Myohoji, an Important Base for Akira Kanayama|Interviews with Related Parties (Part 2)

A project evolving the digitized archive of the book, “GUTAI STILL ALIVE 2015 vol.1”. The 28th edition focuses on Akira Kanayama, a former Gutai member who left the group in 1965. We visited the Myohoji Temple in Osaka which served as an important base for Kanayama, where we spoke to Kanako Ito about Kanayama's lifelong relationship with Atsuko Tanaka, as well as his artistic activities and his personal nature.

Myohoji, Osaka – The Departure and Arrival Point of Akira Kanyama and Atsuko Tanaka 02

The Insights of Kanako Ito: Part 2(Continued from page 114)

The important base which Myohoji provided for Akira Kanayama and Atsuko Tanaka holds a trace of these artists beyond their art work. Kanako Ito who guides us around the temple continuously points out the calligraphy produced by Kanayama. From stone engravings to stupa inscriptions, to the temple records themselves, his writing may be found across the temple complex. Kanayama’s brother had been the previous head priest so he readily offered up his calligraphic skills towards the temple. And it was Kanako Ito who continued this work from him.

KI: While Kanayama was living in the temple grounds I also attended his art lessons, however he told me rather directly “You have no talent” (laughs). He didn’t mince his words. I wasn’t much good at painting but I did also learn calligraphy. Kanayama used to do all the important calligraphy work for the temple. My father was the head priest so I had an appreciation for calligraphy from seeing it on a daily basis. I didn’t like art but I took exception to calligraphy. Now it is I who does all the written work for the temple. Kanayama made really beautiful scripts. He learnt from his teacher well, despite at one stage being told his work lacked dignity. He was in fact already good at that time, but upon being met with such criticism he pushed himself even harder and in the end his teacher wrote for him “I admit defeat.” It was not only calligraphy, but whatever he put his mind to he would pursue it with the upmost of care. Another example was English, he would be filled with such passion for his studies, always with an English book in his hand telling me “Now I am studying this.” When I had to come up with a science project to do in the summer holidays Kanayama immediately had the answer and brought over a telescope, saying why not measure sun spots.

Kanako was one of those who was able to observe the creative work and lives of Kanayama and Tanaka upon the closest of terms. Even after the couple moved to Asukamura, Nara, she continued to hold a close relationship with Kanayama as his niece, while Kanayama also had a close bond with her father.

KI: It seems just like yesterday, but there was a time when I had to paint so many plaques just before O-bon so Kanayama came to stay over and help me. We painted the scripts well into the night and slept in the morning. Then my father saw us sleeping and with a look of glee took up his pointer and beat it upon Kanayama, then the two raced around the temple after each other. Kanayama could run well for an old man. It was very funny. Kanayama really doted on my father. They had a close relationship and it was as if they were always together. Whenever he went abroad he would always come here first to pay a greeting. Even when he went to live in Nara and must have been so busy teaching in Osaka and the like he would always come here at least once a week. If he came to Osaka he would always come here. It was as if he had to come here in order to go anywhere else.

Kanayama was known for his unique intellect within the Gutai group, yet from these tales we are able to see his humorous and rather domestic side. Rather than focusing upon his own creative practice as an artist Kanayama put the career of his wife first and did all to provide a comfortable environment for her, but it was Itoh who realized his true artistic ability.

KI: Kanayama was very particular about things and would always write things down precisely in his notepad. He could not really focus on his own activities, he did everything for Tanaka and refrained from many in pursuits in his own practice, but sometimes he would tell me of his own personal plans and ideas. When he was making the music waveform work he commented that even in this form of depiction it is the best known music which produces the most beautiful shapes. And when he was making the “Astronomical Painting” he would be off to visit the head of the local space observatory. He was always like that. He was always full of interesting ideas. As a man who had devoted his life’s blood to all that he did he deserves to be remembered well even after his death. He would often talk with my father as to how things had been in his childhood, but his stories were not mere nostalgia, but always engaging and showing bright intelligence. There were those in astronomy field who became quite attached to him, with of course a strong following from his many students and art world associates. He was of such a character that everyone wanted to help him, even during his younger days. Recently I saw one of his old films in which a smoke bomb is lit on a bike and then driven off, very simple, and shot just along the road close by, but the cameraman and driver both agreed to help Kanayama as volunteers, while also his drawing device was made by a local parishioner, he roped them all in. The local people all lent their strength to the couple.

As a young man Kanayama had pursued the very cutting edge of expressions and once he had done all he could to establish a stable environment for Tanaka he finally took the steps towards focusing on his own work in his later life. Ito often heard of his ideas and had observed his way of life close at hand, making her believe that if it hadn’t been for the accident he would have left a much larger body of work behind.

KI: Kanayama had been most looking forward to the exhibition of his work at Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, which took place in 2007, and it was so sad that this was to turn out to be his retrospective as he passed away just before. But it was a spectacular exhibition and when I saw it I was sure that Kanayama would have been pleased.

2 years before this exhibition, as the couple were going out for dinner, they were involved in a road accident and at the end of the year Tanaka passed away, with Kanayama following the next year. That was the year just before the exhibition at Toyota Municipal Museum of Art was held. It was Ito who took care of Kanayama in his final years, making all the arrangements for his treatment and nursing. Kanayama passed away in Yokkaichi, Mie prefecture. He had been moved to a hospital there so as to allow convenient travel to the museum during his exhibition. But with the road accident he lost his strength and eventually succumbed to lung cancer.

While Myohoji provided Kanayama and Tanaka with a base for their artistic practice, it was also a place in which they were surrounded by family and friends who warmly supported them as a close community. And it is by this community which they are commemorated to this day as their memorial stones stand in the temple grounds and remind us of the close relationship the couple enjoyed with this district.

(Mothly Gallery, September 2014)

Read more about the “Gutai Art Association »

*Information in this article is at the time of publication.

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