Beingness, Memories, and Relevance: Mari Yamagiwa

May 11, 2010

"People get the impression that my art is fanciful but my paintings are not fiction."

For quite a few years, I choose to ignore my past. Like many people, I wanted to forget. As a young adult during my struggling sprint forward, I wrote a lot about the experiences and emotions I aimed to leave behind.

You might lift your brows and say, "That doesn't sound like trying to forget."

It seems the opposite, doesn't it? It's interesting how physically and emotionally moving away from the people and situations I longed to forget while writing about what happened and trying to understand why and how, ultimately brought me to the best place. For me, it was a recipe that worked.

My guest today, Japanese artist Mari Yamagiwa, tells us that while her art appears quite fanciful, it isn't fiction. Instead it represents slices of her memory. Everything that happens to us plays a role in our evolution, even the things we forget. Now as I write and paint, I seek to recall people, places, and emotions as if they occurred moments ago because I understand that everything I've experienced fills and fuels my creative toolkit.

There's an important recipe I follow that involves heaping amounts of:
  • memory
  • imagination
  • emotion
  • intellect
  • honesty
  • beingness
Mari used the word beingness in one of her responses below. When I first came across it, I wondered if it's actually a word in the English language. As usual, I looked it up. Well, however awkward it may sound, beingness is a bonafide English word. It means the state or fact of existing.

For my recipe, I'll take beingness a step further by suggesting that for creative folks it includes existing in the present moment. I think this ties to the idea of relevance that our dear Simon Cowell loves to talk about. After all, relevance means bearing upon or connected with the matter in hand.

Of course, many creative folks could care less if their work is relevant. Well, I would argue that true talent longs for relevancy. True talent is driven to find and create relevancy. They either recognize what is relevant, or what they offer up becomes relevant based on their keen ability to exist in the present, whether from a cultural, intellectual, or emotional perspective.

I find it fascinating that despite being on the other side of the globe, operating within a vastly different culture and language, Mari is able to communicate so plainly to us (US citizens) what it means to be creative using a word one of us actually had to look up.

When we strip away desire in terms of creating or expressing something specific, we're left with what exists inside and drives us at a primitive level. Imagine standing alone in an empty, white-walled, square room. Standing there, thinking about who you are, what would you come up with?

What you'd like to create or what you need to express changes over time, but the naked animal standing in the cage goes on.

Some believe the creative drive is a genetic trait, while others believe it's a gift God bestows upon us. Growing up in a ultra-conservative, Christian home, stuffed with creative, unconventional thinkers struggling to conform, my mother used to talk a lot about the "fruits of the spirit," or "gifts" we all have. As a child, I became somewhat obsessed with the idea of having a gift or talent. I was fascinated with the concept, and made it my goal to discover my special gift.

As a small child, when the yelling and screaming began, or when my mother was too sick to take care of me, and instead asked me to take care of her, I often retreated into my tiny square, white-walled room to color, read, write, sing, and make believe all kinds of things.

I rearranged my sparse furniture in as many ways as I possibly could within that confined space, all while wondering, what is my gift? What special trait will redeem this family suffering that surely must be my fault simply because I can't stop it. I was a bright kid, and thought I should know how to stop it. I thought a lot about how I could do that but nothing I tried worked. In the end, by age seven, I felt old and powerless.

So who was I then and who am I now?

I'm exactly the same, a grown woman still reading, writing, make believing, and rearranging components. I do what I'm still driven to do, what brings me purpose, and I do all this in the moment as I did then. I'd like to imagine that what I created at five and six reflected the world around me at that time, and perhaps for that reason, it was beautiful and valuable. I just bet that if my mother held those desperately colored pages in her hands today, tears would come for what she lost, for what we all lost.

Like me, Mari seeks to draw from her memory banks and share who she is at the core. In describing her art, Mari says that it's filled with the dirty part that exists in a deep inner and hidden side. I believe what she's describing is the primitive nature that never goes away and never changes, despite the present moment.

What's your story? Are you surprised by what you're doing and creating these days, or did you always see it coming?

I am a self-taught artist living in Japan. My art works represent pieces of the memories I have of all my experiences. I am often confused and dither and take wrong actions but painting is the best way to eliminate the stress caused by that. People get the impression that my art is fanciful but my paintings are not fiction. They are records that time was deleted from my memories. I have continued to create art since 2004. It's an unavoidable activity for me.

When you are creating a piece, what goes through your mind?

I always feel small afflatus and sensations during creating. Pictures evolve through several reprises. It's hard to explain it with concrete descriptions because it's really subtle evolution. However, I think all artists experience this.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? If could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist?

When I'm creating, first of all, philosophy and several inspirations must be added onto instinct. And then I put pigments and objects on supports.

In a word, expression is output. Art is beingness for artists. Creation is very important but when a painting is finished, it is completed. I think art is neither creation nor expression.

Do you believe that a highly creative person can give more than one art form 100% of their ability/soul (i.e., writing and painting, music and art, etc)? Can a person succeed at more than one, or does trying to do so dilute what they have to offer?

It is impossible to do two things at the same time to me. So I'm clueless. However, I think considerable physical strength and cunning are necessary to continue giving their ability or 100% of the soul.

Do you believe some of the various attributes related to being highly creative have caused you aberrations in life, helped you deal with life's aberrations, or both?

I don't think people can find aberration within their mind. And I don't think they can create it on purpose. People have a tendency to categorize others who are honest with themselves or minority people into a category of aberrant but I don't think that is right decision. And I don't know where the border is between normal and abnormal. However if I have some aberrations in my mind and they are pabulum for my creativity, I appreciate that.

Have you had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality or drive?

My art works are were met with various misunderstanding in the past, but I realize that they have won acceptance by little and little in the last few years.

Unfortunately, many creative people never achieve the success they dream about. Which of your dreams have come to pass and what do you dream about now?

I'm only giving vent to something from the inside of me with creative activity. And the activity of accumulating things that I need is important. My finished art works can be shown at exhibitions that I choose. Some of new works will be shown at a group exhibition in Kyoto in the end of this autumn. The attractive gallery deals in a lot of works of international outsider art. I am attracted to creation activity itself, and I don't have time to dream except creation because I need a lot of time to complete art works.

Is there a difference between being creative and being talented? What are your thoughts on this?

I think that being creative means being instinctive and valuing philosophy. Being talented means being reasonable and being excellent at skills.

What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Never regret or change my decision. As humans we must make decisions.

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