Japanese-born artist Minako Ota recently presented her first solo exhibition in the United States, “Floating Worlds: A Tokyo Artist in the West,” at FDU’s College at Florham library.
The exhibit is currently open to the public during library hours through Oct. 30 and presents Ota’s latest creations that emphasize her theme of East and West fusion.
For the past 20 years, Ota has worked as a conservator. She came to FDU around 2001 to work with the painting collection that the university owns. Here, she met Eleanor Friedl, curator and reference librarian, with whom she remained in contact over the years. While in Moscow, Ota mentioned she was looking for venues, and Friedl offered the Orangerie for her first showing.
Since FDU has a policy that does not allow artists to display for commercial purposes, Ota had to arrange the opening reception at an educational angle. By demonstrating the creative process of her work, she was able to interact with the audience by showing them the steady progression of her efforts. Ota said that screening in this manner came naturally to her because she already documents everything from sketches to random doodles.
After the opening reception, Ota received a swell of positive feedback from the audience. She was also very pleased to have received fan mail congratulating her on the show. “FDU is such a wonderful place,” said Ota.
“Floating Worlds” is the English translation of “Ukiyo-e” which is a traditional Japanese genre of woodcarving prints portraying idealized beauties in domestic or erotic scenes, warriors, or landscapes, according to Friedl.
These images were meant to aesthetically transport viewers from conventional life, and into a “floating” or “fleeting” world of euphoria, according to Friedl. Ota had a variety of ideas, but felt the chosen title was most suitable because she felt her “work is floating between the two worlds of East and West and is always moving and shifting,” she said.
The blending of these two contrary cultures derived from Ota herself. She was born in Osaka, Japan, but studied and worked in Europe and the United States. “When I express myself on canvas, I combine the two,” said Ota. “I strongly feel that I [won’t] be 100 percent culturally Japanese or another culture, so I will always be in between. My paintings will always be suspended over this spectrum between East and West.”
Although meshed between the two, Ota has an undeniable Japanese foundation. “When there is some kind of argument on a subject, I am always on the reserved side. I like listening [more] than talking. I am married to this American guy who is a big talker. He talks 10 times more than I do. It’s like the relationship is equal, but he wins every time! This is when I feel my Japanese roots more strongly,” said Ota.
In November, Ota has a show in France, in an Asian boutique that shows antiques and contemporary art. She tries to show 20 paintings, incorporating new pieces.
Previously, she had a group show based on artwork containing fish in Lambertville, N.J. She also submitted a piece titled, “Girlfriends,” to the 67th annual competition of Audubon Artists, Inc., a group of artistic professionals.
Her painting was selected and put on display in the Salmagundi Club in New York City until Oct. 2. Ota’s next goal is to get represented by a gallery in New York City. She hopes to keep expanding by achieving awards through competitions. “I started painting in October 2007 in Moscow…[my] career as a painter is short, so I want to speed up by getting recognizable venues [and] awards,” said Ota.
On average, Ota tries to finish each piece in two to three weeks, believing that if more time is spent on one, she loses the “creative juice,” which is why she makes a deliberate effort to get her ideas on canvas promptly.
Despite her passion and talent, Ota is concerned about the unstable economic condition, noting that “no one is buying anything right now, and I really hope that this economic crisis will improve in the near future so artists won’t be extinct.” She adds, “It’s a tough world, tough market.”
Gathering her inspiration from a variety of outlets, she credits books as being a considerable source of stimulation. Her two favorite authors are Haruki Murakami and Joseph Campbell. In reference to Murakami, she said, “He has such an effect on me. It’s like having a dream like you’re still awake.”
Campbell acts as almost a muse, and by regarding his simple mantra of “follow your bliss,” Ota herself believes, “you have to follow your instincts, whichever pleases you most.”
For aspiring artists, Ota advises, “Paint what you want to paint. Don’t paint to just please other people, because you can’t waste time on your canvas. Forget about it; it’s impossible to please everyone. The painting with a face in it always turns out the best. You have to be the biggest fan of your painting or else you can’t continue.”