Archive for November, 2011

Toshi (left) and Iri (right) Maruki

Over the course of 32 years Iri and Toshi Maruki created fifteen panels depicting the horrors of the atomic bomb and everything it encompassed. They are considered the artists of the atomic bomb. I first learned of these panels when I was 19, and couldn’t understand the implication from the fuzzy image on my computer screen. I had a lot of trouble finding adequate pictures for this entry, but please go to a library or seek out the references at the end of this entry to find a better image than what I have given. It is difficult to describe how I feel about these works, as it seems more of an afterthought. Artistically they are incredible. Emotionally they are devastating.

I first learned of them through a small interview clip online.  I heard a translated quote from Iri Maruki, saying how he did not want to paint this subject, but it was not up to him. The idea that the subject matter is so compelling that it must be painted is something I will never forget. I myself paint because if I don’t I end up dreaming of paintings, but what the Maruki’s wittnessed is a million times stronger. Although I couldn’t see the painting clearly first, his words drove me to find clearer pictures, and when I return to Japan one of my first stops will be Saitama, where there is a museum with their works.

Iri Maruki was born in 1901 in Hiroshima, Japan. He became an artist specializing in suiboku-ga, or India ink painting. His wife Toshi was born in 1912 in rural Hokkaido, and became a popular illustrator and oil painter. Both eventually moved to Tokyo, met, and were married in 1941.

During WWII Iri was drafted into the Japanese army, but then told he was unfit because of a large birthmark across half his face. Both artists opposed the war, and refused government pressure to paint patriotic military paintings. They were denied art supplies and lived in poverty for the whole of wartime.

On August 7th, 1945, one day after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima the Maruki’s learned of the bomb and immediately set out for Hiroshima. Iri’s family still lived there and they spend three days traveling towards the ruins.

Iri Maruki described the feeling of traveling into another world. They found their family members, and helped the survivors for a time. When they eventually returned to Tokyo, Iri and Toshi Maruki realized they could no longer paint anything happy. They both described it has a darkness that hung in their paintings, and soon they realized they must confront this darkness. Just three years after they had traveled to devastated Hiroshima, Iri and Toshi Maruki decided to paint what they had seen.

The process was daunting. Toshi stripped in front of a mirror and drew herself and her husband in various poses. They tacked up sketches upon sketches around their home until they were surrounded by mangled bodies, and eventually decided upon a large paneled painting. They worked with inks, charcoal, and some oil paint. They came upon their system of painting together haphazardly. First Toshi would paint a figure, and Iri would say it was too clear or defined, and paint over it, muddying the painting. Toshi would say it was too muddied, and paint over the figure again. They would go back and forth in this manner, mostly in silence until something much greater than themselves emerged on the paper. Their first painting was named Ghosts.

Ghosts, Japan, 1950

“When our first painting was exhibited, word got around that we had painted the bomb and many came. For most of them it was the first time they had seen the bomb. the subject was something we saw often in Hiroshima, people walked with their arms outstretched, like a procession of ghosts. Their skin hung like rags they dragged their burned bodies falling and piling onto one another. Groaning and dying. There was no way to tell one charred face from another. Voiced turned cry and hoarse, friend introduced one another, but they still didn’t recognize each other.” -Iri Maruki

By the mid 1950s they had painted almost half of their collection. Originally they thought they were done with the first painting, but the survivors of the atomic bombs came to them and asked them to continue.

Fire, Japan, 1950

A massive change for them came in 1970, when they toured the US with their paintings. During this time they dealt with their long harbored feelings of resentment towards Americans, and also opened their eyes to many more atrocities in the world.  It was after that trip that these two artists changed their subject matter and painted the deaths of American prisoners of war at the hands of the Japanese. This painting is the most powerful to me because while every single person is in pain, and the well defined lines of blame are blurred and full of shame. Everyone is to blame, and everyone is hurt.

Section of Death of American Prisoners ar War, 1971, Japan

The last Hiroshima Panel was finished in 1982. Together they painted the sight of Hiroshima after the bomb, the actions afterward, the pollution of the earth by war, the Koreans and Americans who perished, and the sincerity of the anti war efforts. During this large span of time Iri and Toshi Maruki enjoyed their separate art careers, but became known as the artists of the atomic bomb. They helped educate the next generation and promoted peace their entire lives.

Here are some links on their works. The first is a documentary you can rent on YouTube for three dollars. I highly recommend you spend three dollars.


Blog #7 Kabuki

Kabuki is a type of theatres created in Japan in the earl 1600s. Although now it is a all male profession, this type of entertainment was created by a woman. Izumo no Okuni was a miko (type of priestess) that began to develop a new type of dance. She enlisted new dancers from the outer reaches of society, especially the prostitutes. Women were banned from the stage around the 1630s, changing the face of kabuki. Adolescent males were enlisted to fill the women’s roles, but soon this too was banned as it was considered too erotic. Although both bans were lifted in the 1650s, Kabuki had metamorphosized into what we see today.  There are three main types of Kabuki plays. The first, jidaimono, generally focuses on a major historical even of Japan, and can be a lengthy performance, lasting an entire day. The second, sewamono, depicted the commoners side of life, an commonly featured a pair of star crossed lovers. The third type of play is shosagoto, in which the piece I have chosen is categorized. The music that accompanies the plays are heavily influenced by Noh theater, and gives a minimalistic quality that relates a sense of double meaning to the performer’s actions. The sets are bare except for a few objects, and lighting is brought together with color change to give off different moods.

The piece I have chosen is The Orochi Dance, an excerpt of a larger performance, preformed by a current famous dancer Tamasaburo. What draws me to kabuki is that sense of drama. Every aspect of the theater has been distilled to its bare elements. Lighting and scenery coalesce the create an incredibly intimate scene. Within the first moment the dancer comes onstage, you are drawn in, and feel as though you are watching something private. Although many of the movements are subtle, the sparse landscape and singing bring every twitch of the hand into view. It is hard to miss something when every movement could be a painting.

Kabuki is still popular today within the country of Japan, and I plan to see it myself one day. Below are a few informational links, the first is a brief explanation of the mythical creature Orochi.

Blog #6 The Ephemeral

Artists nowadays work hard to make their art long lasting. Archival paper is a must for illustrators. Oil paints that do not fade with time are preferred. Extreme temperatures, moisture, and corrosive materials are the accomplices of time on artwork. You may remember there was a time when photography at museums were not allowed because the flash damaged the paintings! However there is another kind of art that does not worry about acid free paper; Temporary art. It is not designed to last, and in this respect holds onto the excitement of the moment. I have chosen this art because I love the idea of art reflecting life in its movement. We cannot hold onto the day, and we cannot always hold onto this art.

Temporary art has become more popular since technology to document such art has become more accessible. Yet the first artist I would like to introduce has been continuing a tradition of temporary art that never needed modern technology to last forever.

The Wheel of Life, 2008

Kalachakra, 2008

Losang Samten was born in Chung Ribuce, Tibet in the early 1950s. He studied to become a Buddhist monk during the 60s at the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India. During this time he also studied sand mandala art at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Art. He and his fellow monks created beautiful works of temporary art with just sand. Sand Mandalas are created from colored sand and are intended to purify, balance, and bless the surrounding area. It takes weeks of dutiful patience to create these works, and soon after their completion they are taken apart. Typically half of the sand is distributed to the audience, and the rest is put into a nearby body of water. The ritualistic disposal of the artwork is meant to symbolize the impermanence of life.

Na Hale 'o waiawi, 2003

Owache, 1999

The second artist in my little collection is the American Patrick Dougherty. In the 1980s he began to combine his love of carpentry and nature into art that he likes to call Stickworking. He takes branches, vines, and other greenery to create naturalistic sculptures and structures. Although his creations last longer than any other artwork in this collection, in time they do disappear. His whimsical creations are not always meant to last, and are often up for a few months before being turned into something else. The natural materials degrade and erode with the seasons.

Individuals, 1998

The Gypsy Magna, 2008

The last artist in my collection is actually one of my favorite artists. Vik Muniz is a visual artist from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Early in his life he was involved in an argument that ended with him getting shot. From the settlement money Muniz was able to come to America and start his career. Over the years he has used many temporary and permanent mediums to create his work. In fact he has used practically everything, from salt, to cotton, to ketchup. I have chosen three of my favorites. The first image is made of garbage, the second is made of chocolate syrup, and the third is the exhaust from a skywriter. The last image is my most favorite piece of modern art. The shape of the man made cloud is so childlike, it beams happiness…

Home Left, (early 2000s)


Although they are not made to last, because of photography I can learn about such creations. Yet there is something to be said about seeing such moving creations yourself, and not just looking at a photograph. Because of the ephemeral nature of this type of art, the creations feel more special. The hard work and dedication that go into these works serve their purpose immediately, and then vanish… that is, until someone takes a picture of them…

I have added the artist websites below:

This photograph is of one Allie Mae Burroughs, taken in either 1936. Burroughs lives in Hale County, Alabama. She works as a sharecropper and at the time was constantly in debt, and owned practically nothing. There isn’t a set title for her pictures as I found quite a few versions.

The photographer is Walker Evans who at the time was employed by the Farm Security Administration to document the plight of the poor farmers in America during the time of the Depression. He took four photographs of this woman against the rear wall of her home. Her face is worn from years of little food and hard work. Her hair does not appear to be washed, and her dress looks threadbare. Though each photograph of her looks the same, her expression makes each photograph stand by itself as it’s own work of art, rather than a collection.

I chose this photograph among the others as I feel her expression reveals more about the Great Depression. She looks almost annoyed that her picture is being taken at all, when there are more important things to be done. Walker Evans stayed as a guest in her home for a few weeks in August 1936, and had to convince Burroughs to let her picture be taken. I love this picture for it’s humility. It is not a shot of people working hard to earn their food or stereotypically saddened by their surroundings. Burroughs shows that there is an impatience in the poor. That they are willing and waiting for the opportunity to continue living.


Here is a nice bit of info about this woman.