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COVER STORY: It's all in the details for this North Van artist
Manabu Ikeda usually takes two years to complete a single drawing. This time, however, he decided to hurry it along.
At his North Vancouver studio, working eight hours a day, he just put the last touches on Meltdown, an acrylic ink and pen drawing that only took five months to finish. Using minute pen strokes, he creates highly complex shapes and narratives. Every detail is precise, down to thousands of tiny leaves and dozens of birds.
This isn’t the kind of artwork that can be truly appreciated at a distance. Every image is so small, so precise, that something new can be seen on each inspection.
The drawing will be on display at the West Vancouver Museum until Feb. 23.
Leaning against the wall in Ikeda’s North Van apartment, Meltdown shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster following the powerful earthquake that struck Japan a year and a half ago. He is concerned about nuclear failures and the release of radioactive elements into the environment.
But look closely, very closely. The North Shore, Ikeda’s second home, is incorporated into the drawing.
A pile of sulfur, recognizably bright-yellow on North Van’s waterfront, is sketched in the right corner. Grouse Mountain’s tram stretches across the middle, anchored by tall metal pipes.
Look even closer. Next to the tram, six white mountain goats peer off steep cliffs.
Near the bottom of the painting, a tiny moose stands among hundreds of trees, influenced by a trip to the Rocky Mountains this summer.
“My work expresses the dangers humans have when they live so closely with industrialization,” says Ikeda, through his translator. He knows English, but not enough to express some complex artistic thoughts.
Originally from Japan, the soft-spoken artist has lived in B.C. with his wife and young daughter for the last three years after receiving a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Culture.
“My work is about no particular place in the world. It can be anywhere where humans interact with industry and nature,” he says, flipping though a book of his drawings.
Ikeda’s apartment studio off central Lonsdale is much cleaner than most artist’s. Three dozen small acrylic pots sit on his desk, a few pens in another corner.
Because there’s no paint, Ikeda doesn’t need to protect the carpet from stains.
His studio only has the essentials — a few chairs, a shelf and a large wooden desk he salvaged from a street in North Van.
For someone so acclaimed, Ikeda seems incredibly humble.
In 2011, his drawing Existence was selected as one of the eight most significant works of the year by the New York Times. He’s exhibited in Japan, Italy, Germany, the United States and Canada.
Unlike other artists, he doesn’t have half-finished paintings scattered throughout his studio. Besides a framed print and his sketch pad, there’s only one drawing. Ikeda, after all, usually takes years to complete a single piece.
But the painstaking process doesn’t frustrate the detail-oriented artist.
“Brush stokes are too big. They can’t express details,” he explains matter-of-factly.
Ikeda’s work has a following throughout the world.
In the spring, he plans to move to the United States, where he will be an artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’ll be working on his biggest piece to date, a three-by-four metre drawing that will take three years of full-time work.
One of Ikeda’s drawings hit home particularly hard for people who survived the devastating earthquake that hit Japan in March 2011.
Painted before the quake, Foretoken is in the shape of a large wave and shows ships tossed ashore and a building that looks remarkably like an exploding nuclear power plant.
Some art observers claimed Ikeda predicted the massive earthquake that killed 16,000 people.
But it’s only a coincidence Ikeda says.
“I was originally going to draw snow but then I added a water splash instead.”
Out of respect of those affected, Foretoken was taken out of some of his recent exhibits.
Ikeda began drawing when he was a young child in small notebooks. He later went on to complete a master’s degree at Tokyo University of the Arts.
“I always drew with pen or pencil, so I’m only familiar with drawing. It came naturally to me,” he says when asked if he has ever tried other mediums.
Using watercolour or oil isn’t in Ikeda’s future, setting him apart from other Japanese and Canadian artists.
“While the popularity of anime influences contemporary Japanese art that addresses the notion of cuteness, sexuality and violence continues, Ikeda’s work offers an alternative version,” Kiriko Watanabe, curator for the West Vancouver Museum, tells The Outlook.
“Ikeda’s work, which shows the influence of fantasy and trauma in Hayao Miyazaki’s strikingly beautiful animation films, illustrates the fragile balance between humans and nature and reveals uneasiness towards unknown future.”
The Lower Mainland is the ideal place for Ikeda to examine the way humans interact with nature.
“The location of Vancouver stands out because we live so close to the ocean, mountains, rivers, all accessible from the city core,” says Ikeda, who is an avid fisherman, skier and rock climber.
“I enjoy taking a long time to complete my work,” he says. “It’s like climbing a mountain. It may be a long distance and difficult, but I enjoy every step upwards and the final feeling of accomplishment.”
Manabu Ikeda’s work is best appreciated in person. Meltdown is at the West Vancouver Museum until Feb. 16 before it’s shipped to Japan. The gallery is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and admission is by donation.
(Photos of Meltodown by urbanpictures.com)