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Art/Photography

Interview with Chisato Tanaka | Discovering that "artists are not alone"

田中千智インタビュー|「絵描きは孤独じゃない」という発見


Interview&Text: Shinichi Uchida Photo (Portrait): Masamasa Nishino
Recording cooperation: Bistro Burger Shimokitazawa Grill

``New Art Exhibition NEXT'' at the Yokohama Civic Gallery is a noteworthy event held every fall that introduces up-and-coming young artists who have ties to Yokohama, with the theme of communication from the creative city of Yokohama. The third person to appear is painter Chitomo Tanaka. In recent years, she has been active in her home prefecture of Fukuoka, participating in the ``Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale 2014.'' In 2008, she took on the challenge of creating portraits of over 100 local residents at the first ``Koganecho Bazaar.'' This experience also brought him an important realization in his career as a painter. This exhibition, which will be held seven years after that, is not only a reunion with Yokohama for the first time in a long time, but also the largest solo exhibition to date, with approximately 86 works displayed in galleries and around town. It can be said to be the culmination of her current work and the starting line for new creations. The interview began one day just before the event, when I received a business card that simply said ``Illustrator Chitomo Tanaka.''

Behind-the-scenes story behind the production of “Portraits of 107 People”

Chitomo Tanaka “Portraits of 107 People” Installation view / 2008 / Koganecho Bazaar (Kanagawa)

Chitomo Tanaka “Portraits of 107 People” Installation view / 2008 / Koganecho Bazaar (Kanagawa)

──Among the works on display in this solo exhibition, ``Portraits of 107 People'' is the first connection between you and Yokohama. This is a portrait series created in 2008 during my first residency at Koganecho Bazaar.

Tanaka : Yes. This is a project where people who run restaurants in Koganecho are asked to draw portraits and display them at their respective shops. For the audience, by going to see it they could tour around Koganecho Station and Hinodecho Station.

--This was an attempt to create a bridge between local people and visitors, both with the town through art. Where did this idea come from?

Tanaka : It was a suggestion from director Shingo Yamano. Since Mr. Yamano and I are both from Fukuoka Prefecture, we have had the opportunity to talk from time to time in our hometown.

──So, based on those interactions, did you come up with a proposal that took advantage of Mr. Tanaka's creative style?

Tanaka : That was me, and until then I had never painted a portrait using a real person as a model (bitter smile). So, to be honest, at first I was confused and thought, "Wow, I did something like that!?" However, if I think about it the other way around, I started to think that opportunities like this are a challenge for me. So I decided to give it a try anyway.

──How did you actually draw the 107 people?

Tanaka : First, we contacted each restaurant in the target area one by one, and the person in charge of the secretariat and I visited them directly to explain the purpose of the project and draw the people who agreed with us. However, since an artist suddenly arrived from another country and asked for such a request, there were many difficulties. I was asked, ``So, will I be charged money for this?'' (bitter smile).

──It's true that you rarely have the opportunity to have your portrait painted in oil, so it's natural to be a little wary. In addition, since it was the first time the Koganecho Bazaar had been held, it was hard for anyone to imagine what would happen.

Tanaka : However, as I work hard to explain my intentions to the other party, I naturally find myself talking to them about various things. It was not just a so-called interview survey, but also included questions about what they wanted their town to do in the future.

Chitomo Tanaka

──The background behind the birth of Koganecho Bazaar was the desire to turn an area that was once home to many illegal restaurants into a place where the town's vitality and interaction could be born in a new way.

Tanaka : Yes. Everyone seemed to have a strong desire to make their town a better place. However, when it comes to the specifics of what should be done to achieve this, I feel that opinions varied widely. I was actually asked the question, ``But what does art change?'' and I couldn't give a clear answer to that question...

──However, Mr. Tanaka was not a government official, a report writer, or an artist who specializes in research, but he came from the simple position of ``just wanting to be allowed to draw a portrait,'' and that's why the exchange was so successful. I suspect there may have been words that matched. Was there any real intention behind Mr. Yamano's surprising proposal?

Tanaka : I guess so (lol). In any case, for about two months, I lived in an artist accommodation set up in the city, visiting people, taking photos, and painting portraits. In addition to people working at restaurants, I was also asked to draw various people, including government officials and the office staff at Koganecho Bazaar. As a result, the experience of meeting various people involved in one region and drawing them became very valuable days for me. It was also a great experience to be able to interact with other artists who were also visiting for creative projects.

──Do you have any memories with the individual people who served as your models?

Tanaka : When it comes to drawings, each person has a variety of requests. They want you to draw them with your precious family members, such as your grandchildren or your beloved dog. Also, since there are many people who are busy running the shop, I first ask them to take photos for the production, but they say, ``If that's the case, please come back another day!'' (lol).

──After all, when you have your portrait drawn, you also have to worry about grooming yourself. It may be difficult to visit them frequently, but I think it will lead to more dialogue. It is likely that such interactions were reflected in the portraits as hints of the individual's life and lifestyle.

Tanaka : We decided to give the completed portraits to the individuals themselves after the exhibition, as a token of our gratitude. When the gallery proposed to borrow and exhibit these items for the first time in seven years, somewhere in my heart I was worried that there might not be any left. But everyone seemed to have kept it, so I was so happy that I almost cried a little. This time as well, in addition to the gallery exhibition, some of the pieces will be displayed at each store during the exhibition period.

──There was also an episode where one of the people who modeled for you purchased another piece of Tanaka's work after the 2008 project.

Tanaka : Yes. There was a silent auction in which people who wanted to buy a painting wrote down their desired price and put it in a box, but when I saw the name of the person who bid the highest price, , ``Oh, it's the guy from that shop.''

--So collectors were born from the relationship between painter and model.

Tanaka : I was really surprised and thought, "I wish he would say something!" (lol), but I was really happy. This time, we will be able to borrow one work from that person's collection and exhibit it.

A jet-black fantasy painting that makes you imagine the “background”

“Today, Somewhere in the World” / 2011 / Oil, acrylic, canvas / 227.0×364.0cm

“Today, Somewhere in the World” / 2011 / Oil, acrylic, canvas / 227.0×364.0cm

──As well as the works you just mentioned, there is a group of paintings in a style that is very different from ``Portraits of 107 People''. In contrast to "Portraits of 107 People," which had a white background, this one features a jet-black background with fantastic, shimmering images of people and cities. It could be said that this is Mr. Tanaka's representative creative style in recent years.

Tanaka : Actually, I started drawing these pictures at the same time that I decided to stay in Koganecho. Up until then, when drawing a picture, I had always struggled with deciding what to do with the background. I had a hard time deciding what this was. So, what if we just left the background blank? That's what started it.

──The black background that seems to suck you in brings out the mysterious atmosphere of the people depicted, giving an impression that makes you imagine the rich story behind them.

Tanaka : At first, I painted the background with oil paint, but I felt that it had a unique luster that made the darkness stand out in an odd way. So I used acrylic paint only for the background, and I felt that it was possible to express a flat black, contrast with the foreground, and create a sense of discomfort in a good way, so I chose this combination.

──Do you have a model for the motifs depicted in these works?

Tanaka : No, I usually draw something in the middle of a black screen and think, ``Is this a person or a woman?'' I start from scratch and come up with ideas as I draw. In that sense, I think it's a different way of drawing than ``107 Portraits''.

--So you went through trial and error with two contrasting creations at roughly the same time.

Tanaka : That's right. Another thing that has changed based on my experience in Koganecho is that I have had more opportunities to draw pictures for book covers, music album jackets, poster visuals for film festivals and theater performances, etc. about it. It just so happened that I started receiving such requests, but now that I think about it, it may have been influenced by what I noticed during the Koganecho project.

"Angel Esmeralda" / 2013 / Oil, acrylic, canvas / 80.3 x 130.3cm

"Angel Esmeralda" / 2013 / Oil, acrylic, canvas / 80.3 x 130.3cm

──What kind of awareness is it?

Tanaka : Until then, I had thought that painting was something I did alone, and in a sense it was a solitary creation, but I realized that I could also draw while interacting with other people. I also realized that when it comes to portraits, the most pleasing thing for the models is that the models look like themselves, but I think it would be a good idea to create a picture that responds to someone's feelings. I started thinking that. Of course, I will continue to draw without being asked to do so, as I have always done.

──Does that also lead to discoveries within yourself?

Tanaka : For the past few years, for example, I have been in charge of the main visuals for the Tokyo Northern Lights Festival, a film festival themed around Scandinavian films. Apparently, the reason for the request was that my paintings with black backgrounds had a ``Nordic-like'' feel to them. Actually, I've never been to Northern Europe... When I thought about it again, I realized that the black color had something to do with my hometown of Itoshima City, where I spent my childhood. Back then, it was very rural, and at night there were no streetlights, so the landscape was illuminated only by moonlight. I wondered if it was true. Also, when I am asked to draw something, I think about what kind of content I can create to make them happy, and sometimes that gives me a different kind of stimulation than my previous creations.

Theater “House of Blood” flyer/“Tokyo Northern Lights Festival 2015” flyer

Theater “House of Blood” flyer/“Tokyo Northern Lights Festival 2015” flyer

A polyhedron colored by a single artist

──From what we've heard so far, it seems like this solo exhibition is the culmination of Mr. Tanaka's current work, or an opportunity to bring together paintings from various backgrounds.

Tanaka : That's right. This time, we will first exhibit ``Portraits of 107 People'' on the first floor of the venue, as well as a group of works created in response to requests. I wanted to make the opening to the exhibition as wide as possible to welcome visitors, including people who have come to know about my paintings through books, CDs, and film festivals. In the basement exhibition space that follows, a collection of works created by himself as a painter will be exhibited. In addition to new works created for this occasion, this includes a large 3m wide painting, works that have been shown at Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, etc., as well as the ``WATAGATA info Fukuoka Busan Art Network'' where artists interact in Fukuoka and Busan, South Korea. including those created through the participation of

──Yokohama, Fukuoka, Busan...it's interesting that they are all port cities where various cultures have come and gone. Are various invisible "connections" likely to emerge?

Tanaka : That's true if you ask me (lol). Speaking of connections, there will be a one-night-only live performance by pianist Masaki Hayashi in the exhibition space during the exhibition period. I was able to make this happen because I had the opportunity to draw the jacket for an album by him and bassist Toru Nishijima. Therefore, I hope that those who have come to know about my paintings at some point will be able to experience the various aspects of my work that have been created and involved by the same artist. Of course, I feel the same way towards the people whose portraits I have had painted in Koganecho. I've done things like this before. I was worried that if I had a strong image of the portrait from that time, people might say, ``It's kind of a dark picture, isn't it?'' (lol).

──It would be fun if the person I mentioned earlier who became a collector appeared and started explaining, ``Hey, hey, this is fascinating, isn't it!?'' (laughs) Lastly, please tell us about the title of your solo exhibition. The words "I am a Painter" are simple yet very powerful. Did you choose the title yourself?

Tanaka : Yes. At some point, I began to wonder whether I was an ``artist'' or a ``contemporary artist.'' During my time at art school, I took courses in contemporary art in addition to figurative painting and abstract painting, but I realized that I felt most comfortable with drawing rather than creating with complex concepts. did. Since then, things like the ones I've talked about today have happened, and lately I've started to think that it would be nice to naturally incorporate drawing into my daily life. That's why I'm thinking of simply calling myself a ``painter'' and having people look at my paintings, and using that as a break to continue painting.That's what I'm thinking right now. I would be happy if many people could visit the venue.

CHISATO TANAKA/[I am a painter] from Chitomo Tanaka on Vimeo .

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