Wall Street Journal: Yoshitomo Nara Finds New Life After the Quake

March 12, 2012

Kelly Crow

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Yoshitomo Nara Finds New Life After the Quake
By: Kelly Crow 

Yoshitomo Nara, one of Japan's top contemporary artists, spent much of last year mired in a creative crisis.

The artist is internationally known for his wry, comic-style paintings of Japan's "latchkey" children, many of whom spend long evenings at home alone, inventing wacky ways to entertain themselves while their parents work late. Mr. Nara's works have always been characterized as graphically spare, the faces of his lonely, tough children outlined with thick brushstrokes so they appear mask-like.

Yet after last year's deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Mr. Nara said he was so heartsick he didn't want to make art at all anymore. The whole enterprise felt "superficial," he said.

Mr. Nara lives an hour away from the earthquake's epicenter in Fukushima, so for months he avoided his studio and instead volunteered with quake-related relief groups.

Then last fall it hit him: Perhaps he could creatively reboot if he went back to the studio where he started, the countryside classrooms of his alma mater, the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music. He asked the school's principal if he could come back, not as a teacher or even a student, but as a resident of sorts with studio privileges.

The school agreed, and for the past six months, he's been sharing a studio with its students -- working alongside them, even eating communal meals and helping them clean up afterward.

The experience has proved transformative, he said. The students are “strict” but “pure” in their views on art, and his conversations with them have spurred him to experiment. 

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