My career as a painter began with what might be called "benign compulsion." In 1961 I was a graduate student at New York University, Buffalo, studying for a degree in literature and philosophy and aiming toward employment in publishing or in a museum. Much to my surprise, the Degree Committee asked me to include some form of artistic expression in my thesis. What to do? I could neither sing nor dance. And, though I had some exposure to studio art, I wasn't sure I could paint either. I did have some strong views about aesthetics, however, and decided that I had been given an opportunity to demonstrate the depth of those views.
The result was 20 canvases which I then presented to the committee. This was my first solo showing. Critics in New York City, where I later exhibited, labeled my work Abstract Expressionism. That style continues to shape my work although, over the years, Japanese subject matter has increasingly emerged as a significant element in my painting. Perhaps this should not be surprising because, as I grow older, memories of happy childhood days in my native land become ever more precious. Despite having spent half of my adult life in the United States, this reflection of Japanese roots has become noticeably pronounced. Indeed, as I contemplate a completed work, I often feel that I have come home at last after years of wandering.
Though subject matter is an important element in my painting, I do not start a canvas with it. I begin with non-committal, free-flowing brushwork using any color at hand. At this stage, my main concern is composition, because I believe that it serves as the formal dynamics of all art. For example, if you eliminate the subject matter of a painting and erase the color in your mind's eye, a message still remains if the composition is strong. In the early stages of a painting, therefore, I try to build a good foundation of composition. The process is like constructing a theatrical stage where later I will perform.
Normally I attempt to capture the essence of poetry while building forms and colors within the framework of the composition, and then follow it to a point where that essence becomes a message. In the case of my painting "YAMAZAKURA" the poetic message began to take shape as I painted the first of several blossoms on the built-up background. I chose the title then, and concentrated on expressing the glorious moment in the life of a cherry tree when it bursts into full bloom.
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A decade has passed since I wrote the above essay. My style and method of painting has not changed much. But my life has changed a great deal. The glorious yamazakura still blooms when spring comes. But she stands alone now... a blessed freedom, maybe... nonetheless a life of a lone traveler.
Soy una peregrina... l'êtrangere... a stranger... maybe not destined to settle down anywhere. A tanka of Wakayama Bokusui comes to my mind:
幾山河 越えさりゆかば 淋しさの 果てなむ国ぞ 独り旅ゆく
"Crossing mountains and rivers, / I make a lonesome journey... / Will there be a place where / this loneliness dissipates?"
I shall keep going on this solitary road, knowing that there are other "peregrinos" like me all over the world.
Tei Matsushita Scott