Interview Mayako Nakamura – EN

Raymond Cuijpers – Mayako Nakamura

Studio Mayako Nakamura
Studio Mayako Nakamura

First of all I would like to know more about your Emaki Study. I didn’t know much about the emaki so I looked up some Emaki Scrolls on the Internet.
There’s always a kind of narrative. Is that also the case in your Emaki Studies, or do they have a pure abstract intention?

The “emaki study” is an experimental work of time, space and the artist (i.e. me and the reflection on my body and its behavior, my kokoro*, and my thoughts.)
Here is a translation of a statement I wrote in Japanese earlier. It is quite an abstract expression, but I hope you get some idea before reading my answers to your questions.

“A kent paper roll. Charcoals. Black and white paints. A brush with one colour in one hand, and a brush with another colour in the other hand. Painting at the same time, or one at a time. A meditation through the scroll. Opening and closing my eyes – between consciousness and unconsciousness. One mark awakens another behaviour. Two colors may blend into grays. Positive and negative relations appear among the space and time of gray and black and white. I disappear into the scroll.
The session ends at the very moment when I wish to take a look at the whole thing from a distance.
These are my true feelings today. What I had experienced, or what I long for now. A scene from a distant dream. I am trying to keep records of what I am and what I am up to in my everyday living.
The abstract forms and textures, dots, lines and planes, ambiguous emotions and daily routines. These elements are combined through my senses and expressed onto the paper with the wish that these marks and traces may transform themselves into “symbols” common to the viewer. It is a continuous challenge, a life work.”

Yes, the emakis are traditionally narrative. At first, I thought of utilizing only the format of “emaki,” since I wanted to draw something huge in a limited studio space. I do not have clear intentions to form a narrative throughout the scroll, but in broader views, I feel the whole scroll is a collective result of my daily “subconscious” stories. I am determined to free my body, mind and kokoro* through working on “emaki.” At the same time, as the name suggests, the ” emaki study,” is an exercise in expressing my concerns and state of mind in the ”purest” form.
I place emphasis on action/behaviour, unconscious/subconscious and how consciousness also affects the work.
I try to create emptiness in my mind and feel the link between the body, kokoro and my thoughts. The paint (leaves/creates) marks and traces on the white paper, those marks develop into an abstract field. And then it eventually begins to form/figure (morph) into something recognizable/unrecognizable.(??)
There is one scroll (scroll no. 4) in which I intended to tell a vague story using kanji characters starting from Emaki study 20101119:-

*kokoro こころ 心
‘ Kokoro ‘ is very difficult to explain… It is often translated as heart or mind, though I feel ‘ kokoro ‘ have (has) much more emphasis on mental aspects than physical meaning. If I were to list the synonyms they would be something like…heart, mind, soul, spirit, nature, thoughts, ways, traditions, feelings, emotions, intention, essence, mood, inner, notion etc. etc.

Do you finish one scroll in a day, or do you work for a longer period on one Emaki?
I presume you don’t have a studio that’s 30 meters wide, so you can only work on a part of the paper, how does that affect your way of working?

I usually work about 2m at a time. Sometimes I draw everyday. At other times there is a long interval between one section and another: one month or even longer. The respective sections are connected in various ways. In terms of pictorial space and elements, I leave the last 10cm of the previous section when working on the next, so that the two sections connect smoothly. The interval between the sections gives different feelings and borders; the Japanese often call it a “ma*.” When unfolded,
it can be viewed as some kind of a wall painting, but if you take a close look at it, it is quite different. The movement (or the narrative if you try to detect it) or unexpected relations (both harmonious and dissonance) occur and it is just fascinating to view that way. I would love to work on 30m (3m?? at one time but it probably would become something very different. It surely would be a long “wall painting.”
But the outcome of “ma” and the passage of time would be totally different. The “emaki” and the wall painting differ in the sense that the “emaki” is a continuous repetition of sections/units of 2m, whereas a wall painting is simply a continuous body of work. (But I imagine, rolling it up and viewing in sections would be very much like the traditional emaki!)

*ma ま 間 ma is another ambiguous word that describe a pause, or an interval; rest, distance, space, a period of time, or room, and timing.

Your paintings and drawings on canvas and paper are quite small. Do you have a different approach to the big Emaki Studies compared to your smaller work?
When I work on a big canvas I like to disappear into the painting, to reach a more unconscious state of mind.
How would you describe your state of mind while working on the Emaki?

Ah! Dissapearing into the canvas! I feel that way too!!!!
“I trace the shapes of space and boundaries in everyday, as my body feels. When numerous senses are woven together with the impressions of the reality that my mind has already known, and with the universal shapes that my kokoro longs for, another everyday appears on my canvas. I’m attempting to create another everyday, which seems more essential than the actual living, by painting atmospheres, emotions and actions that can’t be expressed by words. Not necessarily special, but surely existing.”
As my artist statement suggests, I am trying to express the “borders” and how my body is related to the canvas. Whether unconscious or conscious, I position myself in between “ma” (the borders) of skin and paint, air and paper, etc etc. going back and forth when creating my artworks. The greatest difference in working on “emaki” from painting small pieces is that the “reality” reflected in emaki which is saying “I am here right now!”

When you paint mind and body are forming a synergy that lets you control the paint, the space and the light of the painting.
I think I want to know more about the kokoro, because it seems that is your main energy or source in painting.
Is the kokoro personal, does it relate to who you are, your character, your way of being?
You write about it as if the kokoro is an independant entity, that lives somewhere inside of you… How for instance does the kokoro make its presence known in everyday life?

Yes, you are right! Kokoro is always in the centre of all creativity, the very inspiration, or the will to paint.
Kokoro may be personal, public, or shared by a particular group of people. Kokoro is something dwelling inside our body/mind/heart, but cannot be visualized. It relates to who I am, and is my character. It’s the way of living, the way of thinking, reflecting and affects our behaviour. Kokoro is a philosophy as well as a mirror of all kinds of emotions. Kokoro could be a spirit, and something that moves/controls my body and soul. Kokoro in my everyday life manifests itself as a pool of feelings. Kokoro is a very abstract and vague word that even other Japanese people would probably explain differently. This is my interpretation and I hope you get some idea.

When dreaming, my kokoro (the unconscious) is set free.
Then I wake up. I see the sunshine- my kokoro (imagination) sings along with the bird’s song.
Brushing my teeth, viewing green leaves from my window- my kokoro (thought, emotion) is perched on the tree.
My kokoro (senses) is melting like milk, dancing with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
Hearing sad news from the radio, my kokoro (emotions) sinks into a deep pond of depression.
Reading a novel, poem or listening to music, my kokoro (mind, soul, spirit) travels and goes on adventures into the unknown.
When I’m in a hurry, anxiety occupies my kokoro (state of mind.)
When I’m with my loved one, all my kokoro (everything on my mind) is drowned in him/her.
I am very much conscious of the Japanese kokoro (the japanese way of thinking, behaving.)
The kokoro (nature, essence, importance) of painting lies in expressing “reality”. Listening to Harcsa’s new album moved my kokoro (heart.)
I put all my kokoro (soul, emotions, strength, energy) into this new painting.
I used my kokoro (all my heart) to select a present for my mother’s day.
I’ve decided my kokoro (mind) to live as a painter.
Kokoro (emotion, thoughts, intention) is always reflected in the expression on my face, my tone of voice, my behavior, and my mood. I would always love to have my
kokoro (emotions, willingness, logic, knowledge, spirit, soulfulness, passion, energy) fulfilled.

Emaki (...) Mayako Nakamura
Emaki (…)
Mayako Nakamura

All your Emaki studies are in black and white, is there a reason for that, do you wish to remain sober in colour because you are already taking the ultimate freedom in every other aspect of painting?

I try to keep my emaki simple as possible. I believe “the less you paint, the more that can be said.”
In addition, I am attentive to the expression/tones of the “grays.” That’s the reason why I use only black and white for my emaki studies.

Do you ever make corrections in the parts of the Emaki that you have already worked on?

No. I never make revisions on any part of my emaki.
When an emaki is unrolled, I do feel like painting a stroke or two, to fix the flow, or the composition of the work, but since it is a continuous record of every day living, I make it a rule not to make any corrections.

Sometimes I say that I paint till the size of the canvas feels right, so first there is the canvas with sizes and then you paint, till you have the right feeling about the size, and by doing so a canvas never feels big. A huge canvas can appear more human-sized than a very small canvas, because in the big canvas you are actually physically disappearing; your mind and body are working. In a small canvas you are more of an outsider to the painting. How do you experience size in your Emaki studies?

I agree with you. In large paintings, we are able to disappear into it physically.
We may transform our 3D world into the 2D surface more easily and successfully. When it comes to painting small pieces, I tend to regard the canvas as a “window.” I guess many painters do. However, I enjoy making myself as small as an ant, or as big as an elephant in my imagination and paint both large and small paintings! In our imaginations we can be any size!

In the process of making a painting there can be a moment that you feel you have to destroy the image you have painted so far, in order to break through the image you are used to making. Sometimes this happens by accident, you don’t really think about it, but you can point out the moment after you have finished the painting. Sometimes you can force this break through, by doing something you would normally never do.
In the Emaki you don’t have those moments, or do you?

Absolutely! I do encounter these “breakthroughs” both conscious or unconsciously.
This action adds some measure of dissonance within the “order” of painting, which becomes what I call the real “harmony”.

Studio Mayako Nakamura
Studio Mayako Nakamura

How do you relate to painting/painters in Japan, I mean, is abstract painting common in Japan? Do you relate to art history at all?

I try to relate myself to Art history. Not only the Japanese, but worldwide.
Speaking of how my composition is created, I am trying to speak (paint) with the pictorial elements that Paul Cézanne had started and other modern/contemporary artists are continuing. My paintings are often thought to be abstract, but I prefer to call them semi abstract, or an “expression of borders”. As I’ve told you earlier, I am interested in “ma,” which derives from traditional Japanese ink paintings. I am trying to succeed the “ma” that Sesshu* have created in the past.


There are so many “abstract” painters here in Japan. I’ll list some of the well-known “abstract” painters (whom I like) in recent Japanese art world:-
Koichi Ono (↑He was my teacher at the art school.)
Shigemasa Keiji
Aguri Uchida
Kenjiro Okazaki
Gyoji Nomiyama
Miyuki Tsugami
Lee Ufan

For me soccer (In my early twenties I used to be a professional soccer player) was both a big source of inspiration and a huge contradiction to my painting. And yet sports – I am a fanatic cyclist now- play an important role in my work as an artist. Sometimes during painting you get in the same state (physical and spiritual) as in cycling, you are focused and your mind and body are intensely pointing in one direction, nearly approaching a meditative kind of emptiness. Do you have a similar kind of source that at first sight seems to be the opposite of your painting but actually is very much the same?

Oh yes! The opposites are always my great concerns.
Violence and healing, micro and macro. Extreme loudness and serenity. Existing and nonexistence.
These are some of the elements that I encounter during my painting process.

In what state do you leave your studio? I had a long period in which I didn’t want to leave the studio dissatisfied, I wanted to have the feeling that the painting I was working on was finished. Now I accept the fact that I sometimes have to leave the studio with a canvas that I am not really happy about, knowing that I can work on it for as long as want. I used to make paintings within two hours, now I see they emerged out of a sort of impatience. Do you plan your work? And how does the amount of time you are able to work on a painting effect the outcome of the image?

I usually don’t plan my works.
One stroke/mark leads to the next action. I continue until I encounter something “new” or something “unpredicted” happens. Some works come out perfectly (in my point of view) very quickly, all of a sudden, but others need plenty of time to nurture… it depends on specific piece really.

To whom other than yourself you wish to communicate in your work? A friend of mine told me once you can divide painting in two streams. Paintings that communicate with alien life, unknown life maybe (like the paintings of Joan Miro) or paintings that communicate human emotions and are directly related to human life (like the paintings of Edvard Munch). I have always remembered that way of dividing art, and think it is a nice way to make clear your own position in painting (and in the world). Where would you position yourself?

Very interesting!
I suppose I position myself between the two. Both what are “human” and what are “alien” are reflected in my paintings. These elements I believe exist in all landscape and still-life paintings, as well as in living creatures. I feel “kokoro” resides in every existing thing.