I am a Zen Japanese painter and sculptor based in London. I grew up on a rice farm in Akita that has been in my family for over 300 years. I fell in love with painting when I was at school so went to Tokyo to train, then when I came to England in 1983 I studied at the Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, where I had the amazing honour to work under Ken Kiff.
In 2014/15 I was the Bronze Foundry Fellow in Chelsea College of Art. I paint with oil and inks on canvas, paper and tatami (Japanese reed mats). My sculptures are in bronze, also wood and stone and other natural materials. I also make installations using a variety of found or crafted objects, such as moss, rocks and Japanese tea ceremony utensils.
I am working on a few different but (to my mind...) connected projects, including RICE PADDY (a group of abstract paintings using rice stalks and seeds to explore the textures and history of the Akita farming landscape where I grew up), and THE POEM ROAD, translating Matsuo Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North into Visual Images, in order to re-invent it for a contemporary audience.
Sketches from the Poem Road, the book of my show with poet Chris Beckett in the Poetry Society in 2015 was shortlisted for the TED HUGHES AWARD. More details on: afterbasho.weebly.com
“…ISAO MIURA’s work reflects his Japanese background, with its emphasis on balance and harmony, and somehow recovers the Japanese influences that have suffused the work of European artists.” Mick Goggin
A little background:
OIL PAINTING AND COLOUR
Japanese artists traditionally painted with sumi ink and gouache, which are both matt. I grew up with many traditional paintings on scrolls, sliding paper doors and screens. The first time I saw an oil painting was when I was eight and my uncle gave my elder brother a painting of Mount Fuji as a wedding present. I remember touching it and being very impressed by the rich colours and the invitingly tactile texture of it.
I was born in Akita, north Japan. I went to Tokyo at age sixteen and fell in love with the paintings of Picasso and Van Gogh that I saw in the Matsukata Collection. Later I discovered Bonnard, Matisse, Chagall and later still, Howard Hodgkin and Ken Kiff, all of whom have had a profound impact on my work because of the way they harness the power of colour in paint.
FIGURATIVE VS ABSTRACT
I am a figurative and abstract painter, just not at all interested in realism! My work is about exploring the textures of memories and dreams, our human relationship to the natural world, with references to Japanese culture, including rice and landscape, poetry, philosophy. I am fascinated by our dependence on SUN and MOON, how we have almost forgotten how to treat the land around us with respect! When I was growing up on the rice farm, we lived with horses and dogs and the fields were full of fireflies in the summer. A lot of my figurative paintings are set in the early morning or evening, and two of my main themes are TRAVEL (the moment of departure or arrival, or a meeting along the way) and SLEEP. I am also fascinated by the spirits (kami) who inhabit rocks and mountains, trees, rivers, everything around us. The shapes and colours in my paintings are neither purely figurative nor abstract, but a sort of symbolism.
One of the main reasons to enter the Royal College of Art was in order to learn about colour from Ken Kiff, a painter I truly admire. I learned so much from him, especially about the infinite shades of yellow! Ken Kiff himself was interested in Bonnard, another great colourist, and both of them were interested in UKIYOE (Japanese woodblock prints) and oriental scroll paintings, for their technical concepts (eg lack of shadows, unusual angles and composition) and the treatment of man and nature.
Tatami is made of igusa, a kind of fine straw which grows in paddy fields. A tatami mat is always 6 ft x 3 ft. Japanese rooms are measured in number of tatami. We never walk on tatami with our shoes on. As a boy, I lived in a very old farmhouse. We had no chairs, so we sat directly on tatami. When visitors came, we bowed with our hands on the tatami. England is far from Japan in many different ways. When I paint on tatami, instead of canvas, I feel more in touch with the texture of my past. It's a difficult surface to work on, but it helps me to express my feelings about my past and my present life in England.