Tsuneko Kokubo & Toru Fujibayashi: Regeneration
Curated by Arin Fay, on loan from The Langham
Regeneration, like a Japanese-style garden of contemplation, evokes a minimalist design and aesthetic with its tightly bounded compositions of gravel and rocks and sparse vegetation. Tsuneko Kokubo & Toru Fujibayashi are two senior artists with extensive, fascinating and variant backgrounds, and have been part of the Kootenay arts and culture fabric for many years. Both artists experienced various aspects of Canada’s Internment policy of Japanese Canadian citizens during the Second World War, an occurrence which deeply influenced their lives. Yet, while it is important to give context to the history, it is also important not hang a definitive or simplistic placard around the exhibition or artists involved. To put too fine a point on ethnicity or blame/credit all influence on such egregious ethnocentrism takes away from the individuality of the artists themselves, and of course, their work. The Internment issue is both an ever-present and yet oftentimes uninvited presence, and both artists acknowledge and/or disregard this influence in interesting ways. Regeneration, at its root, is about memory – what is retained and how it manifests itself in the world.
There is a misty-memory quality to Koko’s figurative and impressionistic pieces; parts of poems, writ large. They are delicate and dramatic. She has melted herself into the past and onto the surface of each piece. She is the abandoned fishing boat on the Fraser River; the girl in the kimono clutching the doll; she is the fish that flashes in the water. Fluidity of form and dreamy disparateness connote both traditional influences and a highly personalized evocation of everyday and exceptional events. Koko, like Francisco de Goya, Kitaoka Fumio, and Fiona Banner, creates a visual, emotional and intellectual response to societal issues too vast and convoluted to address in other ways. The creation of beauty out of chaos is a response to conflict and one which Koko has choreographed through multiple mediums over a lifetime of re-envisioning reality.
Toru’s work is as concrete and elemental as stone sculpture can be. Not soft, of course, but highly polished, and smooth, affecting/effecting flow or flowering, rupture and eruption with a subtle but strong physicality in flushed tones of black and white and grey all over. There is a quiet dignity to these works; they carry great weight (literally and figuratively) but with sensitivity. We are accustomed to sculpture being: commemorative, symbolic, representative, decorative, but we are less familiar with seeing sculpture as an exercise in the acceptance and adoration of form. Toru’s work exudes that type of symbiotic self-determination which Michelangelo described when he said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” In the tradition of: Eric Gill, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore, and Isamu Noguchi, Toru’s work evokes that same ‘rightness of form’, that fascinating feeling that one gets when they see a work of art that seems (somehow) exactly as it should be. This is what happens when artists find their medium and are so attuned to the application of their craft. The simple elegance of these works is due to this type of organic creation; a wellspring of artistic observance combined with life-long-learned practice.
Regeneration, at its heart, is a way of seeing; a study of memory and the motivations and methods with which we are able to understand lives lived. As the title tells us, these works are about life and death, but they also give us a glimpse of the doing in between.
This exhibition also includes a short performance piece of movement, poetry and music with Tsuneko Kokubo, Paul Gibbons, Toru Fujibayashi, Thomas Loh, and Takeo Yamashiro.
Tsuneko Kokubo was born in Steveston BC in 1937, and raised in Japan. Returning to Canada in her late teens, she studied Fine Arts for four years at Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University), focussing on drawing and painting.
She has worked extensively in theatre as a performer (physical theatre and dance) and costume designer, and continues to do so. In 1990 she returned to being a full-time painter, working mainly in oils and acrylics. She draws inspiration from her forest garden, her mountain home, and her life memories. She has had numerous exhibitions, and has paintings in private collections in Canada, Europe, Japan, Mexico and the USA.
Toru Fujibayashi was born in Vancouver February 23, 1942, an enemy alien destined for internment in the Slocan Valley. He would go on to brief stays in Popoff, Bay Farm, then settling in Slocan City.
In 1963 Toru enrolled at the Alberta College of Art, then in the late 60, in a time of incredible life altering changes, obtained a Masters in Fine Arts from East Texas State University, Commerce, Texas.
Once back in the West Kootenays in Nelson working at Kootenay Forest Mill and substitute teaching, he secured a position at Okanagan College, Kelowna, where he became a co-founder of the Fine Arts Dept. Toru also taught classes at the Penticton First Nations Band with other teaching stints with Cariboo College, University of Victoria, Kootenay School of Arts, Arctic College, Nunavut.
After much soul searching and encouragement, he began devoting his life to sculpture. Over the years Toru has participated in numerous individual and group shows and sculptors’ symposiums in Loveland, Colorado, New Zealand, the Okanagan, and two in China. He was an Artist in Residence , Wurlitzer Foundation, Taos, N.M. Toru’s sculptures, drawings, paintings are represented in private and public collections in Canada and internationally.
Toru Fujibayashi Artist Statement
Toru Fujibayashi Timeline