9 March 2024

Tokowaka

Masato Shigemori wades through
continuous change

 

by Kate Mothes

Yielding his place in the queue to a pregnant woman while he waited to catch a train in Hiroshima, artist Masato Shigemori’s great grandfather’s fate was sealed when the U.S. detonated the first of two atomic bombs in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. “The first time I saw the photograph of the mushroom cloud rising over Hiroshima at the museum, there was a faint view of the city, where my great grandfather stood in the line waiting for the train,” the artist says. “The feeling struck me: ‘Even if someone dies, the world continues,’ a harsh reality.”

Shigemori’s paintings resonate with an attention to patterns, cycles, and the ceaselessness of change. In response to the gravity of seeing the mushroom cloud and the destruction it wrought, the artist turned his attention to nature, additionally influenced by his time working in elderly care, where he witnessed the effects of aging on the body and mind, and tended to those in their final moments. He began to comprehend how connected humans are to nature, despite how in many ways we have separated ourselves from it.

When he first began to paint, Shigemori tried to express the essence of Japanese spirituality through motifs like flowers and birds, but felt what he describes as a “misalignment” between his intentions and the story the images told. He began to visit historic cultural and spiritual centers around Japan, visiting sacred mountains, shrines, and traditional festivals. “I noticed that Japan has a culture of revitalizing old things anew, known as Tokowaka, which means eternal youth,” he says. “Whether it’s buildings reconstructed after earthquakes, shrines rebuilt every few decades, traditions finding meaning in the passage of years, or the imperial family evolving with generations, there’s a dream of eternity through regeneration.”

After visiting a local seaside shrine, he listened to the waves and observed their endless, cresting forms, epitomizing Tokowaka and connecting him to his childhood. In his paintings, he began to portray the rhythms and constancy of water, especially in the infinite rolling and breaking of the sea. “My work is deeply connected to the fact that I was born and raised near the sea… The waves themselves,” he says, “serve as a metaphor for the transience of this world, reflecting what I perceive as its ephemeral nature.”

Using acrylic on canvas, he creates delicate, undulating, meditative patterns that mirror the vastness of water and its tides. And in another series of paintings titled The Family, Shigemori parallels his interest in waves with the lapping of flames, drawing on a timeless element people have used for millennia to survive and to venerate sacred spaces.

See more on Shigemori’s website and Instagram.

All images © Masato Shigemori

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