Puchi Buru or Petit Bourgeois


Gallery Crashers

A friend and I decided to have an adventure and crash an opening viewed on Tokyo Art Beat. Sachiko Kazama was having a solo show at the same time she was in the Roppongi Crossing show at the Mori Hills Art Center. This new show was not one of those blockbuster shows at one of the large galleries; it was at a tiny gallery called SNAC on one of the side streets near the Museum of Contemporary Art. The artwork at these small galleries often have more energy than that by old men who died years ago but are featured elsewhere. I wanted to check out the artwork and the space. I still need to find an artist-run centre that I like as much as the ones in Winnipeg and Fukuoka City.

SNAC, Tokyo gallery, art gallery
SANC Gallery (Front)

It was already evening, and many shops were closed for the evening. Thank goodness for Google Maps, because we almost walked past the gallery! A small sign like those used by small restaurants or pubs was on the sidewalk. That was it. No large windows, nothing on display for the the general public walking by, and no large lettering in any language. As we walked by, the wooden door opened to show a bright, white room with people inside. It looked like a party but was it the one we were looking for? Would it be okay for us to walk in as strangers?  We double checked the name on the sign and went in.

I knew we were in the right place as soon as I saw the black-and-white relief prints on the walls. They were much smaller and less complex than the ones in the Roppongi Crossings show. You had to look carefully and take a second glance to fully appreciate what she did.

What do I mean? It would have been very easy to walk past the print of Mount Fuji and the other of a car and dismiss them as typical prints done by every elderly Japanese man at every community centre in Japan, but the placement suggested  a connection between the two. Sure enough when I read the information on the wall explaining the prints, I saw the same humour that I had seen before. These were not random choices; these were the nationalistic idols of Japan. We realized that we had to look at everything more carefully and not take anything for face value.

“My Grave”


She had taken anonymous-looking photos from newspapers and used them for her own purposes. A group of pictures from the real-estate section were beside bar graphs that echoed the shapes of the buildings being sold. Why? Think. What else is often represented with bar graphs? Income, financial growth, and other economic activities. Pictures of Japanese graves? Well, funerals and graves are very expensive. People sometimes need to take out loans to pay for them. Business cards were stamped with words that people use to label others and printed with erasers that everybody has in their house. Kazama’s theme was Japan as a consumer society! People spend money and get loans to pay for their possessions, and the Japanese phrase that is usually used to describe such possessions begins with the word, “my”: my car, my home, my bag, my cup, my, my, my… As you can see, not all of these are large-ticket items. That was why she called the show, “プチブル (Puchi Buru)” (Petit Bourgeois).

 Destructive Consumerism

Why the white poodle? Small dogs that can fit handbags are very trendy in Japan. You say that they are popular in other countries, too? Not in quite the same way. Individual breeds become trendy. One year huskies were popular, and everybody had to have one even if they did not have large yards. Kazama remembered having a white poodle when they were all the rage and she used that to represent consumerism in her print. Is it a coincidence that the dog is cute, white, and destructive like the Stay Puff marshmallow man in Ghostbusters? I will have to ask her another time. To be honest, I originally thought the print said, “プチプル (Puchi Puru)” and meant small poodle! Her word choice was much more interesting than mine!

 Meet & Greet

Please remember that we crashed this opening. Most people in attendance were probably friends of the artist or associated with the gallery somehow. We knew nobody; nobody knew us. We were obviously outsiders and stood out even more because we were not Japanese. One woman looked at us and giggled. She seemed to be an intelligent woman aside from that reaction and looked like somebody I would probably be friends with under normal circumstances, so I did not let her reaction upset me too much. The guy that opened the door approached us and started chatting. As a visible minority, people often want to talk to us instead of with us, so I automatically braced myself for the worst. What a pleasant surprise! He spoke to us in English but his English was really good. I mean really good and not filled with direct translations and katakana. Tamura-kun was the self-proclaimed best translator in Japan and supposedly owner of the country’s smallest art gallery. He was intelligent, inquisitive, and a fountain of information.

After chatting with him, I bravely gathered enough nerve to approach the woman who I thought might be the artist in question. She seemed just as eager and just as nervous as I was but relaxed when she realized I was speaking in Japanese. I don’t know if comparing her stitched bathrobe print with one by Jim Dine helped or hindered me but I think it broke the ice.


After a short Q&A session, we both relaxed as we realized we were both female printmakers. close in age, and of similar temperaments. She was not fluent in English but she knew a few words; my friend and I speak Japanese that is not perfect but we can successfully get our points across. If something was not clear, we also had Japan’s best translator on hand, right? We could make witty or sarcastic comments without the need to apologize or explain in great detail. (That can be rare in any country but maybe  more so in Japan!) We could speak straight from the heart without any excuses. We were immediate friends!

 Birds of a Feather Flock Together

Sachiko Kazama, Kazama, Japanese art, printmaking, mokuhanga, Tokyo gallery, Japanese artist, printmaker, relief print, woodblock
Sachiko Kazama

Sachiko Kazama and Tamura-kun went out of their way to answer my questions. They were kind and generous in their explanations of the art scene in Tokyo. Like many places in Japan, mentors and networking are important. Other people have previously told me that one reason to get your masters degree in fine arts at one of the big universities in Tokyo is the networking. Your professors will plug you into their networks, introduce you to the right people, invite you to exhibit with them, provide employment, and possibly share or provide expensive art supplies or studio space. Every city, every medium, every genre, and every other category that you could possibly think of has a similar association with a strict hierarchy that requires membership and that might provide some of the same benefits. Kazama, like many of the other artists I know throughout Japan, dissociates herself from those groups and has thereby struggled to establish a name for herself. Her work is humorous and does not follow traditional Japanese methods of mokuhanga. The old men in those associations don’t know what to think about her work!

They reminded us that rental galleries are common throughout Japan. They then explained that the system was a Catch-22: you are damned if you do exhibit at those galleries and damned if you don’t. I was confused. They explained that Tokyo has another level: private or commercial galleries. If you exhibit only at the rental galleries, you are branded as an amateur or a hobbyist. If you don’t exhibit at a gallery in a country where most are rented, nobody will see your art. See the problem?

Kazama had a solo show at a rental gallery in Tokyo and was then approached by one of the curators from the SNAC gallery, which unbeknownst to me is supposedly  interested in promoting emerging or re-emerging talent. She also advised sending information to galleries, giving presentations, and so on. I had already been thinking about volunteering for Tokyo Art Beat since I am always in their virtual space anyways, and Tamura-kun also suggested it. I guess I will have to drop them a line…


All in all it was a great evening! I learned something new and was reminded that I need to get into the studio to do some work. I need to just do it! Instead of letting ideas percolate in  my brain for an incredibly long time until they get stale, I have to overcome my fear of starting new projects and scribble something down. Yes, scribble. Perfection is not needed or desired. Guess what my goals are for 2014…


Gates of Hell


Michelangelo's Cleopatra

The Michelangelo exhibition is closing soon at the National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park, Tokyo. Last chance to go and see it! Yes, the show is padded with lots of educational multimedia materials (in Japanese) and work by other artists but it still has a few gems that are worth the trip. Like a friend pointed out to me, the drawings were done by an actual human being and not just reproductions in a book. Yes, art conservationists had trimmed and trimmed many of the sketches so only a few millimetres of paper existed around an arm drawn by his greatness but it has still been preserved for hundreds of years. That has got to mean something! A sketch like the one of Cleopatra used on the poster was never meant to be artwork desired by collectors and placed in a gilt frame. Sketches often capture the fleeting movement of an idea as it flits around in the artist’s unconscious. Get your ticket at a discount shop nearby and you won’t regret it.

Then save your ticket to see the permanent collection and you can go and see artwork from Pierre Bonnard, Gustave Dore, Fragonard, Millet, and many other well known names from any art history book. The Italian prints echo the Michelangelo show nicely, and you will not have to fight the crowds to get a good view. “The Witches’ Procession” possibly by Agostino Veneziano was wisely chosen for the poster.

The Witches' Procession (The Carcass)  Agostino Veneziano Engraving
The Witches’ Procession (The Carcass)
Agostino Veneziano

After viewing the river of Styx and the demons fighting the angels in the pictures and engravings of the Sistine Chapel, you might want to take a stroll through the gardens in front of the museum and see the Gates of Hell and other bronzes by Auguste Rodin. These are truly one of the hidden treasures of Tokyo! More bronze casts are inside as part of the permanent collection but you can enjoy these particular ones for free, even without a ticket for any of the museum’s shows. Yes, they are real. They are bronze casts after all. Rodin could make several casts of any of his statues. Don’t the Gates of Hell look more frightening at night? The burghers could give you nightmares, too!

Gates of Hell Auguste Rodin Bronze

Gates of Hell  Auguste Rodin Bronze

Details of Gates of Hell Auguste Rodin Bronze

The Thinker Auguste Rodin Bronze

The Thinker Auguste Rodin Bronze

The Burghers of Calais Auguste Rodin Bronze

The Burghers of Calais Auguste Rodin Bronze





Gamory Prints – Gathering of Artists

Several artists and friends gathered at Space Galleria today, and a good time was had by all! Studio Deanna, an American textile artist and jewelry maker in Tokyo, even wrote a review of the show.

Crowd Viewing Collaborations

Thank you everybody! Why was a party held in the middle of the week? It was one of the few days that Takeshi Ishikawa was free to come to the gallery.

Takeshi Ishikawa
Takeshi Ishikawa

Masako Otani actually decorated the vest and the jacket that he wore. She added patches from wash cloths and fabric with his prints as well as some colourful stitchery. The vest had some ruffly trim, too. Both She and Ishikawa willingly modeled their outfits for all to enjoy.

Kimono and Jacket by Masako Otani
Kimono and Jacket by Masako Otani

Back of Otani's Kimono and Ishikawa's Jacket

Ishikawa also had some silk scarves with his prints on them. They were so soft! One artist had used one scarf to make a blouse. I thought they would also make fabulous dresses!

Ishikawa Skirt

Everyone enjoyed beverages and snacks provided by the gallery. Ishikawa introduced his version of one of his favourites: miso on apple slices. Who needs cheese? Others brought a bottle of a strong liqueur called, “Denki Bran.” It must have been sold as a health tonic decades ago. It was potent!

Denki Bran

Miyako and Masuda
Miyako and Masuda

Ishikawa had previously written his artistic philosophy for this show on Joei Lau‘s Facebook page. He wrote something that had echoes of the Bible and of Eastern philosophy. Let me paraphrase what he he wrote in Japanese. In the beginning there was the sun, the stars, and the earth. The earth was made up of air, land, and water. People are made of the stardust that fills the universe. Everything is united and all is one. Water evaporates and then returns as precipitation; his prints were taken up by the other artists who then changed them into new forms. He was not upset that his prints were carved up or shredded. He was tickled pink and greatly flattered by the results.

Joei Lau and Takeshi Ishikawa
Joei Lau and Takeshi Ishikawa

I was thrilled that Lau’s mini books and my embroidered pictures were moved closer together after I added one more drawing to the mix.

Michelle Zacharias and Joei Lau
Michelle Zacharias and Joei Lau

I also had a stack of postcard-sized doodles for sale with half of the money received going to Ishikawa. Studio Deanna’s review featured a photo of one such doodle that used a teardrop-shaped piece cut from one of the prints as a base. Each doodle was 600 yen.

Takeshi Ishikawa

Michelle Zacharias and Takeshi Ishikawa
Michelle Zacharias and Takeshi Ishikawa

Anotehr positive result was some networking among artists and framers. A photographer friend met someone who had purchased one of her photographs a few years ago, I connected one artist with a friend who wanted to give away some frames, I met a woman who started reading this blog after she had read in Fukuoka Now about my show in Fukuoka, artists met more artists, and I learned of another group in Tokyo who also wish to improve the lack of artists’ networks in Japan. These human interconnections are priceless.

Gamori Prints



What are Gamori prints? I tried looking it up in the dictionary without any success. Takeshi Ishikawa made up this word eighteen years ago for his digital prints. Wait! Eighteen years ago? High schools in Japan were just starting to use computers instead of word processors then. I never realized that he had been digital for that long! When I met him about five years ago, I thought he had just started doing digital prints. I really have to start asking more questions.

Let me explain how I know him. When four other artists and I had a show in Chiba several years ago, Ishikawa visited Space Galeria to show the owner samples of some textiles that used his artwork. The owner is a big fan of his work and encouraged him to try textile design. A hotel in Okinawa commissioned him to do some work for the linens and other pieces if I recall correctly, and he shared some of the sample terrycloth washcloths with us. By coincidence, the community centre where our group held meetings also used some of his beautiful prints on their posters and catalogues.

Space Galeria asked Joei Lau, me, and more than 30 other artists to use the artist proofs of Ishikawa’s Gamori prints and create more artwork. The show’s name, by coincidence, is “Gamori Print de Asobu” (Fun with Gamori Prints). This is not as easy as it sounds! Many of the proofs have lots of strong colours mixed with large black areas. How do you draw on that? How do you make a piece that reflects you as an artist but also pays homage to Ishikawa? Masako Otani, the curator, said we could put pieces of his prints in a blender and chop them up into small pieces like hamburger, but I do not think I would like the results if I did that. I secretly hope that somebody will take her word on that and make digital mincemeat. The sculptors in the group supposedly have it easier because they are using the paper as a medium without worrying about the surface colour or imagery. How are they going to fit all of the artwork into the gallery? All of the work will be available for sale and shown in Space Galeria from October 31 to November 10, 2013. If you want to say hello, Takeshi Ishikawa and many of the participating artists will be at the gallery on Wednesday, November 6, 2013. The results of this creative challenge could be quite interesting. We take no responsibility for the final results.

58th CWAJ Print Show



For only three days this week (Oct 10-12, 2013), you can see some of the best prints created by the finest printmakers of various nationalities in Japan. That’s right! Not everybody is Japanese. The College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ) organizes a show every year with proceeds from sales of prints and catalogs going to charity. Even if you have no chance to go to Tokyo, you can buy their catalog online. If you are a printmaker, you will love their catalogs! The show is usually held at the Tokyo American Club. More information is available at their website.