Words to Live by: Artist Rei Torii
By Judit Kawaguchi
Rei Torii is a Tokyo-born Japanese artist whose exhibitions always draw a great crowd.
“Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr debated, but I agree with both of them. Their theories are all there in the Hotsuma,” says Torii, who in 2005 published his own contemporary version of The Story of Hotsuma Tsutae, (800 BC–300 AD) the epic poem of Japanese mythical history, written in the ancient Japanese language sometime between the 8th century BC and the 3rd century AD.
“This book and my paintings depict the Japanese spirit and explain the origins of Space, Time and Matter.” Torii spins a fascinating tale in his book and pictures.
“The Hotsuma and physicist Niels Bohr’s quantum theory coil into the same spiral: both trace the beginning of the universe to spins. The book and my paintings convey the true Japanese spirit. I see myself as a contemporary samurai whose paintbrush is his sword. I use paintings as my reconnections to the galaxy and my inspirations are in the Heian period yamato-e, which are the era’s Japanese paintings. Let me tell you: They are far out there!” he chuckles.
Torii’s inspirations are not just far out but also way back, in the twisted decorations of Jomon era pottery (14,000 BC) and in the nature worship of the Heian period’s (794—1185) yamato-e paintings. “These were truly Japanese art forms since they viewed nature as something magnificent and powerful, yet vulnerable and in need of protection. Even today, for the Japanese, art is not something artificial made by humans but beauty created by nature. A pretty flower and a funny-looking weed are equally wonderful. Art is a source of happiness.”
Torii’s paintings developed along these lines both in form and content. For the past 20 years, he has been creating colorful, energetic pieces all on the theme of Dancing in Paradise and the 100 year-old Baijuan Teahouse, with its thatched roof and exquisite Japanese garden, is just the right setting for them. “When people see my work, they feel happier and stronger. I’m connected to the universe and transfer its immense energy to the canvas through the paint brush with one focused slash, exactly how a samurai swung his sword. I never touch the pictures again. ”
He doesn’t have to: just like nature, they are perfect.
Photos taken at the Baijuan Teahouse in Setagaya
A version of this interview appeared in the Japan Times on April 20th, 2006
Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr debated, but I agree with both of them. — Rei Torii