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Island painting encounters

Isson Tanaka is a much-loved painter here in the Amami islands and his work was my very first not only arts but also island encounter. Upon my arrival, my colleague took me straight from the airport to the exhibition of his work at Amami Park. It proved to be a very influential encounter as his work provided me with the lenses through which I came to see these islands.

Subsequently, everywhere I went I saw Isson's landscapes: his ability to capture the natural beauty of the islands, the nuanced gradation of color and light that give this three-dimensionality to his landscapes, the minute details that bring a tropical forest to life, the gentleness through which he depicts the local flora and fauna and above all the perspective through which he painted which gives you the impression that nature was standing above the human eyes, that the human was in awe of nature, gazing from below with respect and admiration. His museum is also a fitting space for this work, reminding one the traditional thatched island houses.

There are locals who still remember him, the strange man, almost ascetic in nature, who would spend hours observing the fish in the port or the trees in the forest. Alas, like so many artists, his work came to recognition only after his death. The Islanders have embraced this mainlander who loved their islands as their painter. As a Buddhist monk said once when complimented for his paintings, "I am just the cartographer of beauty that already exists".

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