With a strong belief that her role is to connect the invisible with the visible world through art, contemporary artist Miwa Komatsu continues to depict otherworldly creatures. People can’t help but be intrigued by the powerful and colorful images of seemingly frightening, yet strangely charming, creatures as if they directly “talk” to viewers’ souls.
“I believe that I’ve got opportunities to show my works to many people because that’s the role I should play in the world,” Komatsu said.
Through April 28, “Miwa Komatsu: Divine Spirit” at the Whitestone Gallery Hong Kong, in the city’s iconic art and lifestyle center H Queen’s, presents the artist’s latest works. These include acrylic and mixed-media paintings, scroll paintings on traditional Japanese Hakata-ori textile and painted komainu (guardian lion-dog) sculptures.
Komatsu has become one of Japan’s most sought-after contemporary artists, as evidenced by the fact that her solo exhibition in December at the prestigious Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi department store attracted around 30,000 visitors, art collectors from overseas among them. All her works at the exhibition were sold within two days, with sales reaching over ¥300 million, causing significant waves in the conventional Japanese art market.
Regarding the current exhibition, which marks the second time in Hong Kong for Komatsu, all 30 paintings and 10 pairs of komainu sculptures were sold on the March 26 opening, the organizer said.
Although Komatsu has been rapidly climbing in the international art world in recent years, she has come a long way to make her childhood dream a reality.
Born in 1984, Komatsu grew up in the town of Sakaki in the mountainous region of Nagano Prefecture. Her close contact with animals and nature, including experiences of being present during the final moments of the lives of loved ones, led her to develop unique views of the invisible world and the cycle of life and death. Such views are clearly seen in her earlier copperplate work “Forty-nine Days,” created at age 20 while studying at Joshibi College of Art and Design in Tokyo.
Starting her career as a copperplate engraver, Komatsu struggled to find a way to establish herself as an artist. However, thanks to fateful encounters and trips, Komatsu expanded her ways of expression from monochrome copperplate to colorful acrylic paintings and Arita porcelain creations.
Her past achievements include back-to-back solo exhibitions at the Museum of Tetsu in her hometown and the Kitano Museum of Art Annex in Nagano Prefecture in 2012. One of the turning points in expanding her color palette came with her dedication of the painting, “Shin-Fudoki,” to Izumo Grand Shrine in 2014.
Komatsu exhibited her Arita porcelain figurines of komainu “Heaven and Earth,” made in collaboration with an Arita porcelain maker, at the Chelsea Flower Show in London in 2015 where they won the Gold Prize. The figurines are now on display at the British Museum as part of its permanent collection. The same year, “Guardian Lion of Historic Ruins” was the first time one of her pieces was sold at world-renowned auction house Christie’s Hong Kong.
Gaining increasing attention internationally, Komatsu participated in the exhibition “A Sustaining Life” at the Waterfall Gallery in New York in 2016. Her live painting work — also in New York — was added to 4 World Trade Center’s collection.
In 2017, she was named Best Young Artist of the Year 2017 at the Tian Gala in China. Last year, Komatsu became the official ambassador for Maison Christian Dior.
For the current exhibition in Hong Kong, Komatsu created a series of monochrome works that bear traces of the artist’s earlier practice of copperplate engraving. Additionally, she prepared colorful large-scale paintings developed over the course of maturing as an artist.
Komatsu has drawn inspiration from countries she has visited — including Thailand and India — articulating her observations and feelings. Paying respect to other countries and seeing common historical roots, she believes that the power of art has no borders. With her spirituality and creative energy, she has given a vibrant and powerful form to the invisible divine spirit that she “sees” around her. The spirit in her paintings and figurines may remind viewers of a truth beyond the difference of cultures and religions.
On March 30, Komatsu created a new work during a live painting performance at Hong Kong’s Pacific Place, attracting around 1,000 spectators, according to organizers. In recent years, she has often held live painting sessions during her exhibitions and regards these as a kind of ritual, incorporating the energy of the location and audience.
This year will see her works, and hopefully her live painting performances, in different locations around the world. These include the exhibition “Shinto: Discovery of the Divine in Japanese Art” at the Cleveland Museum of Art from April 9 through June 30 and the Whitestone project “Diversity for Peace” in San Marco Square during the Venice Biennale 2019 from May 8 through Nov. 24.
With more confidence in her “shamanic” role in today’s society, Komatsu is determined to further develop her spirituality for art making.
“Souls grow up,” Komatsu said. “I want to make my soul grow.”
The Japan Times is supporting this event as a media partner.