Luminous colours and nature’s beauty come together to render novelty to artist Kokyo Hatanaka who practises Nihonga, a Japanese painting style

Kokyo Hatanaka’s art whispers nature from the word go. Colours made from natural stones and other products of nature exude warmth and radiate on his gigantic canvases. On his flat surfaces the viewer then gets an unhindered view of nature’s delights. Nature is of supreme importance in his scheme of things but the artist’s oeuvre doesn’t stop at that. It goes on to include Mahatma Gandhi’s salt satyagraha, the 14th Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, the Buddha, monks and nymphs.

The 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Japan brings Japanese artist Kokyo Hatanaka’s art to Delhi. His paintings in which he marries Nihonga — a traditional art form of Japan — with Indian themes, are exhibited at AIFACS gallery till the month-end. On his recurring visits to India, Kokyo picked up more than just a smattering of Hindi. He took a fancy to our textile traditions and various folk art forms and has even authored books like “Textile Arts of India” and “Indian Miniature Painting”. “I have been coming here for the last 38 years and I was collecting a lot of Indian art so I was taken to be a collector but I never got a sponsor for my exhibition,” says Kokyo.

A professor at the Otani University and a former professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design, he has been around important heritage sites in India. Talking of the Badami cave temples, one of the many spaces he derives inspiration from, the artist says, “The lines, like in those, are crucial to my work as well, and my colours are flat too. In contemporary art, line has ceased to be that important. I wonder why people make abstract art. A flower has a distinct form,” expresses Kokyo with the help of an interpreter.

On silk, paper, rice paper and cotton, Kokyo makes large definitive figures. In ‘Salt Satyagraha’, the largest painting exhibited at the show — it has 12 panels — he depicts the Mahatma being followed by men and women of various age groups. Delicate features coupled with fine details highlighted by the artist make the work a sheer delight. ‘Scattering Flowers’, made on a Japanese screen, bears celestial nymphs dressed in white saris and scattering flowers. Painted on silk in 24-carat-gold leaf, it makes for the most arresting work in the collection. Accompanied by detailed captions, the artist takes pains to explain his thought process and even the materials and technique.

Kokyo is doing his bit to keep the 1000-year-old art form of Nihonga alive as well. The painting style which involves the use of natural pigments, is not easy to learn and that’s why it doesn’t find many takers in Japan. “It takes 10 years to just learn the technique. It is very time consuming. Very few universities in Japan impart training in this technique.”

“Kokyo Hatanaka: Japanese Style Paintings Exhibition” is on at AIFACS gallery, Rafi Marg, till October 31.