Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Revered Sensei, Irises & Me

Katsuko (Oka-san) was an exceptional artist in her own right..she excelled at drawing people, children, places.  I still have some of her work.  Mostly she exhibited Japanese style water paintings, some done on scrolls...others like the Kokeshi dolls that she painted with a hint of real gold for accent.

She did gravitate towards artistic people in her life and made friends very easily.  One of her close friends was the wife of a renown western-style Japanese artist whose name was Riichiro Kawashima.  When Tom and I were first married Kawashima-sensei gave us as a gift the most beautiful oil painting...it was very large...it was a close up of a field of blue irises, varying in shades from light blue to deep blue purple, set against a field of green leaves...all of the art outlined in black.  It was very reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh's famous Iris in Vase painting.  

After we were married I went to work part time for an American company as a secretary, it was an engineering firm and I worked three days a week.  I also volunteered at Okura & Co. to teach English Conversation Classes to their sales staff, in order to prepare them better for going abroad. 

Everything went well for about five months until I learned I was "with child" at that point everyone wanted me to stop working and concentrate on being a mommy to be.  Well!  You can only sweep a tatami mat so much, before you go insane.

Oka-san came up with the idea that I should go visit Kawashima-sensei as he had mentioned that he missed speaking English in recent years.  He had been a student at one of the art universities in Chicago and actually traveled quite a bit.  This, of course, was before WWII.  He also studied in Paris at a time when the great masters were still living.  The picture above is one that he did in Paris and now hangs in a museum.

So it was arranged that once a week, I would take a taxi to the nearby town of Shibuya, where the Kawashima's had a very modern (for that time) condo.  I was to arrive at lunchtime and share a repast with the artist. When I arrived I was quite amazed at the size of the apartment, it was much larger than I had expected as the Japanese homes that I had been in were scaled rather small in individual room size. 

Kawashima-sensei was a terrific host filling me up with wonderful food, and telling stories of his youth in my country.  He did not have many opportunities to travel now because of his age, he was born in 1883 and was 83 years old when I met him.  He seemed to really enjoy speaking English, he really didn't stumble all that much, he had a pretty good command of the language...which I told him.

After lunch we moved over to an area that he had set aside for his artwork.  Then I understood why the apartment living room area was so large.  That way he could dedicate a good percentage of it to his oils, pallets, large standing easel and many assorted brushes.  He donned a smock-like artist coat, the color was a light blue, and when he turned around he had put on a french style cap set on the side of his head.  I will always keep that picture in my head of him standing at his easel with paint brush extended getting ready for the next stroke of paint.

Sitting there watching him work was a complete joy for me. Every once in a while he would glance over at a small side table that was next to the easel, after seeing him do this several times, I questioned what was he looking for?  Well, it was his turn to laugh..seems he had a small maybe 4"x6" watercolor painting (his and original) that he was copying off of.  He told me that it was easier to first do a small scale in watercolor and then put it into oils on a larger canvas.  He said that sometimes at his age the brushes were telling him where to go instead of the other way around. The painting he was working on was that of a of a happy clown , very colorful.

Art runs in my family too, my Mom, my sisters and I all had artistic talent to draw and paint....my Uncle George worked as a topographer for the government for many years.  So I really enjoyed my time spent with Kawashima-sensei. 

Little did I know that the child that I carried within me would one day amaze me with his artistic talent.  I like to think that a little part of the talent that Kawashima-sensei possessed imbued itself within my child during those special days. 

Alot of people wind up on the web so I did a google search trying to see if anyone remembered Kawashima-sensei and yes, I did find the picture above and also a mention that he had once interviewed Matisse and questioned what Matisse thought about Picasso.  He also was friendly with the son of the founder of Shiseido. I had wanted to find out if there are any prints of his available anywhere but so far I can't locate any...but I'll keep looking. 

Anyway, this was a trip down memory lane.....and I find I just have to laugh with happiness at the memory.


emfeasel said...

awww, very nice...!!


lurkynat said...