Watching a painting by Maki Na Kumara is an experience. Is it an abstract image or is it a landscape? Does she uses paint or watercolour? The colours are at times very mute and sometimes quite electric.
When I researched her after seeing some of her work at the Biennale of painting, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens in Belgium, I was even more intrigued.
Maki Na Kamura comes from Japan, having moved to live in Germany in the mid-1990s. She studied painting under Jörg Immendorff, initially in Frankfurt and later in Dusseldorf. Since 2005 she has been living and working in Berlin.
In 2005, she exhibited a number of works herself. Rather than sending invitation cards or posting details online, the show was announced only via a large advertisement in a Berlin daily newspaper: “IHR SCHÖNSTES BILD HAT SIE VERKAUFT UND IN EINE ANZEIGE VERWANDELT. NUN SPIELT SIE LE COUCOU AUF DEM PIANO…” (She’s sold her best picture and turned it into an advertisement. Now she’ll play “Le Coucou” on the piano …). A grand piano was acquired, on which Na Kamura practised every day in front of her pictures and, as announced, pondered questions like: Is this an exhibition? Or: Am I now part of the art world? This one-week event, referred to in one piece on her show as “Na Kamura’s first discrete entrance into the arena of the Berlin art world“, took place in an empty shop at Fasanenstrasse 69, Berlin.
Maki Na Kamura’s paintings are, at their core, landscapes. Instead of idealized scenes pulled from nature, she builds her landscapes from abstract washes of color, modernist skyscrapers, and most notably, other paintings. She borrows motifs from the history of pre-Impressionist landscape painting – Hokusai, as well as links to the landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, Jean-François Millet and Whether Giogione’s “Sleeping Venus” (1510), or mountains and trees of Hans Bol.
Subtle as they are, you easily miss the references, however. And indeed, this is part of the artist’s game. “I build these histories into my landscapes,” she says. “Surely, [the references] should have a presence, but they shouldn’t be so clear that you get them immediately. The historical references aren’t a template. They’re nothing more than a vocabulary with which I can build new sentences. It’s like a game, an earnest game though. It’s a challenged to the masters.”
In Kamura’s series fGf (the ‘fat gold frame’ in question is imagined, not shown, 2010–11) and GiL (‘geometry in landscapes’, 2011–13) – she explores cultural exchange as export/import. Some of her latest landscape paintings that bear titles like “. SS 1”, “. SS 2” etc., an abbreviation for shan shui (mountain water), the traditional Chinese art of landscape painting. Rocks float. Figures float. Or is this just what a viewer with a firm belief in a single horizon wishes to see?
In 2012 Maki Na Kamura received the Prix Marcel Broodthaers and in 2013 she was awarded the Falkerot Prize.
Check out her website for more.