For an entire month I had strolled past the numerous posters and banners announcing the collected work of painter Makino Kunio to be shown at Nerima Art Museum. It wasn’t until this morning, on the last day of the show, that I finally fought off the temptations to sleep in, unbusied my schedule for the day and made my way to Tokyo. I knew absolutely nothing about this artist except for the one self portrait of his that stared at you from every advertisement. Keeping myself from doing any research in order for these eyes to remain fresh, I entered the museum a virgin to Kunio’s artistry. I am glad I made the decision to attend because the man achieves that ideal many artists strive for; a balance of well honed technical skill and definitely having something to say.
Makino (1925-1986) came into prominence in a time when many painters and designers were being influenced by the pop culture of the swingin’ 60’s but decided to explore the other direction. His works were arranged on the walls, room by room, in the order of the periods of his life and though they began with the inescapable portraits and life drawings of a young artist they eventually gave way to rich, realistic yet symbolic Baroque flavors. Strong Baroque flavors actually. Characters in flowing period garments, flamboyantly raised embroidered collars, billowing silk sleeves. Women lay about in frilled dresses with images of angels and demons swirling in their fabrics. Painting after painting, Makino himself shares in the proceedings donning a count’s cloak or medieval armor, peering fiercely at us as miniature, ethereal beings battle for some unknown cause beside him.
It’s clear that the artist is a master of the pencil. He accentuates details in the foreground and background with fluctuating weights of unbroken lines. It’s the rendered imagery’s meaning itself that is unclear. This is much less a criticism and more of a curious observation. On the lighter side of things, many paintings are filled with graceful, smiling women and fairy creatures that take part in a strange narrative, some of them choosing to ignore it all together and gaze at the viewer, a waving finger welcoming us to join. Then there are works like “Imphal”, based on a story by Toshiro Takagi, which seems to give us a window into the misery of human life with images of war, cannibalism and rotting, fly infested corpses. Another, called “Hito” ( 人) or people, centers on a nude human-like being with unmistakably sinister vibes while situated around him are scenes of human darkness and temptation, culminating in a hellish world near the bottom of the piece where people are graphically tortured by monsters. This is a theme that is repeated several times throughout the show and made all the more intense by Makino’s mastery of drawing and color.
One has to wonder: what were Makino’s feelings about life and humanity’s place in this world? As I am new to his creations myself, I have yet to make a solid opinion, but why wait on me? You may not be able to make it to Tokyo today, but search him out on the net and judge for yourself. The best artists provoke a response in the viewer, a gut reaction through their work. What is yours?