Made up of distinct, broad strokes of colour, Etsu Egami's paintings are material navigations of her international experiences. Born in 1994 in Chiba, Japan, Etsu Egami has lived in the United States, Europe, and China, where she is now based.
Since graduating with an MFA from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 2019, where she studied under Liu Xiaodong, the artist has developed a practice based on her realisation that 'language can only be felt, but not explained'. With her latest exhibition opening in Seoul at Tang Contemporary Art on 1 September, Etsu Egami speaks with Ocula Advisory about her translation of the 'grey area of communication' into vibrant colours.
The communication barriers you experienced living in Japan, the US, and Europe have played a central role in your practice. How does this inspiration feed into your upcoming show in Seoul?
I have lived abroad since I was a child and have hit language barriers throughout this experience. I created a game from my overseas experience; wandering between sound and light, hoping to visualise the process of misunderstanding.
I see language as both a tool for and obstacle to communication. We usually feel that communication bridges the distance between people, but in fact, is communication not a recognition of that distance?
Displacement and parallel transmission are aspects of coexistence, as well as the essence of self-realisation. When we acknowledge distance and uncertainty, the nature of communication may slowly emerge.
In that grey area of communication, I see a rainbow. For me, it is a symbol for hopes and dreams, and contains every single purified shade, shining beautifully. The language of the rainbow strongly resonates with my present state of mind, and has become my symbolic language of communication, which has gradually appeared in my paintings.
What other themes or inspiration has fed into your upcoming exhibitions?
In October, Hiroshima Woodone Museum will curate my solo exhibition Obsession and Question, New Horizon of Modern Paintings. This exhibition will present my works alongside paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, and Japanese modern oil painters Ryusei Kishida, Ryuzaburo Umehara, and Sotaro Yasui.
The focus will be on Western oil paintings that were introduced in East Asia during the interwar period, and what modern Western painting meant in that context. It will present an opportunity to consider the history of modern Western painting, and within that, the aspirations and dreams of painters, and the light and shadows of modern civilisation.
Do you approach each painting individually, in terms of composition and colour, or do they progress in a continuum, from one to the next?
Each painting marks a single act of creation. I draw a lot of sketches, and I only create when I have inspiration. When creating a painting, I devote my whole heart to it. I am very concentrated.
Your biggest audience among collectors appears to be in Asia. What is it about your practice that you think draws interest from this part of the world?
I don't do certain things deliberately for the sake of interest. Creation arises from inspiration, life, and questions about society.
I think European and American collectors are also paying attention to my work. Last year, I received an invitation from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to give a lecture when I was in New York under the Distinguished Artist Dispatch Program of the Japan Agency for Cultural Affairs.
Collectors in Paris, Portugal, and London have also seen my work, and solo exhibitions in French art museums are also being planned.
You hold an MFA in Oil Painting and have followed a trajectory of creating oil-based works. What is it about the medium that drew you to it in the first place?
At that time, many classmates around me painted with acrylic, but I didn't like acrylic. It has a plastic, frivolous, and superficial quality, you know what I mean? Acrylic itself is an industrial product produced to imitate the texture of oil painting. I always feel that it is not 'real' or 'essential' enough.
What does it mean for someone from East Asia to paint in oil? I have always thought about that. The introduction of oil painting in East Asia symbolised modernisation as well as conflict, in the collision of Eastern and Western cultures.
In a similar sense to how the Renaissance was a revival of Ancient Greece that blossomed in Rome, how can oil painting, which was born in the West, bloom in Eastern countries? —[O]
Main image: Etsu Egami in the studio. Courtesy the artist.