Makoto Fujimura’s new illuminations

Posted: November 15, 2010 in Dark Art Cafe
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Here is some exciting news near the onset of Advent, that dark season of waiting before the coming light. Internationally acclaimed artist Makoto Fujimura, founder of the International Arts Movement in New York, recently released a short video about his new project, which is composing abstract expressionist illuminations for a special edition of the King James Bible, celebrating its  400th anniversary. Fujimura, a Japanese-born New York artist, is classically trained in Nihonga, a Japanese painting technique dating from the 8th century, but he melds the tradition with modern abstract expressionism and uses this hybrid form to transgress modern art’s historically secular boundaries in order to explore themes of transcendence and faith.

There are many things that set Fujimura’s current project aside from other “illustrated” editions of the Bible, like Barry Moser’s woodcuts illustrating a facsimile of the Pennyroyal Caxton edition of the King James Bible. First, unlike Moser’s woodcuts, Fujimura’s work is more illumination than illustration: instead of Moser’s focus on portraits of key Biblical figures, Fujimura uses non-representational art to visually evoke the movement, beauty, and creative energy of transcendence.

This is not to say that “non-representational” means the artworks are visually unrelated to the Biblical texts being illustrated: the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The illumination of John draws on the metaphysical beginning of that book (“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…”); Mark’s piece is composed of rich reds evoking the fires of sacrifice and judgement in that book, fire that also purifies; and the piece based on Luke is more technical and nuanced, reflecting the more complex structure of that book.

What all these pieces do, as Fujimura’s artwork always does, is astonish and draw the viewer into intense contemplation. Fujimura’s work as an artist and writer has been to create a cultural language that allows for the secular to reawaken the sacred and for traditional forms of faith like Christianity to transfigure the secular. This is a refreshing move in an art world that too often wants nothing to do with organized religion, which it sees as stifling mystery rather than enlivening it.

This particular project, according to a post on Fujimura‘s website, will feature “Five major new works, painted in the artist’s Manhattan studio, [and these] will be the volume’s main images, making this the first such manuscript to feature abstract contemporary art in lieu of traditional representational illustrations. It is this unprecedented marriage of a modern, usually secular art form with ancient scripture that most interests Fujimura, who aims to depict ‘the greater reality that the Bible speaks of… for the pure sake of integrating faith and art in our current pluralistic, multicultural world.'”

Integrating faith and art, however, is a very transgressive move in today’s art world. But Fujimara claims that “Art is always transgressive [but] that we need to trangress in love.” Fujimura goes on to say that “We  today have a language to celebrate waywardness but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home.” If this is the light Fujimura seeks in these illuminations, then it is much needed light: a lamp above modern art’s door with enough oil to last the long night.

This whole project brings newfound excitement to Advent for me this year. This dark season that anticipates the coming of light traditionally kindles anticipation and hope. Fujimura’s art has always done this for me and news of this project came as a welcome spark on this dark November night.

Click here to see Fujimura’s video on the making of these paintings.


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