Ocula Magazine   |   Insights   |   Exhibition

For the last two decades, Japanese contemporary artist Koeda Shigeaki has worked on a series of innovative flower paintings inspired by traditional Japanese artworks but using contemporary methods. Part of the series is currently exhibited at Kamakura Gallery in the city of Kamakura, just south of Tokyo.

Koeda Shigeaki’s Flower Prints Bring Viewers Closer to Nature

Exhibition view: Koeda Shigeaki, Flower, between the eyes, Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura (23 April–11 June 2022). Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

Born in 1953, Koeda began his studies in painting at Kyoto Seika College in the early 1970s, although he went on to work across photography, and printmaking too. His early work features richly coloured domestic still lifes using acrylic on screenprint. His interest in nature is evident even in these early works, with bouquets of flowers and fruit featuring as common subject matter.

Koeda Shigeaki, Dine's Red & Flowers #7 (1989). Silkscreen / acrylic painting on paper, 150 x 120 cm.

Koeda Shigeaki, Dine's Red & Flowers #7 (1989). Silkscreen / acrylic painting on paper, 150 x 120 cm. Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

These vibrant prints earned him a place at Goldsmiths in London in the early 1990s, through an art fellowship with the Japanese government, and later a position as a Senior Research Fellow at the Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford, and as a Visiting Artist at Modern Art Oxford.

In the late 1990s, Koeda also completed a series of sparser acrylic still life paintings, typically consisting of a piece of fruit on a plate stacked on top of a book, each composition popping against a dark background.

Koeda Shigeaki, Claribel and Etta's Two Lemons #1 (1998). Silkscreen / acrylic painting on paper, 120 x 150 cm.

Koeda Shigeaki, Claribel and Etta's Two Lemons #1 (1998). Silkscreen / acrylic painting on paper, 120 x 150 cm. Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

During this time of experimentation and development in the artist's practice, his skill was often recognised, such as by the Hokkaido Modern Art Museum Award in 1991, the Shumei Cultural Award in 1994, and the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art Award at the Kanagawa International Print Triennial in 1998.

Koeda Shigeaki, Hot Chocolate Calla Lily (2008). Lambda print, 100 x 100 cm.

Koeda Shigeaki, Hot Chocolate Calla Lily (2008). Lambda print, 100 x 100 cm. Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

Despite these early successes, his most iconic artwork was still to come. In 2003, the artist began work on his major series 'Flower, between the eyes', when he started to develop Lambda prints of colourful and vibrant flowers. The finished series was intended to include 100 Lambda prints representing 100 flowers, but currently consists of 108 works.

Koeda Shigeaki, Leopard Plant (2014). Lambda print, 100 x 100 cm.

Koeda Shigeaki, Leopard Plant (2014). Lambda print, 100 x 100 cm. Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

Koeda makes each work by setting a flower behind a glass plate and painting it with watercolours. He then lights and photographs the image to be printed as a Lambda print. Fittingly for the original intention of the series, each artwork is 100 x 100 cm; these large depictions of small flowers therefore make a striking impact on the viewer when exhibited.

Exhibition view: Koeda Shigeaki, Flower, between the eyes, Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura (23 April–11 June 2022).

Exhibition view: Koeda Shigeaki, Flower, between the eyes, Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura (23 April–11 June 2022). Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

This extensive series has been shown in different combinations regularly across Japan for the past 20 years, in solo exhibitions in his hometown of Kyoto, as well as in Tokyo, Osaka, Kagoshima, and Morioka, to name a few. Kamakura Gallery is featuring them as a centrepiece for the artist's latest solo show. Entitled Flower, between the eyes like the series, the exhibition also showcases several smaller prints and miniature sculptures of animals and flowers.

Exhibition view: Koeda Shigeaki, Flower, between the eyes, Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura (23 April–11 June 2022).

Exhibition view: Koeda Shigeaki, Flower, between the eyes, Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura (23 April–11 June 2022). Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

For one of his earlier Kamakura exhibitions in 2011, Like trees be in a forest, the artist explained that he aims to capture in his practice this intimate moment between himself and nature, as he observes the flowers up-close. He terms this, 'feeling the flowers'. The work is intended to evoke a meditative, even emotional experience, allowing the viewer to connect with the local flora.

Exhibition view: Koeda Shigeaki, Like trees be in a forest, Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura (4 June–7 August 2011).

Exhibition view: Koeda Shigeaki, Like trees be in a forest, Kamakura Gallery, Kamakura (4 June–7 August 2011). Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

Koeda's practice calls to mind American artist Georgia O'Keeffe's floral paintings. O'Keefe was also inspired by photography to paint close-up, enlarged flowers that would make the viewer pause and consider their environment. However, Koeda's primary artistic inspiration comes from closer to home.

In conceiving Flower, between the eyes, Koeda looked to Edo painter Itō Jakuchū, whose intricate yet innovative 18th century paintings represent traditional Japanese subjects of flowers and animals. In particular, he was inspired by the Hanamaru-zu mural at the Kotohira-gū Shrine, which depicts 201 meticulously rendered flowers in grid form. Koeda's series of equally sized prints therefore replicates Itō Jakuchū's seriality in illustrating Japanese flora, but uses modern techniques.

Koeda Shigeaki, Common Water Hyacinth (2021). Lambda print, 100 x 100 cm.

Koeda Shigeaki, Common Water Hyacinth (2021). Lambda print, 100 x 100 cm. Courtesy Kamakura Gallery.

As spring arrives in Japan, Koeda's newest solo exhibition comes to Kamakura Gallery at an apt time. The artist has skilfully captured the ephemerality of the season. And just like the flora of Japan and beyond, Flower, between the eyes is in full bloom.—[O]

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