Dreams and a touch of Zen

wilderness scenes

tranquil ‘Midsummer morning.’

Well, Keiko Mima gives you this experience — all in the frame of a few square feet of plane space of paper touched by watercolours. In any case, that is what an artist worth his salt is supposed to deliver: Experiences.

Not that Keiko Mima had ever thought of delivering anything as concrete as that. Her mind frame was quite simple; to connect with nature. Keiko Mima’s paintings in her latest series of works, like her ‘Lotus in the Late Summer Morning’, are far from real; but they are quite honest, right down to the decaying bits of foliage.

Fragile? Tranquil? Mysterious? Beautiful? It is quite difficult to pinpoint the adjective that Keiko clothes her wilderness scenes with; the dreaminess of it all is the only thing that is quite clearly real. Her paintings are of an enchanted world that we encounter only in dreams, when the colours are more vivid, the fragrances more potent, the form more striking, and the beauty incredibly more so. Then there is the other side of the spectrum too, when colours are just suggested, rather than present, and thoughts are more poignant than talk.

Surprisingly, Keiko is able to create this intense sense of nature in her water colour works on paper, a medium which many consider to be too sedate and wall paperish for creating an atmosphere so ethereal. And thankfully, Keiko doesn’t attempt to beautify nature. She allows nature’s chaotic wilderness to create its own beauty. The fact that she modelled these landscapes and foliage from real landscapes has helped her produce the naturalness in nature — the natural angles and curves of creepers, the slants of the trees and the droop of the branches. Quite often we find landscape artists producing images of scenes that are quite impossible, and hence difficult to believe or connect with.

Keiko gives the atmosphere a distinct presence. You feel the unseen air in the landscape, as much you see the wild foliage. Take Keiko’s ‘Mid-summer Morning’, where the transcluscent light bathes all that it falls on, in an ethereal glow. The sky is luminous and seems to extend into endless space. The leaves and petals seem just about ready to open up. On the other hand, the hibiscus, in ‘A Corner of the Garden’ is dripping with colour, while the rest of the garden remains bathed in a hazy glow.  

In most paintings, the sky is bathed in light, except in a few like ‘Late Summer Lotus’, where the sky is purple and even darker than the faded flowers in the scene. Keiko also takes us to the same spot over a period of time, when the foliage has aged, and so have we. A tool to initiate retrospection over the apssage of time?
Sometimes, she tries to create a perspective effect, dividing her work space into foreground and background spaces, as in ‘Lotus in the Late Summer Morning’, which shows a wide view of a lake teeming with lotuses in the middle ground, a tangled mass of brown  trees in the background beyond a clearing, and wild foliage in the form of creepers in the foreground. A spectacular work, it took two months for Keiko to finish this one painting. Says she, “I painted the flowers first, as they seemed in danger of withering away fast, because it hasn’t rained much this year.” Curiously, Keiko has given solid, unimaginative, practical sounding names to her dreamy works. The titles sound like labels that you would apply for accounting purposes.

Pondering a little more on flowers, the flower is held to be a symbol of the true spiritual self; its unselfconscious beauty, symmetry and perfection is believed to be reflective of our inner self, supposed to have the same characteristics, only, we have lost sight and grip over it, enamoured by the senses and the practicalities of the present.

Keiko’s ethereal landscapes of buds and flowers, wild foliage, muddy lakes and translucent atmospheres does lead a train of thought to how the Buddha saw a pond of lotus flowers at different stages of unfolding and understood that all people are at different stages of spiritual development. The Buddha believed that like the flowers, some of us remain in the mud of desire while a few among us raise themselves above these distractions and gradually open to enlightenment.  

Keiko Mima, who graduated with a BFA in Painting from Kyoto Seika University, Kyoto, Japan, is married to Indian artist Akmal Hussain and lives in India. The duo has made their home on the seaside locales of Puducherry. Keiko has had solo exhibitions at Kyoto Seika University and at Gallery Modern, Kobe, Japan.

Keiko concedes to the presence of a definite Japanese influence on her works. “Indian painting is more decorative, the frame is usually full of vivacious flowers and fresh leaves; but Japanese art is also about the process and the journey — we love the dry leaves as well!” But the Japanese influence goes beyond this. It raises its head in the airy washes of colour, and more crucially, in the subtle and skillful use of a limited palette — the touch of Zen.

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