The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan was one of the most devastating environmental events of our time, with its overall impact rippling across the globe for years to come. But just as stated in Newton’s third law—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—so too did the people of Japan respond to the magnitude of the destruction in an effort to rebuild their country anew as captured in this staggering new artwork by Manabu Ikeda titled Rebirth. Starting in July of 2013, Ikeda toiled away on the 13 x 10 foot piece for 10 hours a day inside a basement studio at the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin. He finished work just last week.
At its core, Rebirth depicts a tree rising from the debris of the tsunami as enormous waves crash nearby, but a closer inspection reveals thousands of tiny details, the individual stories of anonymous people, plants, and animals as they fight for survival and try to return their world to a semblance of order. Ikeda says that in his work he seeks to replicate the beautiful chaos of life that rarely fits a simple linear narrative. Instead, everything crashes together and interacts in unknown and unexpected ways, an idea that applies directly to his process as he often doesn’t know what each day will bring as he works inch by inch on the near endless canvas before him.
While Ikeda sketches broad details in pencil on the canvas beforehand, he primarily works with pen and acrylic ink using various forms of cross-hatching and brushwork to fill areas so dense with details, the true nature of the artwork isn’t revealed until staring at it from only a few inches away. Mountains of vehicles, gnarled tree branches, and train tracks sit tangled at the base of a tree, and flower blooms comprised of umbrellas and emergency tents fill the sky above. Everywhere a collision of humankind and nature, for better or worse.
“My goal is to faithfully express my view of the world in my composition, but I don’t intentionally depict detailed images,” he tells the Chazen. “Because I see details when I observe things, rather than the whole, I find pen and ink to be the best tools to express how I see them.”
Ikeda’s time spent in Madison wasn’t without its own adversity. The artist dislocated a shoulder in a downhill skiing accident which rendered his dominant hand temporarily useless. Unable to stop work for very long, Ikeda began practicing with his other hand and after 3-4 practice drawings continued work on Rebirth unfazed.
Rebirth will be on view only briefly at the Chazen Museum of Art through December 11, 2016. If you’re anywhere near the midwest, this is well worth a trip and I strongly encourage you to stop by. You can explore it for over 30 minutes and still not see everything. You can also read more about it on Wisconsin Life.
Film and stills courtesy Clayton Adams.