Nishiki Sugawara-Beda Spiritual Abstract Landscape
See You There, An Invitation
Relating personal history through the language of abstract landscape, See You There is an invitation to discover our shared humanity.
In layers of accumulated detail between surface and ink, artist Nishiki Sugawara-Beda ushers her viewers into intricate new worlds. She invites her audience to journey through abstract landscapes where they may encounter one another in their shared humanity. See You There, a compilation of recent works by the artist, follows her journey as she navigates form, color, and material to express her life as an artist, a mother, and an immigrant. While nature features in her work as both substance and subject, Nishiki’s abstract landscapes transcend their source by surveying the human experience, a topography of the mind and spirit.
Nishiki’s paintings are quite literally grounded in their inspiration, as she primarily works in Sumi, a traditional East Asian ink made of soot and animal glue. Like all Japanese schoolchildren, Nishiki was exposed to calligraphy using Sumi at an early age and, as an artist, has been deeply engaged in the medium. For her, meaning is found in the practice of making. As writer Samantha Burns notes in the book’s Foreword, “[Nishiki’s] family often made things together to experience the materials as both a ritual and an act of respect.” She continues to quote the artist: “The thing that I touch, the materials—it feels like I can just communicate with the world by touching it and experiencing it. The material is already a first step to an authentic expression of myself.” Sumi offers Nishiki an immediate relationship to her heritage, one that both connects her to tradition and provides her with a medium in which to make her own marks, to reveal something of herself.
While Sumi becomes the entry point for her understanding of Japanese culture, her perceptions of humanity and its relation to the natural world are also deeply influenced by Japanese Buddhist Zen philosophy. In discussing her artistic practice, Nishiki once recalled the story of the 17th-century Buddhist poet Matsuo Basho who routinely walked the wilderness on foot to obtain what he termed ‘selflessness,’ a total and pure communion with nature. Informed by Basho’s teachings, Nishiki seeks to transcend the self through her work and form a union with her viewer. For her, art becomes the tool for attaining selflessness, journeying beyond to meet another. Using this lens, she articulates her feelings through the forms of nature. In abstract depictions of horizons, wooded forests, and clouds, she translates her stories into painting, and these familiar shapes meet us in the feelings they evoke.
See You There is a testament to the profound need of the artist to communicate. It is therefore no accident that Nishiki chooses to work in Sumi, the traditional medium of Japanese calligraphy. By actively listening to what she calls “the conversations between the Sumi stick [i.e., the ink cake] and Suzuri [stone for grinding the ink],” she initiates a dialogue through the very act of creation. For Nishiki, mark-making becomes the synapse, “the initial mechanism of a deeper transmission” as Robert Gordon writes in the book’s leading essay. By marrying the practices of her ancestors to the modern forms of expressive abstraction, she relates across space and time, cultures and languages. Transcending cultural traditions and figural representation, her paintings exist as purer expressions of common humanity.
With gentle brushstrokes and a soft palette, Nishiki inscribes a warm invitation, welcoming us into her worlds as she sees it, as she perceives it through all the vital senses. She entreats us to enter the vision, to journey through an unknown but not unfamiliar landscape, and ultimately to meet her… There. For There is where we discover the commonalities of our collective moments, what Nishiki named the “core” of our shared humanity. Itis a revelation and a recognition. There is a place unbounded by cultural differences and languages–not eliding differences but rather transcending them. There is a place of mutual witness, a compassionate encounter that engenders kindness between strangers. Consider this your invitation. I look forward to seeing you There.
Art Book: See You There by Nishiki Sugawara-Beda (Hard Cover)
About the writer: Maggie Pavao
Maggie Pavao is an arts organizer, writer, and textile artist based between New York City and Traverse City, MI. With a BA in Art History and an MA in Museum Studies from NYU, Maggie seeks to bring artists and audiences together creating opportunities for thoughtful exchange. She is Assistant Director at the Tusen Takk Foundation in Northwest Michigan, with previous positions at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and New York University.