Light, order, and fierceness

The physical act of drawing helps an artist both to examine closely and to fix in the mind the subject at hand. Chuta Kimura is a Japanese master of French painting whose drawings complement his painting. Consider the pictures on these pages. The pencil drawing ``Garden at Clos-Saint-Pierre''(1978) conveys the impact of Mediterranean light on Kimura. Large areas of the scene appear to be nearly canceled out by brilliant light, leaving geometrically defined dark holes of shadow for the eye to explore in detail.

The oil pastel ``Garden at Clos-Saint-Pierre, No. 10'' (1983), a more realistic rendering, has a zone of interest defined with a rough circle. A bench stands just in front of a more ambiguous volume of space outlined around the edge of the picture but continuing into the shadowy foliage of the tree.

In Kimura's paintings such areas are specified either by line or by fields of single colors, sometimes overlaid with a trowel, as a series of semi-transparencies. They connect elements of the scene that are visually related, though physically separated. They may also convey a sense of depth, or light, or both. By this means, ``On the Field'' (1984) has an almost yin/yang or negative/positive vertical division, or unification, depending on how one looks at it.

Kimura considers himself to be a successor to Monet in his explorations of the effect of light. (``Drawing is a process of printing the light on one's soul,'' he says.) But it was Pierre Bonnard whose work drew him to France. Kimura, having been stunned by Bonnard's painting exhibited in Japan, wanted to immerse himself in the atmosphere revealed to him, especially by Bonnard's use of color. A two-year visit to France for that purpose has become a 30-year residence. In honor of his achievements during that time, the French Ministry of Culture has made him Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Other artists apparently influenced Kimura. A viewer might think of Van Gogh, Dufy, and Matisse, and, in fact, the Japanese consider Kimura to be following Matisse.

What Kimura brings to French painting, in turn, seems to be a Japanese calligraphic, design, and color sense, along with the inner ordering of the artist. That may be what Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese baseball star, calls ``spirit-discipline.'' He describes it, in his autobiography, as the means by which one's whole being is brought to bear on the activity of the moment and in which what appears to be an adversary is seen to be not a negative but a positive element, to be used to advantage for good.

In his catalog essay for the Phillips Collection exhibition ``Kimura: Paintings and Works on Paper 1968-1984'' in Washington, Denys Sutton reports asking Kimura what were ``the impulses that made him paint the way he did.'' The response was that ``he jumped up from his chair, adopted the stance of a boxer, and with much laughter, said that the artist should attack his subject with fierceness.'' -- 30 --

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