In this article, we introduce the artwork of Dutch artist and Japanologist, Philo Ouweleen. She writes about her ‘artist in residence’ experience in Japan in 2019. Also the resulting art project ‘Stories from Kameoka’, the project she is currently working on ‘Japanese mythology’, and her current exhibition ‘Japan: Stories, Myths and Memories’ in Scheltema, Amsterdam.
Philo Ouweleen (1992, Amsterdam) holds an MA in Japan Studies from the University of Leiden, with a specialization in Japanese Arts and Media. She is a visual artist, Japanologist, and public speaker. As a public speaker, she talks about visual Japanese culture for institutions and organizations. Some of the organisations she made a speech are Japan Museum SieboldHuis, Melkweg Amsterdam, and Lab 111. Read her story and life changing experience.
Japan and Art
Japan and art are my biggest passions. My interest in Japan and Japanese visual culture is reflected in my work. Sometimes thematically, as with the projects I will introduce here, but also visually. While artists evolve and their style might change over time as well, I would characterize my own visual style by the bold (out)lines and flatness. Both subconsciously and consciously, I am inspired by Japanese visual culture. Primarily Japanese woodblock prints, manga and anime. My works are of a figurative nature and bright colours play an important role in them. Currently I work mostly on paper with watercolour and gouache.
Artist in Residence in Japan: Kameoka
In 2019, I combined my professional and personal interest in Japan with my passion for art. I went to an exciting new ‘Artists in Residence Project’ in Kameoka, Japan. I spent a few weeks in this small city close to Kyoto, to work on my art project ‘Stories from Kameoka’.
I stayed with four other artists in residence at Artists’ Retreat no-mu. This was a completely free program (no deadlines, presentations, rules, or anything of such) that was initiated by fellow artist Tanaka Eikoh. During the program, all the artists set out to discover Kameoka at their own pace, in their own way. We processed our impressions and encounters. We made work both on location, as well as back home, trying to reflect and visualise or vocalise our experiences.
Stories from Kameoka
“With Stories from Kameoka, Philo paints an image of Japan, in which the iconic highlights make way for an intimate and loving portrait of daily life in rural Japan.”
For my art project ‘Stories from Kameoka’, I interviewed four residents of the town. I painted their portraits in watercolour. For some residents, Kameoka is their town of birth, while others migrated there later in their life.
Cycling and walking around Kameoka, I made three landscapes based on sights I had seen.
The end-result of the project is a harmony between text (the intimate interviews, research on rural daily life in Japan and my travelogue) and image (the painted portraits, the landscapes).
Through these personal stories, I discovered the charms of a small town like Kameoka, as well as the challenges faced by inhabitants of many rural areas in Japan. For example, the painting Abandoned Building is about the phenomenon of akiya: empty houses in Japan. Currently there are no less than 10 (!) Million of them. It is estimated that by 2033 one third of all houses in Japan will be uninhabited.
Something that came up frequently during my stay in Kameoka was that the residents described it as ‘’nothing special’’; ‘’just your average Japanese town’’. At the same time, I discovered a place full of nature, tradition and culture. My project evolved from a reflection, research and portrait of Kameoka and rural Japanese life, to a reflection on the beauty of everyday life and the (extra)ordinary.
“Many people think that there is nothing ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’ in Kameoka. But for me there is a charm to places where there seems to be nothing.”
Exhibition and art book
These written and painted portraits and the landscape paintings were brought together in 2020 in the exhibition ‘Stories from Kameoka’ at VOX-POP (Amsterdam).
The exhibition was accompanied by a side-program. It was a festive opening, in which Jim Gubbels, one of JACCU’s founding members, and Lars Meekers, a woodworking artist, played a significant role. The two men had written their own musical portrait of Kameoka especially for that night, which they shared in a highly memorable Taiko performance.
This was my first big art project and as such. I was struggling at first on how I wanted it to take shape, and in what way all these stories and impressions were best shared. Together with the exhibition, I decided to publish an art book, ‘Stories from Kameoka’. The book consists of two parts: first part is a collection of all the interviews, portraits, texts, and landscapes. The second part of the book is a personal account of my experiences in Kameoka in the form of a travelogue, accompanied by photos I took during my stay.
You can read more about the project and the art book on my website here.
Art project: JAPANESE MYTHOLOGY
Currently, I am working on another Japan-related art project. “Japanese mythology” is an exploration of the rich Japanese mythological world in gouache. During my childhood, I was completely hooked on comics, books and animation. I loved immersing myself in other (fantasy) worlds. But more often than not, those worlds were in some way connected to ‘reality’. Fantasy and reality co-exist: how fantastical is the reality and how absurd and wonderful is everyday life?
Japanese myths appear in Japanese art, but also in daily life and visual culture. They are often showing pictures and stories of monsters, tales of fantastical creatures, spirits, and gods.
I started this project amidst the throws of the Covid19 pandemic. It was a time, in which I find it extra enjoyable to read such stories and research this rich visual history. With my project, I want to introduce people to all kinds of fascinating Japanese myths. But also prod and stimulate imagination, fantasy, a sense of wonder and mystery, and feelings of playfulness.
To aid me in this process, and to take another path creatively, all these works will be significantly larger in size than my previous paintings.
I also have written a special blog about one of the paintings in this series, ‘Tengu on Mount Kurama’, which you can read in my blog. Two paintings from the series were recently exhibited in the group exhibition ‘Fantasy’ at De Hallen Amsterdam, organized by See You @ Art.
Exhibition – Japan: Stories, Myths and Memories
On display in the exhibition ‘Japan: Stories, Myths and Memories’ are 11 colorful paintings. Combining three art projects, – Stories from Kameoka (2019), Japanese garden (2020), and Japanese mythology (2020, ongoing) – I present a diverse and loving image of Japan.
Stories from Kameoka depict an intimate portrait of daily life in rural Japan. Japanese garden, – a series of two landscape paintings -, is based on a dear memory of a visit to the famous Kōraku-en garden in Okayama. With Japanese mythology, I explore the vast world of Japanese stories, legends and tales. I combine my own imagination with existing visualisations of these fantastical creatures, monsters, spirits, and gods from Japanese art history.
Date: 6 July – 29 August 2021
Place: Scheltema (Rokin 9, Amsterdam)
Opening hours: every day from 10:00 – 19:00
Located at the staircase, the exhibition starts on the 3rd floor and ends on the ground floor.
Thank you for reading.
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