Friday, July 23, 2010

Tribute to Saitô Sensei

I wish I were able to say more about the artist Motomu Saitô, but any real facts at hand are scant. The reading of his first name is not even certain to me, and I may be wrong in giving it as ‘Motomu.’ My distant and unimportant relationship with the man was conducted through his grandson, a young man of my acquaintance for some years. I felt honored to be recognized by the artist and his family. I don’t have the cards now, but for sixteen years Mr Saitô sent me a hand painted New Year’s card each January first. I suspect the cards were his way of thanking me for helping his grandson. One day the grandson arrived at my door with a large, wrapped package. It was a painting his grandfather had asked him to deliver, the painting shown at the top here.

The picture is titled ‘Small House’ and I’m guessing when I say it is from around 1985-90. It is a landscape, a house in the mountains of Yamagata Prefecture, the artist’s home. The sketch is a primitive, a pastel done in five basic colors: blue, green, pale brown, black and yellow. There is the feeling that the scene is something from Saitô’s youth. A house sits atop three rice paddies surrounded by trees. The single window is lamplit, suggesting the time of day. Directly behind the house is a large mountain rising into a yellow sky, where three birds fly from the picture.

The second painting shows a sharp contrast, a turn in another direction for the painter. This one is a 1975 work titled ‘Woman in a Dress Shirt.’ Very probably, that bold three point focus of face, breasts and vagina has already gotten your attention. There is no question Saitô knew he was making a bold statement. The woman stares out of the canvas and you don’t know if her look is threat or expression of desire. Perhaps both. The woman is big, bold and beautiful. Saitô did numerous paintings of female nudes with huge, masculine hands, women of healthy bodies, from gorgeous to grotesque. In most of these paintings the eyes are large above swollen plum-like lips. Saitô favored blues and purples and they are here prominent in the background, and in the figure of the woman, both in vertical planes. The woman wears a long and flamboyant, gauzy shirt of blue, purple and yellow.

There are many question marks in my mind regarding Mr Saitô, who I regard as an extraordinary artist. Everything I ever got or now know about the man came from his grandson, Atsushi. It makes me proud knowing he has gone on to become an architect working in Tokyo. Now I must admit that it was very foolish of me to misplace those New Year cards, or that I didn’t encourage Atsushi to talk about, to tell me more about his grandfather.

1 comment:

  1. How interesting the contrast. Love this piece and enjoyed hearing your thoughts while I read your interpretation of these 2 cards. I was thinking in my mind your same question. Can you contact this grandson and talk with him and ask him those questions of his grandfather? enjoyed this one very much today, and yes, why the big hands?


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America