An Interview with Mako Fujimura

We are pleased to introduce our new series of blogs with an interview sent to us by artist Makoto Fujimura. For the first in the series of blogs in my creative journey, I thought these questions from a college student would be a good introduction. As an artist who has been called to make a living off his work, I am grateful for every day that I get to spend in my studio and be nourished by my art.

1) How do you stay inspired and motivated for your creative work?

I do not remember a time when I did not want to create. Ever since I was a child, I was always creating something, and I had encouraging parents, which helped. The motivation for art comes from within, but also as a call—a call from God, the great Artist, and from the materials I use, which is of earth. I use organic and minerals (such as malachite and azurite, hand pulverized and mixed with natural hide glue), so the glory of the Creator, I feel, is embedded in the materials.

There are times and seasons when we need to focus on things other than making art to make ends meet. At these times, I still insist on keeping my creativity alive by having means to do small works. Dana Gioia, a poet and the former Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, spoke to me once of getting a “second wind” to write late at night after coming home from work (he was a vice president of General Foods for a long time). He would simply come home, go to his writing desk and copy the last stanza of a poem he was working on. Then, usually, “second wind” kicks in and he ended up finishing his book of poems, eventually winning the National Book Award.

2) What lead you to found the International Arts Movement (IAM), and what was that journey like?

I found my journey as an artist and as a Christian isolating; artists who are Christians are doubly exiled, exiled both from the church culturally and from the world spiritually. I found sojourners through organizations like CIVA, but ultimately what I needed was not only fellowship but a way to stay in the space between the two, to impact culture as an outward movement. Christian arts fellowship groups within the church are necessary, but they are not usually oriented to wrestle deeply with art, faith and humanity “in and not of” the world.  Artists of faith needs to transcend denominational and cultural barriers that exists in the church. IAM is deeply rooted in Christ's call, but we are intentionally positioned in the margins of society and the church (which, by the way, is growing). Therefore we are a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to creating safe places for artists and creative catalysts—people who may not be artists, but are creative facilitators, entrepreneurial business folks, or leaders.

I have also, within IAM, created a resource base called the Fujimura Institute, and our inaugural project, Qu4rtets, has had exhibits, concerts and symposiums at Baylor University, Duke University and Yale University. Qu4rtets is a collaboration between myself, Bruce Herman (painter), composer Chris Theofanidis (classical composer at Yale) and Jeremy Begbie (theologian/pianist). I will write more about this extraordinary collaboration in the future blogs.

3)  What has been the most challenging part of your art career? The most rewarding?

The most challenging part was always believing that any success, small or large, can be reinvested to benefit others and that failures can be a great lesson for all as well. When I have been able to keep the faith to press on during the challenges of life, that has been most rewarding regardless of whether I have failed or succeeded.

We have found at International Arts Movement, that one of the greatest challenges is developing a discipline of being an artist full time. One of our leaders, Carey Wallace (a writer and now a board member) developed a curriculum for “Working Artists Initiative” to help kickstart a career.

4) How has your career surprised you?  

The journey which ended up with three beautiful creative grown children with a wife that I cherish has become as much part of my "art" as my paintings, and that, looking back, may be a greatest surprise and grace of all (knowing my foibles). I am actually surprised that I have a career at all, that a gallery in New York City picked me up, given that my art is impossible to categorize and is not ultimately made to be bought and sold. I am surprised by God’s grace to an artist who initially struggled even with the idea of having children, not knowing if I can support them. Recently, for the retrospective monograph “Golden Sea” and the accompanying documentary film, I had the experience of having critics write for the catalogue and a filmmaker follow me about as I did my art. All of the contributors created very personal pieces, very unusual for an art monograph and documentary. I have always thought that my life is God’s artwork, and due to my experience of being illuminated by Christ’s light, the perspective of creating as an artist has changed. “For by Grace you have been saved, this not of works, so no one may boast. You are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to create good and beautiful works” (My paraphrase of Ephesians 2:8-10). Art has changed from a mere self-expression to God seeing me as God’s Masterpiece already. That journey continues, and these observers that contributed to “Golden Sea” noted that journey forward.

When we, as a family, experienced the trauma of 9/11 (we lived three blocks from where the towers stood), I thought about the graces of God to invite us into a journey much deeper, more profound than I have ever imagined even through traumatic times. I felt that my heart had expanded to know the depth and breadth of God’s love even in the darkness of post-9/11 fog.

5) What are some of your dreams for the future? 

I want to paint many more large images such as the new "Walking on Water" series (7'x11'). I have many books I am working on, with themes of Culture Care. I would like to see, in my lifetime, a shift in culture toward caring for our culture, as much as we are learning to care for our natural resources.

Walking on Water

Walking on Water - Waves (Pulverized Azurite and Malachite on polished Gesso Canvas, 7‘x11’, courtesy of Dillon Gallery)

Resource: Dillon Gallery (www.dillongallery.com)