A vision of hope in a life of disaster

by Catherine Makino

Painting the kind of life he would like to live instead of the hard one he actually has, artist Andrew Boerger creates an appealing, serene world on canvas that has art buyers snapping up his work.

Boerger, whose fourth show in Tokyo runs until May 31, expects to sell most of his paintings. He sold more than 70 percent of the works in his last show, fetching 100,000 yen or more each. His paintings are also on display at Brendan’s Pizzakaya in Nishi-Azabu.

His images are full of warm colors — reds, oranges and yellows. The scenes suggest Morocco or cities in Spain during summer. There’s not a hint of the tragedies Boerger, 38, has suffered in his life: his father’s suicide, a difficult childhood and the loss of his home to a forest fire.

Boerger was only 2 when his father killed himself. He says he felt “hopelessly deprived” and like an outsider growing up without a father. He has tried to forgive him, but is still haunted by the suicide.

“Recently, I was walking alone by the river and got angry when I thought about him,” he says. “I stomped my feet and shouted, ‘It’s not right that you left.’ I really let it go. It was so unfair that I didn’t have a father.”

He realizes, though, that his father suffered seriously. He was often “depressed and paranoid.”

“My father was severely injured by shrapnel in Okinawa during World War II,” Boerger says. “The doctors literally had to put him back together again.” His father never really recovered from the experience. He married, had four kids and worked as a statistician to try to get his life back on track, but failed.

“He just couldn’t escape his demons. My mother still doesn’t like to talk about it.” Boerger’s mother, an American-Lebanese, worked as a nurse to support the family.

“I do have fond memories of the Lebanese influence in my life,” he said. “The aromas of the Arabic foods and sounds of people speaking Lebanese still inspire me.”

Boerger’s art is a combination of things that impress and move him: sights, sounds, dreams and combinations of colors.

At a certain point Boerger found himself drawn to Japanese language and society. After graduating from Ohio State University and studying at the Parsons School of Design, he left his native Ohio to live here. He met his wife, Junko, in Tokyo, and three years later they moved to San Francisco so that Junko could earn an MBA in the United States.

Bad luck soon struck. Their home burned down, along with 3,000 others, during the 1991 Oakland Hills fire near Berkeley, Calif., in which sevberal people died. Although they lost everything, including most of Boerger’s paintings, the couple escaped unhurt.

“I saw flames coming from the hills,” Boerger says, “and heard the houses pop as they burned. I called the 911 emergency number and thought ‘They’ll help me,’ but instead they said ‘Get out of there!’ “

He and some other artists put together an art show at the Berkeley Museum, as a form of catharsis, but a few months later, when another fire came close to Boerger’s new apartment, he decided it was time to move back to Japan. Here he works as an illustrator.

“Being an illustrator has made me a better painter,” he says. “It made the process of painting a lot faster. The commercial artist is not taken seriously in the U.S., but here I can do both.”

Picasso and children’s art have influenced Boerger the most, he says; his other influences include the great Modern painters such as Matisse, Byzantine icons and the sacred and symbolic art of aboriginal peoples.

“Artists have the power to create a world,” Boerger says. “Everything starts with a vision and imagination.”

Something Andrew Boerger has plenty of.