Nana Shiomi (b. 1956) started painting in oils at the age of fourteen, and soon developed an interest in contemporary art. She studied at Tama Art University, Tokyo, from 1975 to 1981, and then at the Royal College of Art in London from 1989 to 1991. She has had several solo exhibitions, mainly in Japan and the United Kingdom, and has participated in many group exhibitions. She has been selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition for the last nine years and was short-listed for the “Insight Image of the Year” Award in 2006. Her works are in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, The Oriental Museum Durham University, and The Tama Art University Museum, Tokyo.
Nana Shiomi’s interest in printmaking developed at the age of twenty. She chose the traditional Japanese woodcut technique – using the “baren” to spread the water-based ink and let it soak into the Japanese paper – as her means to communicate her ideas, and this was an integral element in determining her style. She is fascinated by the fact that the plate and the print are always opposite configurations and soon encountered dualistic principles everywhere. Her first solo exhibition in 1981 was entitled “Double Faced Theatre”. It is no coincidence that most of her work is composed of two opposing sides.
Over the last few years, Nana Shiomi has been working on a project of one hundred prints called “Mitate”. For this project, she has selected one hundred elements she considers to be closely intertwined with Japanese culture and the lives of Japanese people. “Mitate” refers to a process of thought that Japanese culture has enjoyed since ancient times, to do with metaphors and parodies, a form of analogy comparing one thing with another. For example, the sand and rock formations in a Japanese garden are in reality nothing more than rock and sand, but enjoying the free association, the viewer can see in them such images as “island in the sea”, or “the universe and the self”, and so on. Her objective is to have the viewer give the chosen elements a new meaning by creating his own combinations and associations, thus giving new life and new meanings to what she considers to be worn-out and antiquated symbols of Japanese culture.
Some of Nana Shiomi’s recent prints are influenced by Hokusai (b. 1760), whom she considers a great thinker. She sees his famous series of views of Mt. Fuji more as a series of self-portraits. “As one’s vantage point changes so the view of the mountain will also change. Likewise the state of existence of one human being changes with each passing moment and is truly multi-faceted.” She sees Hokusai’s message to be a celebration of human existence, and her prints “Hokusai’s Wave (Left) – Happy Dog” and “Hokusai’s Wave (Right) – Happy Carp” are about the vortex and strength of living things.
Over the last three years, many of Nana’s works have a distinctly architectural context, showing interiors of traditional Japanese official residences. Some of these show mirrored images and repetitions of certain elements like screens or scrolls. The mirror idea is also used in some very stylized and colourful landscapes and a large 2009 print, “Mirror Pond – Kinkaku”.
Many of Nana Shiomi’s pictures ask questions about the space beyond, or indeed the world beyond. There may be a room beyond the door, but then there is a landscape or a seascape, signifying the existence of a different world. One asks what lies beyond the picture. In Buddhist terminology the “other shore” means the state of enlightenment, as well as the world of the dead. Is it possible that this side on which we live is indeed the other side?
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