Artist of the Week: Hiroko Lewis
This week we spoke to Brighton-based artist Hiroko Lewis about her semi-abstract mindscapes. Frequently inspired by the Sussex landscape, a recurring theme in Hiroko’s artwork is “the beauty of imperfection and decay.” We discussed how living in Brighton has influenced her art, as well as how Japanese painterly tradition and concepts are reflected in her work. Featured Image: Hiroko Lewis at Guilford Art Fair.
What are you doing today?
We are joining the Christmas Artists Open House festival next month, so I’m really busy finishing off paintings, framing, and getting the house ready generally. We opened this May and had over 1,800 visitors so there’s a lot to do. And this afternoon, we planted a ton of bulbs in the front garden ready for next May’s event.
Describe where you do most of your creative work.
The back bedroom is my home studio. It’s north facing so it gives perfect light for painting. It’s not large but it’s cosy and practical and I spend many hours there.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
A couple of years ago, I won a commission to decorate the entrance lobby at Cripps lawyers’ new office building in Tunbridge Wells. The space was huge so I created 10 canvases that together form a landscape featuring trees, intended to bring the outside world into the office. The total size is 1.5m high and 5m long, and I had to complete it in just 3 months!
What made you decide to become an artist?
When I was a child growing up, I had a poster of the Mona Lisa on my wall, and when I was lucky enough to see it in real life when it visited Japan, I was mesmerised! I went on to study Fine Art at university, and things followed from there.
What are you currently working on?
For the last few years, I’ve been developing new ways of painting, incorporating Japanese haku-ga (gold and metal leaf), oil paint, and patination to give depth and luminescence.
What are the key themes in your work?
I follow the advice of the Surrealists to “turn your eyeball inwards” and create semi-abstract mindscapes. It is very hard to explain many Japanese concepts in words, so I am forced to express my themes using art instead. It’s a different way of communicating. One recurrent theme, however, is that of the beauty of imperfection and decay, which I express with patination. I see it as an expression of Japanese “wabi-sabi.”
What would you like people to notice about your work?
My paintings are not always immediately eye-catching so I want the viewer to stay a while and take time… gradually the image will emerge. Also, the metal leaf and patination mean that the paintings change dramatically according to where you stand and the lighting, time of day, etc.
What attracts you to the medium you work in?
Oil paint is not only a colour but has its own character. It takes a very long time to dry which means I can keep adjusting the image, adding layers which give great depth and ultimate strength. It’s also been the medium of choice for many of the world greatest artists for hundreds of years and has stood the test of time.
What equipment could you not do without?
I’m known for my use of Naples Yellow paint! It’s always on the table next to my palette.
Who or what inspires you?
I could give a list of artists, like Vermeer, Rothko, Albers, Klee, and Senju Hiroshi but I’m more inspired by listening to music while I paint. I like Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm (both of whom I was lucky enough to see in Brighton last year), Harold Budd, and Chopin, among others.
How is your work affected by living in this area?
I am inspired by the local Sussex landscape and often go for walks in places like Hollingbury Woods and Withdean, which have amazing trees. My painting “Echo I” features the huge umbrella tree at Montpelier Crescent that many people in Brighton will recognise. I am also surrounded by artists, especially the Fiveways Artists Group, of which I am a member.
What’s your favourite thing to do locally?
I love swimming! Being in the water is a different world; I find it meditative and inspiring.
What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?
I’m lucky enough to be represented by Forest Gallery in Petworth but my favourite place to experience art is TeamLab Borderless, at Odaiba in Tokyo. It’s a collaborative interactive installation made by hundreds of artists and scientists using computer graphics, music, and moving images. It’s impossible to explain in words but it’s an incredible experience. I recommend Googling it and you’ll probably want to book a ticket to visit after that!
If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why?
That’s a really tricky question… I think my work is too personal to collaborate with another painter, but I’d be interested in working with, say, a famous lighting artist.
What’s your favourite colour?
Antique Yellow and Lapis Lazuli.