by Eddie Arroyo

Hollywood Florida has always been a place between Miami and Fort Lauderdale both literally and figuratively. The people there are not as exuberant as Dade-County but not as low key as Broward. It is something I have experienced for myself when visiting its beaches, restaurants, and overall events. Of course this is my perception but its relevance has to do more with the artist Harumi Abe who seems to feel as if she is always in between worlds. Her work reflects this dichotomy in the current group exhibition at the David Castillo Gallery entitled Picaresque.

She invites me to drink some orange juice as I sit down and ask her about the work.

EA
Tell me about your current series?

HA
It’s called “134 days and 21 hours” which focuses on the idea of home and landscapes implied, and my personal journey to find home. Home as an idea is interesting, you know even if you’re homeless; your body is the container of your soul. So as long as we live we are never homeless, right? It is more than just a symbol, a door, or window for example, which has traditionally been associated with it. But in my painting I use the architectural symbol to hopefully communicate these thoughts. Home is a place where you are the thoughts of your existence. In other words, home as a state of mind and the first universe in which we experience many of our most personal and intimate moments. It is home where our memories reside long after we have moved on. In grad school, I read “Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard and his idea of home influenced me a lot.

I began this series of paintings when on a trip to Vermont Studio Center in October 2010. Before I continue talking about that, I have to say I’m from Japan and there are four seasons there, unlike South Florida. For me it was such a strange thing when I first lived here. So when I visited the studio there I had forgotten how beautiful the seasonal change was. The trees do not react the same way they do here. I was extremely drawn to it and wanted to portray all the crazy things that happen in nature and how it affects perception. Each one of us has a profound relationship with the natural world, our own idea of landscape. Mother Nature can be gentle and comforting, but sometimes destructive, as in the March 11th tragedy in Japan. Actually, my father’s side family is from Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture, which is very close to main shock spot. The entire village was wiped out, but they all survived miraculously. This was traumatic just by watching it from so far away. Some of my newest works are direct conversations with the environment and how we cannot be separated from our surroundings. We build houses hoping to create something new but mostly recreate the familiar places that comfort us.

taco boo boo
oil on canvas, 2004

EA
How has your experience in America been?

HA
Some of my older works theme was about trying to figure out what was it like to be American. Originally my intent was to come here just for school. But then I decided to stay and build a family and I suppose that is pretty typical immigrant American. I like how America has full of immigrants and anyone can begin a new life. Originally, I had this idea of America as the show 90210 and Full House. Actually Full House was big for me I really enjoyed that show a lot because it had a big family which has always been appealing for me. Growing up my family was not big, I only have one sibling and my parents were separated. Divorce sounds like a very American thing when I think of it now, but at the time I enjoyed the idea of the show. As far as the work is concerned, I was intrigued to ideal home settings. When I started this painting, “taco boo boo” I saw the work as simple studies. I was painting scenes from my mother in law’s house just to study light and paint application but then I began to be more aware of what I was painting. It is the look of an American home with nice big dog; it’s a peaceful moment in my life. I suppose it’s more like my Full House moment for me.

EA
Tell me about the “Bierstadt” painting?

132 days and 21 hours: Homage to Bierstadt
acrylic and oil on canvas 48″x72″ 2010-11

HA
I was looking at many landscape paintings and particularly the work of Albert Bierstadt who was a German painter that came to America at the turn of the century. He is known for his enormous western landscape painting such as Yosemite National Park, which many people at the time had never seen before. Some landscapes he made resemble the Alps, his homeland. I found that very interesting and thought about the idea of what you see is part of what you experience. It is something that does not go away. With this particular piece I can point out my experience on a trip to Niagara Falls, which was really cool. What was very impressive was not simply the falls itself but the clouds coming out of it; because of the speed and the amount of water hitting it the rocks. So it became this place where clouds were born. I also wanted to include Mt. Fuji, which is of course the symbol of Japan and I actually saw the mountain each sunny morning from the front steps of my home. This is just an example of what I was doing with this piece. Most of the work reflects my journey and places I have been or continue to go. For example, this is a painting of a pattern I see on the wall off of 595 when I go to work.

132 days and 21 hours: Red House
acrylic and oil on canvas 48″x36″ 2011

132 days and 21 hours
acrylic and oil on canvas 48″x36″ 2011

EA
These places only exists on canvas?

HA
There is some references here and there, but over all, yes, only on canvas.

www.harumiabe.com