Chuta Kimura, Landscape at Pagoma in Provence,1984, 31.5 x 31.5 inches, Collection of Mr. Akira Yoshida, London.
At times when I feel lost, stuck, or unmotivated, I go to my art books and pull out my heroes. I’m like a kid feeling encouraged by their faded pulp comics as the hero overcomes obstacles to achieve greatness; except my heroes are painters. Page after page, each monograph is another reason, against all odds, to keep painting. One of my favorites is Chuta Kimura. You know that slightly nightmarish, anxiety inducing class drawing where you start at one easel and then, like musical chairs, each student shifts to the next easel every few minutes so that each drawing becomes a sort of collaboration? Well imagine if de Kooning and Matisse painted a landscape together, and maybe Bonnard was their professor/mentor? That’s ya boi Kimura. Of course that’s a gross reduction of his painterly style, but you get the idea. His paintings are at once a very serious study of light, line, color, and shape in an abstracted landscape, as well as a celebration of paint. I have an exhibition catalog from his show at the Philips Collection in the winter of 1985 and it has a broken spine that often falls open to Landscape at Pegoma in Provence, 1984. His paintings are a painterly painter’s wet dream on canvas.
Now, I’ve never actually seen it, or any of his paintings in person. (Spare me the eye rolling lecture: “But the color/texture/scale/je ne sais quoi is so much better in person.” I know, I know, but sometimes life comes before being an artist.) It’ll happen someday and, when it does, I will be in complete bliss, choked up and with goose bumps crawling up my forearms. Because the thing that really stops me in my tracks is his paint, and feeling like if I could stand in front of that painting I’d get sucked up into an alien light beam of goddamn beauty. It’s like a weight lifted off your chest. You can breathe.
I love the atmosphere of his paint. As a painter, I take certain liberties with my paintings. I make a lot of things up because even if it’s not the truth it just feels right. You paint the sky pink not necessarily because it looks like that, but because it feels like that. In Landscape I’m looking down at a field, the sun is hitting at a strong angle and a cloud passes over. It’s just before sunset and it starts to rain. You can practically smell that hot, sweet smell of grass, the petrichor–the scent that is emitted from the earth when it initially reacts with the moisture from rain. That smell has the same primordial effect on everyone. It’s imprinted on our DNA through ancestral lived experience, epigenetics, like a tugging at your soul. That smell is an awareness that the ground is wet and plants/crops are being watered. It’s a calming reassuring smell, reminding you that you’re alive and, god willing, if it rains again you’ll keep surviving.
I snap out of my day dream and my eye catches a pale yellow drip, flung off at an angle where it lays across a dark, dusty lavender with moments of amber shining through. I can hear a palette knife scrape paint against canvas, building up against the knife’s edge, mixing with looser, brushed on paint until the wrist changes direction and leaves a small berm of paint and the beginnings of a drip. I wonder how he moved when he painted this. I follow the line of his brush around the canvas and suddenly I’m dancing with Kimura in the French countryside. I want to reach out and touch the paint. Like reading some sort of brail, there’s an unspoken code in the paint surface. So I reach for the closest thing I have. I pull an old painting out to look at it, dust it off and give it a little rub hello like a neighbor’s dog passing by. Hey old friend. And then I listen to what it has to tell me and, against all odds, I keep painting.
Mariel Herring, mermaid hair, 2015, oil on linen, 48 by 60in.
Thank you Mariel Herring, for pointing to something that really bugs me about some of my city dwelling friends (and one in particular, a Manhattanite with lots of money to travel the world visiting art museums). Some of us don’t live where great museums and galleries abound, yet people who might insist they can’t comment on works in books or online, “because paintings have to be seen in person”. Is the same true for recorded music? You can’t tell if Miles Davis is any good because he’s dead so you can’t go to a jazz club to catch him live? Sort of apples and oranges I admit, but not entirely so…
I have tons of high quality books that I use in exactly the same way Ms. Herring does; as classroom, as inspiration, as something to simply enjoy.
I agree that it’s probably unusually instructive and profound to see a huge collection of works by a single artist or by a related group, and I’m not suggesting that the opposite is my ideal. I have been to several great museums by traveling to them, but I don’t live in a major city. In fact I live in the countryside 45 minutes from San Jose which is not exactly a mecca for art lovers. I get to SFMOMA and other Bay Area venues occasionally.
So, hold up on the snobbery please, it’s rude and actually belittling of my imagination. And isn’t imagination something all art lovers are supposed to be blessed with?