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Tokyo has never been on my bucket list. Venice has never been on my bucket list. Oh, Italy is on the list – Rome, Tuscany, Florence are on there. But Venice? It’s sinking into water nobody can swim in. I’m allergic to mold. Why would I go there?
A few years ago I got this idea that if I could only find a group of artist friends to collaborate with, good things would happen. Fast forward, and WAM-Women.Artists.Mentors. has evolved beyond my wildest dreams. The more we interact, the more we inspire each other. The more we inspire each other, the more amazing our adventures become. Our WAM group has taken on a life of its own, and I can tell this story because of it. Helen Beacham hosted our first WAM art show in Charleston, SC. Maria Bennett Hock and I fell in love with the architecture, the coastline, the southern hospitality that Charleston offers. We had such a fun time there, we set to work scheduling future art shows in galleries and museums across the country.
When Carrie Waller announced that their family was moving from Arkansas to Tokyo for her husband’s first command, we all congratulated her. She mentioned that she would love to have us visit. You don’t have to invite me twice to find me at your doorstep. So, less than a year after our Charleston show, Maria and I traveled 13 hours on a plane and 3.5 hours on a bus, to Yakota Air Force Base in Fussa, Japan. Just 8 months later, Helen was teaching a workshop in her beloved city of Venice and asked us all to join her for the week after her workshop. Kim Minichiello from Orlando, FL, joined Helen, Maria, Carrie and myself in Venice, Italy and all five WAM members were together for the first time in 3D.
This is my story of how traveling to Tokyo has inspired and influenced the artist in me.
First, I don’t get out much. Realize that the last time I abandoned my family to fly over oceans was for business, when I was an engineer working in corporate America. It was a different millennium. So crossing the international dateline to enter Japan where antiquity meets high tech, fish is a dessert, and Hello Kitty reigns supreme – This is an anomaly in my life story. I kept saying “Pinch me!” because even now it feels like a dream. These are some of the takeaways from that trip, that I think of every time I paint.
1. Pink, purple and chartreuse are wonderful accent colors. Business men and women sport Hello Kitty and Mario dolls hanging from their attache’s the way Katherine Hepburn wore her scarves. There’s nothing scary about bright colors. They are downright classy.
2. Architecture is art. Visit a shrine or two, or three, or four on a rainy day in Tokyo. Notice how the rain fills the senses with smells, sounds and heightened contrast in the colors. Those terra-cotta roof tiles and elaborately carved cornices are full of beautiful abstracted shapes and colors.
3. Culture is the basis for all art forms. The ocean, its bounty and beautiful flora are experienced in every aspect of life in Japan. I came home with a new appreciation and a yearning to explore what the defining characteristics of my own American culture are.
4. Crowded is a state of mind. We don’t know what crowded is, here in the USA. Yet, Tokyo has room for everyone. It’s amazing how much of life can fit in a very small space. A zen garden fits into a tiny corner. I’m learning to remember this when I compose paintings.
Japan has very little crime. People are extremely helpful and apologetic there. They don’t say good bye. They say “I’m sorry we don’t have more time to spend together.” Everyone works hard and behaves and dresses similar. It is a restrained society. Those who know me may be thinking I wouldn’t belong on a quiet subway train car with 200 of the nicest strangers. You’d be right. I disrupted things on more than one occasion. But the Japanese people were very gracious and ignored my outbursts, sending nothing but happy thoughts my way.
I think this was the thing that surprised me most about my visit. I don’t know what I expected, but I sure did not expect to leave Japan with this sense that I need to strive to be nicer, quieter, calmer, more observant and more reverent. When I got back to my easel, I could feel Japan tugging at me with a gentle suggestion and a bow.
Click Debra Keirce to see her art.