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By Eudald Camps Photo Andrea Ferrés

Nearly four decades ago, Hiroshi Kitamura (Hokkaido, 1955) left his world behind to become familiar with the western viewpoint. The painting styles of the great masters, such as Goya, Picasso, and Miró, as well as Gaudí’s architecture, ended up bringing him to a Mediterranean universe that he continues to explore from the countryside around Camallera. The synthesis of these worlds, on the face of it, couldn’t be stranger: Kitamura’s Tamari-e, based on the natural flow of pictorial elements, has little to do with the Iberian tradition, often conditioned by the drama of its own history. Yet, we should insist that the contradictions are merely apparent.

In fact, Kitamura was born during a key moment for Japanese art: in the 1950s, Hiroshima was still an open wound for the Japanese people. This setting was, as an example, the origin of groups seeking renewal like the Gutaï which was founded in Osaka at that time as an active, “concrete” response to the different forms of alienation that the culture of denial could adopt, seeking refuge above all behind voracious consumption and the narcotic idea of indefinite progress that resonated with shades of Babel (elements which were also alarmingly valid). This was Kitamura’s substrate or starting point: a society split between the virtues of technology and a recent tragic memory; an indestructible, exquisite beauty of Zen Buddhism forced to coexist with the frenetic speed of the present; two universes that were, in short, quite difficult to reconcile.

“When I say I wanted to get to know the west, what I mean is that I was interested in people’s lives. I’ve never been seduced by grand tales but rather by short domestic stories: discovering what people cook and eat, entering homes without any filters, and sharing these lived-in spaces for me is essential.” It was his “search for the origins” that the Hokkaido-born artist started years ago that brought him even further: “The possibility to conduct research on the first Iberian paintings become something fundamental: rock art discovered after long walks and hidden in caves and unthinkable crevices was a true revelation and, in a certain sense, a reunion.” What did Kitamura find? Well the same form of uncorrupted liberty which, around 1921, convinced Torres-García to make this claim: “All truly pure art goes towards a primitivism in which the idea dominates over appearance, as in the drawings by the first humans […] this makes it contrary to so-called serious art: primitive, humble in material, simple, profound, and expressive because it has its origin in intuition, in the subconscious. It is free.”

To be clear, the search for the very beginnings of humanity that Kitamura attempts in his works has an echo of loss or, perhaps, the fundamental split that occurred between civilized man and the landscape of his ancestors. Whatever it was, according to Michon in the origin of the world we also find the origin of art. That’s why, years ago, Kitamura chose to purge his work of everything that was foreign to him, starting with the artistic tradition and ending with the materials he used. The branch that he has helped bring back to life in sculptures comes from leftover pruning materials, matter that has been removed to allow life to unfold in a better fashion: such as ikebana (the art of floral arrangement characteristic of Japanese culture). The branch also serves as a root in the sense that it indicates the secret rhythms that keep it connected to the bios, understood in the sense given to it by the Pre-Socratics, i.e., as a unifying principle with a universal scope (today we would call it the “Higgs Boson”). When he chooses to draw or paint, the use of walnut polish, mother of pearl, gold paste, and natural dyes should be seen analogously: it is an attempt to bring the lesson learned in the penumbra of the caves up to date, to recover the gaze of archetypal artists who, instead of pursuing their own Self, labored intensely to highlight the essence of all things, both those that are visible as well as those which are not. He has given us the best summary with his Tamari-e technique. This technique lets three pictorial elements (water, pigments, and paper) relate freely, with the artist holding his movements back in favor of natural rhythms that transcend us. Like this, we can see that Camallera isn’t so far from Hokkaido.