Art takes Maiko full circle

ARTISTIC HERITAGE: Gisborne artist Maiko Lewis-Whaanga explores her Japanese heritage in a collection of works on display at Verve Cafe. Picture by Liam Clayton

PAPER birds appear as a motif in at least two of artist Maiko Lewis-Whaanga’s paintings exhibited at Verve Cafe.

Through her sumi-e like paintings of koi (a coloured form of amur carp), variations on the swiftly-drawn circle enso, whales in a fish-scale patterned ocean, and the crane, Lewis-Whaanga explores her Japanese heritage.

Sumi-e is a style of painting in inked brush-strokes.

The paper crane motif began while Lewis-Whaanga was a student at Maori visual arts school Toihoukura.

“I did an installation with more than 200 paper cranes. They were hung in a circle.”

In the Zen tradition, enso, an ink-drawn circle, symbolises mu (the void), enlightenment and the universe.

“The enso is a simple form but it’s often used as a practice in perfection, so I hung the cranes in a circle.”

Before creating the origami cranes, Lewis-Whaanga asked children and friends to draw on the paper pictures reflecting the simple things in life — “like kids sitting on their dads’ shoulders or going to the beach”.

“I photographed each one of them then made a big enso with the pictures. On World Peace Day a church-going friend sent the origami cranes to people all around the world.

“That’s where the origami came into the painting.”

Koi represents her journey in art as a way to learn about her heritage, says Lewis-Whaanga. An ancient tale tells of koi that swam up a river. When they reached a waterfall many of them turned back, but after 100 years of jumping, one reached the top of the waterfall. The koi was transformed into a golden dragon, an image of power and strength.

“It has been great learning about all these legends,” says Lewis-Whaanga.

“My dad is Scottish-Welsh and my mother is Japanese. My mother didn’t talk much about her Japanese heritage. There are a lot of restraints in Japanese culture. She wanted to bring us up in a New Zealand lifestyle.

“It wasn’t until I started this work that we had these conversations. This has been a bit of a journey for my mum too.

“She is now speaking to my son in Japanese.”

Lewis-Whaanga’s partner is Maori, so she also explores Maori legends in her work. The Verve show includes paintings of whales that recall Japanese woodblock prints known as aizuri-e (blue-printed picture). Some of the seigaiha, overlapping concentric circles used to represent the ocean, include stylised, carved faces.

While two enso works in gold leaf and black enamel are painted in looser, calligraphic style, the forms relate to the Maori concept of Te Po (a pre-creation period of darkness).

In Japanese and in Maori culture, the darkness holds potential of what could be, says Lewis-Whaanga.

Conceptually, they sit easily with images of seijaku, the crane.

“This takes a step back. It’s a feeling of tranquillity and stillness. That’s a Japanese artistic aesthetic.”

PAPER birds appear as a motif in at least two of artist Maiko Lewis-Whaanga’s paintings exhibited at Verve Cafe.

Through her sumi-e like paintings of koi (a coloured form of amur carp), variations on the swiftly-drawn circle enso, whales in a fish-scale patterned ocean, and the crane, Lewis-Whaanga explores her Japanese heritage.

Sumi-e is a style of painting in inked brush-strokes.

The paper crane motif began while Lewis-Whaanga was a student at Maori visual arts school Toihoukura.

“I did an installation with more than 200 paper cranes. They were hung in a circle.”

In the Zen tradition, enso, an ink-drawn circle, symbolises mu (the void), enlightenment and the universe.

“The enso is a simple form but it’s often used as a practice in perfection, so I hung the cranes in a circle.”

Before creating the origami cranes, Lewis-Whaanga asked children and friends to draw on the paper pictures reflecting the simple things in life — “like kids sitting on their dads’ shoulders or going to the beach”.

“I photographed each one of them then made a big enso with the pictures. On World Peace Day a church-going friend sent the origami cranes to people all around the world.

“That’s where the origami came into the painting.”

Koi represents her journey in art as a way to learn about her heritage, says Lewis-Whaanga. An ancient tale tells of koi that swam up a river. When they reached a waterfall many of them turned back, but after 100 years of jumping, one reached the top of the waterfall. The koi was transformed into a golden dragon, an image of power and strength.

“It has been great learning about all these legends,” says Lewis-Whaanga.

“My dad is Scottish-Welsh and my mother is Japanese. My mother didn’t talk much about her Japanese heritage. There are a lot of restraints in Japanese culture. She wanted to bring us up in a New Zealand lifestyle.

“It wasn’t until I started this work that we had these conversations. This has been a bit of a journey for my mum too.

“She is now speaking to my son in Japanese.”

Lewis-Whaanga’s partner is Maori, so she also explores Maori legends in her work. The Verve show includes paintings of whales that recall Japanese woodblock prints known as aizuri-e (blue-printed picture). Some of the seigaiha, overlapping concentric circles used to represent the ocean, include stylised, carved faces.

While two enso works in gold leaf and black enamel are painted in looser, calligraphic style, the forms relate to the Maori concept of Te Po (a pre-creation period of darkness).

In Japanese and in Maori culture, the darkness holds potential of what could be, says Lewis-Whaanga.

Conceptually, they sit easily with images of seijaku, the crane.

“This takes a step back. It’s a feeling of tranquillity and stillness. That’s a Japanese artistic aesthetic.”

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