MOUNT FUJI SEEN FROM TOKYO & THE BIRD OF PEACE OVER JERUSALEM
A Painting by Vladimir Tamari finished and signed 8 March 2012. Acrylics and gold foil on canvas 118.5 cm x 148.6 cm
I finished this painting a few days before the first anniversary of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011, but I had no conscious intention of making a commemorative painting. Both the medium (acrylics and gold foil on canvas) and the size of the painting (more than a meter tall and almost a meter and a half wide, are almost twice the size of my 'large' watercolors) were unusual for me, but I enjoyed making an artwork on this scale. The inspiration for this painting was of course Mount Fuji, where it is revered as the symbol of the country itself with deep mythological and religious meanings. Over the years I have enjoyed occasional glimpses of it while cycling around my area and a few times sketched it. In fact my first interest in Japan and its unique visual culture was seeing the Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) wood-block print Great Wave of Kanagawa - a part of his popular series 36 views of Mt. Fuji (see below).
Having woken up to a wonderful snowy day with a clear sky I went to the roof of our apartment (no easy task for me because I am not comfortable with heights) and was exhilarated by the sight of a city glittering white under the sun and in the distance but very clear the stunning image of Japan's sacred (and highest) mountain, Fuji San. Google Earth shows the distance from our roof to the center of the crater at the summit to be 88.62 km due West. Below is a photograph I took that day. I already had prepared the canvas but was not sure what to paint on it - so the sight of the mountain - considered a sign of good luck - inspired me to an auspicious start.
On the canvas I sketched the main elements of the painting from the outset: the snow-covered summit of the mountain rising beyond the line of rolling purple hills, a large yellow sun to express my optimism and joy, haze obscuring the lower part of the hills and and some greenery and housing in the foreground. The large bird is one I have been drawing in one form or another in my artworks as long as I remember (even on old-time airmail postal envelopes) expressing freedom and peace. A few days later I made a quick pencil drawing of Fuji San from the roof to verify details of the scene (shown below- I make it a point never to draw from photographs).
Gradually the painting, at first reminiscent of naive ofuroya decorations (Japanese public baths usually have murals featuring an idyllic Mt. Fuji serene in its humid and relaxed surroundings) acquired its dramatic and symbolic features. I painted a second red sun (was I influenced by the two moons in Murakami’s novel IQ84 that I had recently read?) and expanded the foreground houses to symbolize Tokyo as a whole. The mist rolling in the center of the painting came to resemble the devastating tsunami seen on TVs a year ago. At that time I experienced the earthquake while in a park in Tokyo and the next day I painted a watercolor featuring the tsunami. In the distance and reached by benevolent rays emanating from the bird I painted my beloved Jerusalem, the Israeli-occupied Palestinian Arab city of my birth, suffering under a tsunami of wars and occupation, far and unreachable, separated from Japan by a continent, and half a lifetime spent in exile here. The painting somehow came to express, but not too literally - the longing and a hope of two Psalms 55: "O that I had wings like a dove, to fly away and be at rest" and 121 "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?".
Working on this large canvas in the cramped studio-cum-office-cum-storage room in our small apartment was something of a challenge. Unable to see the painting except from a couple of meters away, I had to carry it to the parking lot every time I started a painting session so as to see it whole from a distance.
Pencil study of Mt Fuji drawn from the roof of our apartment on Feb. 3, 2012
Photo from the roof of our home in Setagaya, on a snowy day January 24, 2012, a week before starting the
A pen sketch on paper digitally colorized loosely based on the style Hokusai used in his 19th. c.
woodblock series 36 Views of Mt. Fuji. I drew it from the bank of Tama river (Tamagawa)
near Futako-Tamagawa station. The cherry tree is bare in midwinter and my bicycle that took
me there is in the corner.
A photo I took on Dec. 5, 2004 of Tama river from Tamagawa Den-En with Mt. Fuji on the horizon
One of the signs pointing to this river reads "Tama Riv." which I rather happily read as "Tamari V."!
Hokusai's wood-block print Mt. Fuji from Tamagawa , Musashi, 1823-29.
This place is a few kilometers upriver from where I did my pen sketch with bicycle above.
The print that 'brought' me to Japan by arousing my first interest in Japanese art in the 1959's:
Hokusai's majestic Great Wave of Kanagawa showing Mt. Fuji . This is mistakingly believed to be a depiction of
a tsunami, but in fact it is just an 'ordinary' wave. The shape of the horizon under the mountain must have
unconsciously inspired a similar curve spanning my painting.