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MIWA KOMATSU COMBINES MYTHOLOGY AND MEDITATION AT FITZROVIA CHAPEL LIVE PAINTING, PRESENTED BY AVANT ARTE

Spirituality in contemporary art is having a major moment: from Harminder Judge's A Ghost Dance at Matt's Gallery to Mohammed Z. Rahman’s A Flame is a Petal at Phillida Reid, the resurgence of artists explicitly drawing from the ancient and the divine has been a welcome respite from the 2023 obsession with the grounded and the figurative. But none, perhaps, capture the ethereal intangibility of folklore and oral tradition with as much vibrancy and vivacity as Miwa Komatsu: inspired by Buddhism, Japanese folklore and Shinto mythology, Komatsu's paintings transport the viewer through a whirlwind of mythology and meditation.


Process art is certainly not new, but Komatsu's live paintings in particular are a breath of fresh air. Art critic Taylor Morrison's reaction to Ariel Franci-Lessing's live painting accurately summarises my general feelings towards the Instagram-ification of the artform but, watching clips of her work at the Kongobu-ji Kompon Daito for the 1250th birthday of Kōbō Daishi earlier this year, it becomes clear that Komatsu's process is no gimmick: accompanied by the live chants of Buddhist monks, her movements are deliberate, calculated, almost mathematical, they are in and of themselves a form of prayer. She is hyper-aware of her own impact on the canvas, meditative and cogitative in her externalisation of thought and introspection.


Following on from performances at Itsukushima Shrine in Japan, Bongeunsa Temple in South Korea, and most recently at Mont Saint Michel Abbey, France, Fetch chats to the artist ahead of her live painting performance at Fitzrovia Chapel. Hosted by Avant Arte, the creative marketplace making art collection radically more accessible for a new generation, this marks her first live painting in the UK.


Photography courtesy of Avant Arte/Nico Wu


Your work is deeply inspired by Buddhism, Japanese folklore, and Shinto mythology. Can you share more about how these elements influence your artistic process and the themes you explore in your paintings? 


I was born and raised in a land surrounded by mountains. When it came to places to play, it was either the river or the nearby hills that even children could climb. In my interactions with nature, I certainly felt and encountered "spirits" and "divine spirits." One of these significant beings was the Yamainu (the extinct Japanese wolf). I believed in the mysterious but clearly visible world from the folktales and traditions told by the adults. From these experiences, I began to wonder what exactly divine beings were. 


As an adult, I started visiting places mentioned in Japan’s myths, such as the Kojiki [early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends, hymns, and genealogies] and the Fudoki [ancient reports on provincial culture oral tradition presented to the reigning monarchs of Japan], to learn firsthand. I learned about the legends of the Yamainu [also known as the Honshū wolf, a now-extinct subspecies of the grey wolf regarded as a messenger of the kami spirits and escort of lost travellers] through the nature of Chichibu, Koyasan, and Nagano Prefecture. 


Around the age of 30, I went to southern Thailand for meditation training, where the fusion of meditation and creation began. I learned that spirits and divine beings appear in myths and traditions worldwide. I felt their presence through the ruins, nature, and culture of many countries, visiting these places in person to learn more. From these experiences, I became able to interact with and depict these non-material beings, free from the boundaries of nationality or discrimination, through my brush. 



Miwa Komatsu, Pure Energy Felt in the Forest, 2023,

The day when the wind of circulation dances, 2023


I am also interested in the megaliths and myths of Britain, and I have visited several ruins. By feeling their presence, I sometimes record a fragment of time that has been woven from the past into the future. When I visit the British Museum, it often feels as though what appears to be mere stone statues speak to me. The museum is lively with not just human voices but also many thoughts flying around. 


Through these experiences, I have become increasingly interested in myths from around the world and have visited many countries to experience them firsthand. This has greatly enhanced my spirituality. Divine spirits do not meet your eyes in a physical sense, as they look into our souls. I wondered if, when I became a being of only the soul, I could shine brightly. Knowing that my way of living is always being observed by the non-material world, I gained certainty in this belief. This realisation led to the development of my current style, including drawing large eyes.  I will continue to cherish encounters with traditional myths during my many journeys and explorations, tirelessly seeking new discoveries. 


The natural world, particularly the landscape of Nagano, plays a significant role in your art. How do the natural elements of your home region inspire your work, and how do you incorporate these influences into your pieces? 


My birthplace, Nagano Prefecture, is the highest in average elevation in Japan, a landlocked area surrounded by mountains. Nighttime stargazing here feels as if you can hear the breath of the stars. It is a place where people have thrived thanks to the energy of the earth, granted by the relics and artefacts from the Jomon period and the earth's veins that have continued since then. The strength of nature here often leads to encounters with sacred beings, which I call divine spirits. One such significant encounter was with the spirit of the Yamainu (the extinct Japanese wolf). This meeting prompted me to depict the presence of the Yamainu, allowing me to reflect on my own soul and pray for its growth as I dedicate myself to my creative work. 


You’ve developed a unique philosophy called ‘The Great Harmonisation.’ Can you elaborate on what this philosophy entails and how it is reflected in your artwork? 


I have long referred to the power to combine various elements into a cohesive design as "Yamato Power (大和力)" using it as a theme in my creations. I have since developed this theme further and, in an era of "great acceleration" where the burden on Earth's environment is rapidly increasing, I propose the concept of "Great Harmonisation" as an ideal for balancing everything. Through my works, I aim to express the idea that individuals recognising their roles in their own lives and walking a path of purifying their souls can lead to global harmony. 


Why is it that despite the abundance of material goods and information in the modern world, people's hearts remain unfulfilled, and issues like poverty, discrimination, animal slaughter, and environmental destruction persist? Are we truly discovering our individual purposes and roles in lives? It is precisely because of this reason that I believe it is essential to confront our non-material aspects—our sensitivity, spirituality, soul, and heart—and understand what we truly seek. In my case, by painting and meditating, I discover what my soul desires and try to fulfil my role through creation. By depicting divine spirits, sacred beings, and energies, I hope people will reflect on their hearts and souls through my art. I take up my brush and paint with a hope that this reflection can liberate them from the dominance of the physical body and brain, allowing them to receive answers from the above within a deep spiritual state. 


You’ve chosen significant spiritual and historic locations for your live paintings, such as the Itsukushima Shrine, Bongeunsa Temple, and Mont Saint Michel Abbey. What drew you to Fitzrovia Chapel for this performance, and how do the locations you chose influence the art you create? 


In my creative practice, I prioritise elevating the level of prayer rather than focusing on the level of the artwork itself. With this sentiment, I have been given the opportunity to undertake a public creation at the Fitzrovia Chapel. Opportunities are not mere coincidences; they are all precious gifts. Each given opportunity carries a role that must be fulfilled, not only by me, the artist, but also by everyone involved in the creation process. 


I believe that the history of prayer at the Fitzrovia Chapel and the energy it has woven together will lead us to a single answer, a final artwork. With this faith, I will devote myself wholeheartedly to my creative activities. 


Komatsu at Mont Saint Michael. Photography courtesy of Whitestone Gallery.


Painting live is a core part of your practice. How does the presence of an audience and the energy of the location impact your creative process and the final artwork? 


Creating art in public spaces provides an opportunity to connect with sacred beings and invisible energies. By sensing the energy of the gathered people and infusing it into the artwork, it becomes a collaborative process where individual hearts merge into one, manifesting as a form of prayer.


As the artwork takes shape, I hope it can serve as a medicine to heal people's souls and hearts, even if only a little. 


You’ve described the act of drawing as a form of prayer and meditation. Can you share more about how you perceive the spiritual and healing aspects of your art, both for yourself and for your audience? 


Throughout history, from the present to the past, humanity has experienced many wars and conflicts. Forgotten conflicts that are not written in textbooks may still exist as wounds in this world. Amidst such histories of conflict, people may survive as long as they have "food, clothing, shelter, and medicine." However, even though not essential for survival, humans seek art in their lives. This may be because unconsciously, they feel that art, including not only painting but also music, theatre, and many other forms of expression, is a healing remedy for themselves and the world. 


I stand on the history of art that has been passed down through generations. Without breaking my brush, I hope to save as many people as possible from the abyss by advancing towards the light, while also being saved by art myself, and without succumbing to darkness. 



Avant Arte will be live-streaming your painting session, making it accessible to a global audience. How do you feel about this broader reach, and what do you hope viewers will take away from witnessing your process in real time? 


We have engaged in numerous discussions with Avant Arte and feel that thanks to their respect for our team's perspective, this event has come to fruition. I perceive drawing as a form of prayer. Through this opportunity, the pure prayers of many people who participate in the event will connect with my spirit and successfully manifest onto the canvas from the tip of my brush. 


Fitzrovia Chapel. Photography courtesy of Avant Arte/Ollie Tomlinson


After this live painting event in London, what are your next artistic endeavours or projects? Are there any specific themes or locations you are excited to explore in the future? 


In 2024, I am scheduled to participate in the group exhibition Jipangu: Contemporary Artists who Sprinted through the Heisei Era. I am looking forward to participating alongside artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami, Nara Yoshitomo, and Chiharu Shiota. This exhibition will be a touring exhibition, and it will be displayed at the Saga Prefectural Art Museum and the Hiroshima Museum of Art from August to December. Additionally, in 2025, I am planning two large-scale solo exhibitions in Japan.


I believe that nurturing my soul, elevating the level of prayer, and all of these aspects are connected to my creative process. As I believe that art is a healing remedy for the human soul, I will continue to uphold this belief in my practice.


 

Miwa Komatsu will be painting live at Fitzrovia Chapel on paint on Tuesday 11 June. The process will be streamed live from start to finish. Once the stream begins, a limited edition print based on the painting she creates will be available to collect, for 48 hours only. More information can be found on Avant Arte's website.

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