“Barrier Against The Wind” (frontice) 2019

0053 "BarrierAgainst the Wind" (frontice)
2019, oil & gilding on folding screen byōbu (Japanese folding screen)

This painting is done in a modified technique I developed to mimic the traditional Japanese byobu (folding screen). While the hinging and panels are more or less traditional it is painted with oil and gilded leaf on panels.

The left panel displays a figure of a martyr in a cart I drew from a German coal mining car.  The figure has the same aureole as seen in my painting “Martyr & Cage“.  The panels of the car display The Rising Sun and The Stars and Stripes.  This reveals the dilemma presented to young Nisei as a test to see if they were “loyals” or “disloyals”.

The 2nd panel contains a steel strap cage large enough for the solitary confinement  of upstart no-no boys. My Uncle Ted Nakashima who wrote “Concentration Camps American Style” for The New Republic while confined in Camp Harmony.    For writing this article he and his wife Mako were transferred to Tule Lake, the notorious Segregation Camp near Castle Rock in California. It is possible that Ted was confined in a cage like this.

The 3rd panel contains only a target (ground zero) recalling Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Because my Dad was a doctor in the US Army in Asia we were never interned. However in 1945 I was keenly aware of the meaning of these 2 words, because my childhood friends and enemies thought my name was a combination of these two cities.

The final panel depicts a theme I have used before.  The building or sanctuary was inspired by a painting of St. Anthony by Sassetta.  The painting hangs in The National Gallery of Art in Washington.  I visited the Italian wing almost every week for over 20 years while living in DC. I constructed a cardboard model of the Sassetta sanctuary and went to Eastern Market and bought a Mackerel which I hung with strings inside the structure.  At the time I had painters block and could not find a subject to inspire me to paint.  Since the sanctuary seemed to inspire me I asked my Japanese student Takako Nagai what was the word for “the Muse” in Japanese.  She answered, “Shishin”.  Since I felt the mackerel was me (hanging there from strings like a fish out of water), waiting for the muse) – – I titled it Waiting for Shishin.  What then does that have to do with this screen painting?  It felt right to me.  The kind of claustrophobic feeling I get from having painter’s block gives me some small idea of how my relatives felt confined in those camps from 1942 to 1945…… and of course the Sanctuary today is the Sanctuary of the USA which treats those who arrive at our shores by giving them sanctuary in steel cages like those at Tule Lake and Manzanar.

For information on this see https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Tule_Lake





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