’s have fun drawing”
——When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
It was in my second year at university when I really thought about it. I was told by someone who bought a piece I had made at a university festival that “I felt the energy in your work and was fascinated by it”. A large work of art in someone’s hands, to be displayed. I was sad to see the work leave my hands, but I thought to myself, “I hope that my work can be a part of someone’s life and cheer them up”.
——Have you ever had a turning point in your painting?
My art teacher at junior high school was a person who told us to “enjoy drawing”. After my first year, she went on maternity leave, and when she came back in my third year, I was surprised when she told me straight away that I wasn’t enjoying drawing. It was a time when I was struggling and she saw right through me. I had won some prizes for my posters, but I didn’t have the ability to give form to what I liked, and I was the kind of person who would draw a poster with a pattern in mind. My classmates thought I was a good painter, but I felt overwhelmed by the pressure.
——Did you make posters in a patterned way?
Yes, I did. If it was animal welfare, I would draw something that looked like it was going to fit into a pattern. So I thought I was good at drawing on commission. But my teacher saw that I was agonising over the fact that I wanted to draw what was really inside of me. This teacher wrote on a large square card when I graduated, “Artists have to be hard on themselves or they will be lazy to no end, so have fun and do your best”. After that, I decided to paint with fun. In the university, I had a good relationship with my teacher. He always said “Let’s have fun drawing”.
The beauty of pigments led me to Japanese painting
——When did you first become interested in Japanese painting?
I was an oil painter in the art course at Takasaki Municipal High School of Takasaki City University of Economics, but when I saw Japanese paintings at the graduation exhibition of Tokyo University of the Arts, I was moved by their beauty. My friends said to me, “How can Kanemaru paint that delicate Japanese painting?”, but in the end I ended up with a work that was not delicate but fun. What attracted me was the beauty of the unmixed pigments of Japanese painting. I have a tendency to muddy my color, but with Japanese pigments, the reflection of the particles is beautiful and I was moved by that beauty.
——What inspired you to apply for the International TAKIFUJI Art Award?
When I started at Tohoku University of Art and Design, I wanted to paint portraits and didn’t think I would go into public art. However, there is a mountain behind the university, and the nature is rich and a laid-back atmosphere make me relaxing. And I wanted to paint this landscape instead of the portraits. Also, I used to not like public art so much, but I found myself becoming familiar with it. It blends in with the city, and when you walk through it, it cheers you up. I started to think more and more that it is amazing. At that time, I saw a call for applications for the International TAKIFUJI Art Award, which aims to nurture young artists who are responsible for public art, on the university campus. I hurriedly prepared the documents, got a recommendation letter from my supervisor, Mr. SUENAGA Toshiaki , and sent it in. However, by the time I was about to send it in, I realised that I was in my third year of university and that I had to be in my fourth year of university to apply. As expected, my application was not accepted, but I applied again the following year and won the prize.
——At the time of the award ceremony, you visited the Creare Atami Yugawara Studio, which makes public art with stained glass and ceramic relief.
Before I visited the studio, I was fascinated by stained glass, but when I saw the restoration of KATAOKA Tamako’s *¹ ceramic panels*² at the studio, I was overwhelmed by their power. It made me realise once again that there was such a thing as public art.
*1 One of Japan’s leading female Japanese painters, she died in 2008 at the age of 103. With her strong personality, she boldly expressed Japanese images in vivid colors.
*2 “Four Seasons of Edo,” a ceramic relief installed in Ikebukuro Sunshine 60 in 1978. After restoration, it is displayed in front of the entrance on the first floor of the building.
A profound world created by hand
——For the Traffic Culture Exhibition 2019, we asked you to create an art using ceramics.
I have wanted to use ceramic as a material of art since I visited the studio. When I started work, at first, I thought it would be easier to fill in the joints if there was less difference in the thickness of the clay, so I just made a pattern on the surface of the thin clay. But then I was told by the workshop staff, “That’s no fun. There is no point in using clay. You have to have more fun with it”. The thickness of the clay started to change and I tried to put so much pressure on it that it left the shape of my fingers, which gave me more freedom. I guess I was thinking with my head at first. If that person hadn’t told me, I think my work would have been very hollow. While I was making the ceramic, I thought again about the words of someone who said “the hand is the best tool”.
Glazing was also challenging. Because even when I glazed as per test piece, the thickness of the ceramic gives different colors, so you can’t tell until you bake it. Blue is a beautiful color, but red and pink are difficult to get a pleasant color. But I was happy when a few of the colors came out to my liking. It was just an entrance experience, but I thought it was a really deep world. I want to use it in my future work.
——What do you do for a living after you have graduated?
Before handing over a new house, I repair and clean the scratches on the wood and aluminum. I think it would be fun to use these repair techniques in my creation. I’m thinking about how I can make a work of art that is less susceptible to change and deterioration over time, while looking at the materials and tools I use for repair.
——Kanemaru-san, you are a serious person who takes your subject seriously.
Maybe so. I would like to draw works that are close to people and that can be included in their daily lives. But I am also very interested in public art, and I have a longing for three-dimensional art. I want to be a big artist who gets commissioned one day.
Born in Fujioka City, Gunma Prefecture, Japan, Kanemaru graduated from Takasaki Keizai University High School in 2009 (Fine Arts Course) and Tohoku University of Art & Design in 2012 (Japanese Painting Course). She was awarded the 36th International TAKIFUJI Art Award in 2015, the Mitsubishi Corporation Art Gate Program in 2016, and completed her postgraduate studies at Tohoku University of Art & Design in 2018. In 2018, she completed her postgraduate studies at Tohoku University of Art & Design. She is currently working as an artist and has been showing her work in exhibitions from time to time.