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STUDIO KURA | Artist Residency in Itoshima, Japan

In the midst of God| Solo Exhibition at Studio Kura (February 25 - 26, 2023)

This series of paintings is derived from the buildings I see as I take the train around Fukuoka. Being raised in a major city, I have always been fascinated by the sense of safety and comfort I feel whenever I'm inside a building. It's more often than not, a bubble of respite; a step apart from the bustling streets. But as I ride my train and watch these buildings swiftly pass by, I see glimpses of people’s intimate lives. Through patios and windows I see peoples leisurely minding their own business. Through mundane acts such as taking down their laundry or tending their plants, these people glory in the space provided to them. 

I wonder how much we take for granted individual shelter and security. It is quite customary for people to pray to the gods in shrines and temples for their protection. But ultimately, shelter is our best and most abundant form of security. Whether you live in a house, an apartment, or even a small hovel, there is protection to be found in shelter. Not only from the elements, but from the frantic pace of life. During this 4-week residency, I have attempted to glorify these mundane buildings and paint them as our own warding gods.

Artist Residency: Studio Kura

Studio Kura website here

A lot of people asked how I learned about Studio Kura and how my experience was there. Here is the gist. One day, I got bored at work and started looking up art residencies, specifically those in Japan. I came across Studio Kura’s website and thought it would be incredibly cool to be in this program, but it also seemed so far-fetched. The idea of traveling solo and meeting artists from other countries amazed and terrified me. I had never done anything like it. Last time I went on a residency was to Iceland through my university, with people I had known already. But the next couple days at work, I found myself obsessed. I could not stop scrolling and learning more about the program. I figured it was a sign to just do it, and I applied.

Fast forward to February 2023, I made it to Fukuoka to be part of Studio Kura’s art residency. Arriving in a quaint, rural town called Itoshima, I unpacked and settled in. Over this month, I had planned to explore new ways to practice my art. At first, I started trying to create a panoramic of my views on a train. It went nowhere, but I think that’s the fun of it. There weren’t any strings attached and if I thought of something I could just do it. If it didn’t work out, I had the freedom to just start over again. No pressure and just a whole month of play and discovery to enjoy.

We visited the Raizansennyoji Taihioin, a Buddhist temple as a group and on a steep slope stood 500 Rakan. Each Rakan has a different posture and facial expression.

Since I was the last one to arrive at the residency, Saori-san and Hiro-san, the incredible couple that hosts this program, drove me to the nearest grocery store to get some supplies so that I didn’t need to worry about biking in a brand new place and getting lost. Saori-san and Hiro-san also organized activities and gatherings once a week to let us mingle and get to know each other. If artists needed help picking up large materials for projects, Hiro-san would drive them to the stores with his pick up truck and lend them tools to facilitate a smooth transition. I needed help once with a project and Hiro-san helped me get my file format just right and even use his laser printer! Simply put, they were absolutely remarkable and helpful! They made the residency a bliss.

Studio Space

If you look at the Studio Kura website, you will find out that artists stay in different houses. I happened to stay in House 1 with the main gallery space right next door. I was able to use part of the gallery space as my studio and spent most of my time painting with a gas heater by my feet to keep me warm. I loved how filled with light it was.

One thing I noticed very quickly was the village-wide music that played every day at 7 am, noon, and 5pm (except Sunday morning). Every time I was working in the studio, the noon and 5 pm chimes reminded me to eat lunch and dinner. At first, I thought how nice it was to have music to remind people to take breaks! Then, I did a little digging on the net, and it looks like the reason for the village-wide music was to ensure the broadcast system and speakers were functioning properly in case of disasters. The 5 pm chime was also to remind children to go home before dark. I am not quite sure what song they played at 7 am, but they played an instrumental version of ‘Edelweiss’ at noon and ‘Yuyaku Koyake’ at 5 pm. Anyways, whatever the bells were for, I just thought it was a nice touch.  

Work in Progress

I spent the next few weeks riding the train, staring outwards and inwards, seeking inspiration for my projects. There is something about being on a high vantage point when you’re on a train. You can see so much more so quickly, than when you’re looking from the ground. Sitting there, starting at the buildings flying by, it felt kind of nostalgic. Maybe a bit weird, but it felt a little like home; a feeling of protection being surrounded by these concrete giants.  I often wished I could stop the whole train just for a minute whenever we passed something interesting. Instead, every time I hopped on the train, I’d pull out my phone and record so I could go back and snip out the scenes I that piqued my interest. 

At first, I started some paintings on canvas sheets. But I wanted to make bigger paintings without worrying whether or not they’d fit in my suitcase or box if I decided to mail them (which I did). I picked up a few A6-A3 canvas panels from “Yamamoto Bumpodo” and arranged them to create an irregular shaped canvas. It was nice to break away from painting on traditional rectangular surfaces and have a bit of fun. I also borrowed Hiro-san’s projector to trace my pictures more efficiently (yes, one month went by super duper fast). 

Craft Workshop

My housemate, Siba, suggested that I should ask Hiro-san about hosting a small craft workshop. I made a little 3D collage with hand drawn buildings, and thought it might be a fun activity to do with the kids. Saori-san was gracious enough to let me host it at their Tuesday English class and translate for me. We first colored the background on pieces of paper - they could make it a daytime or night time - then, we all went wild with our building creations. I drew some ice cream themed buildings and others made a Doraemon themed architecture. Others made pizza buildings and malls. I had a blast working with these kids and seeing their final design of their collages.

In Between Painting

Having lived in Utah for the past decade, one thing I absolutely loved about being in Itoshima was how close to the mountains and ocean I was by bike, while still not being far from the city (Fukuoka) by train. And in between painting, I would ride my bike around town to visit small shops or the ocean. Sometimes, I would ride the train to nearby towns or cities to visit the local temples, shrines, museums, onsens, flea markets, and even Don Quijote (for a quick snack.) I even took a two-day trip to visit Sasebo, Nagasaki. A friend recommended the Kujuku island cruise there and that’s what I did. Food has always been a motivation to keep painting, so I was always on the lookout for some good tempura don, ramen, or sashimi bowl; they were really hard to beat. 

The amount of autonomy I had in this residency was so refreshing and liberating. I guess that’s the kind of experience I needed while going through my quarter-life crisis; giving myself permission to try new things and be patient with myself. I was really grateful for all the things I learned and had a chance to do, whether that was exploring on my own or spending time with so many incredible and inspiring artists from all over the globe.