By – Jeremy Pilote Byrne
Nihonbashi district might seem a strange place to find an art gallery considering it has a strong business background. However, I’m always surprised how beautifully these galleries integrate themselves vertically throughout Tokyo. In this particular one, Gallery K, I met an artist who was very sensitive to his surroundings. In the paintings on the white walls, Mikio Urasaki’s use of collage and oil paint created compelling new worlds. I thought it a pity that we couldn’t experience these visions periodically. Urasaki was very generous, sharing a lot of his ideas about the world with me. At the end of our talk he gave me a biography he had written about himself. As with his multi-dimensional sceneries, I feel my mind was made chimera after learning more about his “Uncertain Self”. How about giving it a little thought?
The world surrounding us is beautiful, and its beauty calls people to it. Yet the sceneries it offers never allow us to come any closer than a certain point. In other words, they even seem to avoid us. It is an interesting sight – a force that attracts and also rejects people at the same time.
Mikio Urasaki has often put himself in the centre of such amazing natural sceneries (at least, as close as they’d let him get), recapturing these amazing experiences in himself—letting these experiences become visible again so that others can also experience the same thing. This has become the motive for his artwork.
Let us go back to 1985 when he was still a student. At that time he was practicing oil painting until he discovered collage. Collage made clear to Urasaki how size, shape and texture of different materials influence a picture. Objects clash with each other and connect, forming new images. These effects seemed very interesting to him.
Around this time he found—as he listened to other people’s dialogues and read some books—that “self” was only an uncertain and ambiguous idea, and he understood it was quite difficult for “self” to express a genuine sentiment to the outer world. Collage was what kept Urasaki a comfortable distance from his own “self.”
At first he used clippings from magazines to make human figures. As he grew to seek three-dimensional effects, he began creating works using driftwood and plaster. However, working in three dimensions did not help him achieve the effect he was after. After graduating, Urasaki entered a heavy, long wave of confusion, and took a five year hiatus from his artwork.
The confusion gradually settled and peace was regained. In 1994 he returned to his magazine clippings again, but this time he wanted to try painting, too. In order to achieve the perspective he wanted in his works, Urasaki adopted the techniques of Decalcomania and started working with clippings again.
Starting in 1998, the world began showing some changes and now sights around where he lived were often chosen as subjects. Nearby forests with cherry blossom trees, gardens of azaleas and Asian bog myrtles were the motifs then. Peaceful life put him in intimate touch with his environment. “Self” was still a notion that drove him to confusion, yet he decided to go along with his uncertainty rather than giving things up too soon.
By 2000, Urasaki had come across myriad breathtaking natural sceneries and had come to an idea. What the self can feel and perceive can never come close to the real thing. All we can do is let the cycle play out: the uncertain self tries to approach something real but is instead kept away from it, perhaps by the mere act of trying.
This made him think that he should allow his uncertain self to bloom and use it not only as a theme, but also as a technical asset. Since 2008, he began to use paint as often as he did glue. He purposefully uses illusions to reproduce the images captured by his uncertain self while also trying to relativize them.
Nevertheless, since 2010, different ideas began settling in his mind. They came from his visits to various exhibitions, where he consumed all of the artwork he could get his hands on, looking at works by artists of all ages and from all countries. Surely self is an uncertain thing, and so it always fails to capture the subject; however it does not mean the the real subject does not exist.