Writer: Maria B. Villa
Original URL : http://mariabyoga.blogspot.com/
Interview with Hiroko Sakai
This artist´s vision gives us account of how many possibilities we have as human beings to transform our lives consciously so that we can liberate ourselves from the obstacles we experience on a daily basis. Hiroko Sakai opens her heart and soul in this interview to share her inner battles by which she has evolved as an artist. The deepness and honesty of her words, as well as her paintings, are subjects of great worship.
MB: Where were you born?
HS: I was born in a small town of northern Kyushu island of Japan.
MB: When did you start painting?
HS: It seems to me like I´ve been painting and drawing since my first breath. My school notebooks were filled with drawings.
MB: What are your major influences?
HS: My parents, they were great patrons of cultures and art in Japan, that´s why I had so many opportunities to grow artistically.
MB: What relationship can you establish between your paintings and peace of mind, body, and spirit?
HS: After having to go through many difficult experiences and after I started painting again, I became quieter and introverted but at the same time I started to reach deeper into my inner being. I am convinced that painting can make the spirit calmer, at least that´s what happens to me; the more I paint the calmer my spirit feels. I think that´s represented in my paintings.
MB: Can you tell us about an important personal experience that has marked your life and that it´s also reflected in your art?
HS: Yes, It all started several years ago when one day I suddenly got a heavy pain on my back, so I had to be taken to the hospital. The doctor said that a tumor, which size as a fist, was growing in my pelvis where the ovaries are located and that it was really difficult to check its position, he could not tell if it was benign or malignant until the surgery. If it was malignant, he said, I might not have any chance to live and even in the best case scenario I would lose my womb.
The hospital room where I was staying at was the room for cancer patients. Some ladies had already gone through surgery and some of them were waiting for their wombs to be taken out. Others were wearing scarves on their heads to hide their hair loss. That was all very shocking to me therefore I was losing all the hope left in my life. But on the other hand, I was fortunate enough to take some time to pause and look at my life, and realized that I had kept myself running all the time. It gave me some time to think deeply about my life and to see where I was standing and doing with it.
Fortunately, my tumor was benign. Thanks to GOD, I am still here to meet you today. Anyway, getting through this experience has made my artwork deep and focused; now I have time to think about my life again, which used to be so hectic. It was truly a gift from God that I could change my life for the better.
HS: Yes, I really agree so. First, after a long blank, I started drawing which helped me to sweep out all the emotions stuck in my soul. There were no colors during that difficult time. Then red came back… and blue came next. One by one, colors slowly came back on my canvas. Looking at that pattern I should say that this was my art healing process.
I had not thought about such things so intensely before but as I got through them I could see that Art has some power to heal and balance our mental state.
The creation process can bring up good and healthy feelings of achievement. Also, expressing our own originality into actual visible figures can reassure our own existence. It is like communicating with the outside world using what I have deep inside naturally.
When I got back all the colors in my drawings, I decided to start with oil painting. To be honest, I had never touched oils until then.Oil dries very slowly and in my previous job with commercial art in Japan I couldn´t use it because I was always pressed with heavy deadlines. But as an artist I´ve always wanted to paint with oil because I’ve always believed that oil is the basis of painting. And it is precisely the slow dry process of oil that attracts me the most as it gives me plenty of time to communicate with my canvas. It gives me time to think as much as I need.
MB: Is life and death a recurrent theme in your works?
HS: Life and death can be one of the themes in my paintings. But basically, that is not the only theme of my art. My inspiration is my own life, what I see, feel, read, and think…. every day. So many themes can be brought up as I am living and feeling every minute.
But in a sense, you might be right. I think about life and death a lot in my life, it might be because I am Japanese and was raised into the philosophy of Buddhism. In Japan, most of the people do not practice Buddhism as a religion anymore (I think), but still Buddhism has a big influence on Japanese people and teaches them to learn how to live, appreciation and humbleness, and harmony towards other people. One of my biggest influence is how Japanese think about life and death. It’s really hard to explain it in English, but Japanese have the belief of "Rinne Tensho", which means life repeats. The body is just a carriage of your spirit in this life, the spirit lives forever and from time to time. Our spirits are sent to this world to learn and get trained, and afterwards it goes back to heaven again, death is just the expiration of the physical body.
I keep that as a constant reminder, in a sense birth is the start and death is also the start of life. I’m so much interested in this process of life and death, and I’m also very curious of what would happen next, when my body expires.
MB: In your webpage you talk about how hard it was for you to move to North America, about being in exile. Can you elaborate a little bit more about that? And in what way is that represented in your artwork?
HS: What brought me to San Francisco was my marriage 11 years ago, after that I became a single mother and a struggling artist. I got married to an American man (half Japanese) who gave me extremely warm support and encouragement when I was hospitalized. After getting married, he went back to the US because he had to arrange his American life so he could move to Japan to live with me. But he did not come back for months. During that time, I found out I was pregnant and to make a long story short, it was me who had to move to the US. My new life in a far away country had started with a big belly, a difficult language, and domestic violence. I found help at an Asian Woman’s shelter in San Francisco.
I had lost everything, my studio, my career, I had spent all my savings on moving expenses and compensation for my staff (months of salaries and equipment lease…). Anyway, now I believe that it was worth the lesson.Before I came to America, I was such a naive and silly girl. Then I got a chance to survive in San Francisco for almost 10 years. I am pretty happy with the strength that I´ve developed over the years as I learned to get over the hell I was living. To keep custody of my daughter, I couldn´t leave California until she became 18. But I finally got my life back, I’m quite satisfied of what I have done and what I am working on, and also my future possibilities here. I believe that now I’m headed in the right direction toward my success.
Those experiences lead me to obtain the “strength" and "independence" evident in my art. As you are one, I am also a survivor who is still struggling on the pass to keep working towards my dreams and future. I believe that my life is one of the most blessed lives in the world because I have found what I am meant to do on this Earth and what I want to do from now on. As long as I am an Artist, I can never fail my life.
Whatever your dreams are, as long as you keep working towards them, you cannot fail. There might be a lot of traps waiting for you in the way, which would disappoint you and generate doubts but as long as you keep going, all of them would tune up to reach your goals eventually. There is no storm which does not get over. After the storm is gone, a beautiful day will come again.
San Francisco, with its vibrant arts and culture, became my second home and was a source of much inspiration. For a while, I felt disadvantaged because I was a foreigner learning a second language. Now I know that my differences are also my strengths and I can combine my Japanese and American background to produce a powerful and unique art work.
HS: My philosophical concerns as an artist…. hum. I have never thought about those kinds of things. It is so natural for me to live as an artist, so when I paint I do not think so much about complicated things… I just let out what I have inside and spread it on my canvas. If there is something you feel from my art that would be my philosophy.
MB: Does your work fill your needs as an artist but also the needs of our time and the contemporary art scene?
HS: Honestly, I do not know the answer for this question yet. I just started my new career in San Francisco as an oil painter only 5 years ago, I changed my career from a commercial artist in Japan, so I need much more time to find out where my art is going to. Actually, I’m at the beginning of changing my art marketing views, until now I had worked on my art marketing in a very traditional way, just repeating gallery submissions. I realized that in this huge competition of artists, it´s like throwing stones in the ocean. Especially because the galleries like art that sells, the kind of art which would go well at rich people house walls, sorry I am a bit mean, ha ha. But I consider that my art is not part of a wall paper. Have you watched the movie “Tea with Mussolini’? I do not remember it exactly, but I think in the movie, there was a scene where the heroine is talking with paintings in a room specially made for them, she was owning paintings like her inspiring books, soul mates to talk to….I want my art to be adopted by that kind of people, by those who are sensible to it, not the people who are just looking for expensive wall decorations.
A great friend named Eric, who´s also an artist, once told me: My father used to say: "know your market and talk to them directly¨. You can ignore the galleries that are scared of your stuff, their reaction is understandable. They are selling pictures that are supposed to fade away behind the beige sofa into oblivion, and match the wall color. They select art to help buyers disguise the anguish they feel, the longing, the emptiness, not to reveal it and display it. You are a bomb waiting to explode. But instead of killing people, your bomb will liberate them. Your art will free them from their shame, their guilt, their fear of discovery. You have to find the people who want to use your art for personal liberation, or to shock people so that they stop and stare. Forget the decorators looking for beige. You shock people in San Francisco! Where people come from all over the world to get laid! People flock here for sexual freedom, which is what you offer them in an instant of recognition. People looking at your art either stand transfixed or run away as fast as they can. You will have no market in between unless you change your style.
Thank you, Maria!
If you are interested in "Hiroko’s Path", you can learn more here.
” A life path why I’ve ended up to be in San Francisco “