As a visual artist living in New York City, Makoto Fujimura is an eyewitness not only to the “multifaceted reality of the postmodern visual arts world, a multiphrenic world of shock, cynicism, and irony” but also to the tragic events of 9/11. Much of his art is a thoughtful and compassionate response to the chaotic amalgam of such confusion and tragedy.
“God has taught me as an artist and a follower of Christ to live and work for the ‘prosperity of the city’ (Jeremiah 29) in the ashes of September 11, 2001,” writes Makoto. “Most Saturday mornings between 2003 and 2006, I sat down to reflect, or refract, on issues related to war and peace, but from the vantage point of an artist, a father, and a husband. As I wrote, I was admitting to the confusion, chaos, and deeper wrestling that I saw in my own heart during and after that fateful day.”
The wonderful book from which that quote is taken called Refractions, a collection, as Makoto says, of his own “dispatches from various points on my journey of art, faith, and culture, written from the perspective of an artist living in twenty-first-century Ground Zero and wrestling with the issues of humanity.”
New York City is an eclectic and difficult place in which to live, a kind of modern Babylon, as Makoto says. “I write from within that world, from the perspective of someone who loves to engage with and create art but also as a Christian whose central identity is in Christ, the ultimate Artist and Peacemaker.”
Truly Makoto’s life and art are a witness to those around him.
His work is truly stunning to behold. He uses materials and techniques as ancient as the discipline of art itself. He engages in a millennia-old tradition of Japanese Nihonga painting in which natural pigments derived from shells, stones and minerals are combined with a natural glue base and water. The colors in Nihonga style – and in Makoto’s work – thus flow together, like tears, or waves or even blood. With Nihonga and a bit of his own creative additions (such as genuine gold leaf), Makoto seems to effortlessly and gently capture subtle and emotive tinctures of light. The end result is a stunning array of moving, colorful refractions which draw the viewer closer into the heart of the narrative behind the work.
There is a story behind every one of Makoto’s creations. The narrative of his art is just as much a part of the painting as is the gold leaf and rare pigments.
In 2011, for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Makoto painted a series of works entitled “The Four Holy Gospels” which included a stunning array of non-representational paintings inspired by the four Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, plus a singular work called The Tears of Christ (see below). His art also appeared in a special edition of the 1611 King James Bible also released in 2011.
I’m often struck by the essence of a eulogy or of the ocean or of the stars in Makoto’s paintings. There is a gentle distinctiveness present in everything he does, often tinged with sorrow, but never without hope. In this way, he truly reflects the image of the Creator Himself.
In the end, in both Makoto’s Refractions and in his works of art, I find hope. It’s what I believe emanates most centrally from his life and art.
His art has not only survived the critics, but the tragic events and aftermath of 9/11, and in many ways became a means of solace and comfort for the greater New York City community.
In Refractions, Makoto quotes Leo Tolstoy, the Russian author of War and Peace, who wrote about the possibilities of art as a means to peace.
The task of art is enormous. Through the influence of real art, aided by science, guided by religion, that peaceful co-operation of man which is now maintained by external means – by our law-courts, police, charitable institutions, factor inspection, and so forth, – should be obtained by man’s free and joyous activity. Art should cause violence to be set aside.
Makoto certainly embodies this belief. “The language of the arts translates the universal longing for peace into the tangible experience of the desire for peace. The arts provide us with language for meditating the broken relational and cultural divides: the arts can model for us how we need to value each person as created in the image of God.”
Makoto’s gentle demeanor and patience, and above all, his commitment to Christ in everything he does, is reflected in His work.
Much like His Creator (Romans 1:19-20).
I highly recommend taking the time to thoughtfully consider the life and works of Makoto Fujimura.
In preparation for this week’s theme and for this story, I was able to actually contact Mr. Fujimura himself. He graciously took the time to respond and gave me permission to use his artwork in the Talon and also gave me a link to a letter he wrote which contains advice and inspirational thoughts for all aspiring young artists.
The Artist has time for His patrons! (John 1:14). Thanks again to Mr. Fujimura for his permission to display his works.
As you read through the Talon’s featured artists this week, take the time to explore and seek what biblical truths might be “refracted” in their works, too.
As Paul tells us, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
For more on our art theme this upcoming week, in case you missed it, check out the story from Saturday’s Talon here.