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The Organic World of Colour Created by Painter Manika Nagare

Solo exhibition "Spectrum of Vivid Moments" featuring the works of artist Manika Nagare is coming to Miyako Yoshinaga Gallery in New York from March 17th to April 22nd, 2023. Born in Kagawa, Japan in 1975, Asako Naga is a graduate of the Joshibi University of Art and Design with a major in Western-style painting. Known for her vivid colors and fluid brushstrokes, Naga reconstructs the interpretation of colors to crdepth of expression through layering and combination. The exhibition open every day from March 17th to 24th during ASIA WEEK NEW YORK 2023, and an opening reception will be held on March 17th (Fri) from 6-8 PM.

Born in 1975. Lives and works in Tokyo. Graduated from Joshibi University of Art and Design’s Department of Painting, majoring in Western Painting, in 1997, and won the Jury Prize at Tokyo Wonder Wall in 2001. From 2002 onwards, she was an overseas trainee of the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Pola Art Foundation in New York and Turkey, where she lived for six years. Her solo exhibition, “Spectrum of Vivid Moments” (22nd April 2022 - 29th May 2022) at the Pola Museum Annex, featured a number of new works, including the “Traces of Colour Series by Women Artists.” Nagare said “I wanted to review the way of life of women in Japan, and their way of life as artists and as a part of history, and connect that to the future.”

Artist Manika Nagare

The Fragility of Life and the Brilliance of Colour

Nagare explains why she focused on the “boundary between life and death”: “I was involved in a support project in Turkey, which was hit by the 1999 earthquake, and when I visited children in disaster-affected areas for the “Temporary Painters” project, which was launched after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, I felt that part of the beauty and power of nature is that feeling of awe, particularly when it comes to natural disasters. That awe at the power of nature caused me to feel something, and expressing that feeling became the theme of my work.” She continues, “when I looked after my father a few years ago, I strongly felt the green colours of nature, and the light of the sun. When you experience the death of a friend or someone close to you, there is a change in your visual senses. I felt the need to express those realisations as an artist.”

Nagare says that “unlike the Western Christian view of life and death in which people ascend to heaven when they die, in Japan there is a sense that there is something beyond this life, and that you cross rivers and oceans to get to that world.” “In-Between” (2019-) is a series of paintings based on the impulse to “carefully depict these gradations without such boundaries.”

On her website, Nagare explains the concept behind the series: “When death is close to you, you realise that you are finite, and suddenly this world looks incredibly beautiful. Ryunosuke Akutagawa, who eventually committed suicide, said in his posthumous manuscript “A Note to a Certain Old Friend”: “I find nature more beautiful than ever,” and described his own gaze as “the eyes of a dying man.” Even if your own death is not imminent, you may experience the same kind of gaze when facing the death of someone close to you. I became aware of my own eventual demise, and in doing so, realised that I am alive,” (excerpt) she explains, in her own words.

Artwork/ More Than Meets the Eye 曖昧の眼 Oil on canvas, 2022 Photo/ Ken Kato

Layers of Living Colours

Nagare is known as a “painter of colours.” She puts paint on canvas without mixing it.

“Most painters mix pigments on a palette to create their own original colours, but I express the richness of the colours by applying them as they are and layering them on top of each other. I feel as if each colour comes to life when I do this, whereas if I mix the colours together, I feel as if the colours are trapped inside the canvas.”

Nagare says that there is a unique texture that can be achieved by layering layers of thinly spread paint on top of each other.

“If the pigments are derived from earth, they leave traces on the canvas, as if the grains of earth are stuck to the canvas. I try to make sure that the colour itself develops organically, so that the inherent properties of the colour can be brought to life on the canvas.”

Nagare’s interest in colour is also directed towards people’s colour sensitivity. She says that there are differences in the way people perceive colours depending on the country or region in which they live, such as differences in religious values and sensibilities rooted in daily life.

Nagare is also involved in the “Colours of Japan” project, which explores modern Japanese colours, and says that Japanese people tend to perceive colours emotionally. She points out that during the Edo period (1603 - 1867), the colours that could be worn were limited by the status system, so even with just the limited browns and greys, there was such a variety of ingenuity that the term “48 browns and 100 greys*” was born, showing the peoples’ sensitivity to subtle colour differences.

Artwork/ Implication 言外の意味 Oil on canvas, 2022 Photo/ Ken Kato

Spreading Art into Everyday Life in Japan

Aside from creating art, Nagare is also involved in the activities of the non-profit organisation Temporary Artists, which brings art to children who would normally have no opportunities to experience it themselves.

“There are people who will never go to an art museum in their lives. When we organise workshops for children at museums, parents with an interest in art apply to take part, so most of the children who come to those workshops have already had contact with art before. I wanted to do something for children who have never had such an experience in their lifetime. So, in an attempt to bring art to places where there is no art around, I have held workshops at evacuation centres and institutions in disaster-affected areas.”

Nagare also says she wants to change the Japanese custom of treating art as a rarity, which is why she is actively collaborating with brands and creating public art.

“I hope that the culture of decorating one’s life with paintings and going to see art on a whim will spread to Japan.”

She speaks with such sincerity. Every word is imbued with a prismatic sensibility.


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