Karen Shiozawa × Meiji Hijikata | The Depths of the Heart Projected by a Magical Light


Meiji Hijikata × Karen Shiozawa

The series of articles delves into conversations between various artists and Meiji Hijikata, Director of the Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, Kawasaki, offering an in-depth exploration of their artworks. The fifth installment features a dialogue with Karen Shiozawa, a contemporary artist renowned for her exploration of expressions that engage the five senses.

Karen Shiozawa's artistic journey revolves around the creation of dreamlike worlds using light, sound, and other phenomena. Her captivating works have garnered a widespread following, both in Japan and abroad. In this enlightening conversation, the duo delves into the allure of Shiozawa's art, discussing the emotions she communicates to her audience and the profound interpersonal connections she seeks to forge through her creations.

A Light that Illuminates Each One’s Path

Karen Shiozawa "Alice's Time" (2023)

Hijikata: In your paintings, the depiction of "light" stands out as a defining feature. Despite its intangibility to the naked eye, you express it with remarkable clarity. How do you personally interpret the significance of "light" in your artwork?

Shiozawa: I think light is a kind of "guidepost". Without light, we cannot see the scenes before our eyes. Yet, each individual's interpretation of these scenes can vary, influenced by personal experiences and emotions. Removing any emotional context alters the hues and their perception.

For me, light serves as a lens, revealing the intricacies of our emotions. Incorporating light into my artistic endeavors allows viewers to empathize with the nuances of perception and visual awareness, fostering a deeper connection to our shared human experience.

Hijikata: I wonder if the light you depict is a light that illuminates our inner selves, or a light that symbolizes our inner aspect.

Shiozawa: Yes, it is. We are able to perceive objects as soon as light reflects off of them. When I depict light in my paintings, like when a light is shining from above, the things it illuminates and the shadows it casts often reflect the scenery or images I perceive. It is a light that illuminates something and makes us aware of it. In that sense, describing the light as a "guidepost" is the one that resonates with me the most.

Who is Karen Shiozawa?

Multi-Layered Matière that Carves out Reality

Hijikata: Your artworks let viewers visualize normally invisible things like light and sound, and they also make use of very elaborate materials. When I look at your paintings, they seem to be stratified into several different layers. This makes it go beyond the realm of fantasy, giving rise to a kind of reality within the painting. This is one of the characteristics and strengths of your work.

I believe that this quality comes from your unique method of painting. Can you reveal your secret?

Shiozawa: In essence, my technique mirrors the crayon scratch art familiar from childhood, but with a twist—it's executed through oil painting. I start by layering vibrant colors using acrylic or acrylic resin paints, then obscure them entirely with a dark hue. Using a needle, akin to those used in copperplate engraving, I meticulously scratch away the dark layer, revealing the underlying spectrum.

During this process, I might selectively remove paint to expose specific colors beneath. Following the scratching, I refine the piece with oil paints, akin to the meticulous approach of pointillism. I gradually apply layers, following the path of light I aim to convey, occasionally employing a sputtering technique for a gentle luminosity.

Hijikata: You explained it in a simple way, but it actually takes a lot of time and effort to do. That is how you are able to create a world of depth, and a painting with a definite presence.

Shiozawa: For the oil paints, I only use one or two colors – black and blue. All the other colors come from the colors layered underneath.

Hijikata: I see, so it feels like you are revealing the colors in your painting rather than painting them on.

Shiozawa: That's right! Similar to the principle behind how light illuminates objects, as if emerging from a world of shadows, I think my painting style shares some common aspects with how light works. By etching out the shadows, I am bringing out different colors and shapes.

Hijikata: You convey your ideas very eloquently.

Empathizing with Different Perspectives after Holding Exhibitions in Japan and Abroad

"Galaxy Carnival", 2022, Whitestone Gallery Taipei

Hijikata: You have held solo exhibitions consecutively in Ginza, Taipei, Karuizawa, and Beijing. Did you feel much pressure during that period?

Shiozawa: I felt the most pressure when I held my first solo exhibition in Taiwan, but I had faith in my own works. Since the theme of my art is about a power that cannot be expressed in words, I knew that there would definitely be aspects where I could connect with the viewers, whether they were Japanese or from another country. That is why I had a strong desire and high expectations about holding exhibitions overseas.

Hijikata: I have been to the Whitestone Gallery Taipei just once before, and I was amazed by the spacious design created by Kengo Kuma. What are your thoughts about it after holding an exhibition there?

Shiozawa: It was during the pandemic so I actually could not be there on-site, but as soon as the exhibition opened, I got plenty of messages through social media from people of various nationalities, which made me truly happy. The greatest joy was the experience of sharing something with people I have never met before through my artworks.

"Beyond the sea of melody", 2022, Whitestone Gallery Karuizawa

Hijikata: What about Beijing?

Shiozawa: For Beijing, I was able to go on-site to the exhibition, and I felt how people showed interest in my work from a different perspective, as compared to the response I got from viewers in Japan. Getting opinions from various perspectives was a really good stimulus for me. On the other hand, spending time talking to different people in front of my artworks is the same whether it is in Japan or another country, and I was genuinely happy to be able to share that time with my viewers.

Hijikata: How was the reaction different from that in Japan?

Shiozawa: In my experience, I've noticed a distinct cultural contrast between Japan and Beijing regarding the approach to appreciating artworks. In Japan, there's a strong interest in not just the visual elements but also in the poetic, conceptual, and contextual aspects surrounding the artwork. On the other hand, in Beijing, conversations with viewers tend to start with discussions about the visual aspects like light and color, before branching into more imaginative interpretations of the paintings. This realization has led me to understand that there are diverse perspectives on how to approach and engage with my artworks.

Masquerade of Light, 2023, Whitestone Gallery Beijing

Hijikata: You've held several major exhibitions in a short span, each with its own unique theme. How do you decide on your themes?

Shiozawa: My creative process typically begins with a flood of ideas upon entering a gallery or exhibition space. Despite the variety of inspirations, my overarching theme remains consistent across all exhibitions. When selecting a sub-theme that resonates with viewers, I carefully consider the exhibition space's architecture, the host country's characteristics, and other relevant factors.

For instance, at a recent exhibition in Beijing, the gallery's soaring ceiling and intricate design evoked the grandeur of a cathedral. Envisioning the figures within my paintings as if dancing within this sacred space, I settled on the theme "Masquerade of Light". Conversely, for an exhibition in Karuizawa, where the natural elements of water and lush landscapes dominate, I chose the theme "Beyond the Sea of Melody".

Hijikata: Indeed, that overarching theme resonates deeply. It underscores the enigmatic nature of both sound and light, existing in our awareness yet beyond the reach of our sight.

"Beyond the sea of melody" Artist Interview

Karen Shiozawa's Future Endeavors

Masquerade of Light, 2023, Whitestone Gallery Beijing

Hijikata: Can you tell me about your future plans and aspirations?

Shiozawa: With several overseas exhibitions on the horizon, I'm eager to expand the reach of my artwork, extending even to exhibitions within Japan. Furthermore, I've begun contemplating the creation of artworks utilizing materials and expression methods divergent from my current paintings. I'm driven by a fervent desire to explore fresh techniques and styles of expression, all in service of effectively conveying the ideas I'm passionate about sharing.

After delving into Karen Shiozawa's innovative use of layered materials and her distinct interpretation of light, Meiji Hijikata offered his perspective on the musicality inherent in her art: "Shiozawa's pieces exude a melody or rhythm, evoking a visual symphony. Examining her paintings, one can't help but sense a melodic essence embedded within them." The light she captures seems to shimmer and sway, as though choreographed to a fluid rhythm. Witnessing her works up close invites one to experience the lyrical dance of light, revealing the intrinsic essence of illuminated subjects.

Inquire about Karen Shiozawa's works

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