|Video: Masami Teraoka talks about how his daughter, Eve Teraoka, has inspired his artwork|
By Victoria Gail White
Special to The Advertiser
By Victoria Gail White
He has an adult son, Adam, and a newborn daughter, Eve. At 71 years of age, Masami Teraoka is not slowing down — as a father or as an artist.
Just out from Chronicle Books is the lavish "Ascending Chaos: The Art of Masami Teraoka 1966-2006," and next spring he will be at the opening of an exhibition of his work over the past five years. His wife, painter Lynda Hess, is also busy at her own work. Yet both manage to balance baby time with studio time.
Making Hawai'i his home since 1980, Teraoka is the state's best-known artist on the international art stage. His work is in the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, London's Tate Modern and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to name just a few. Since he made his name with his Japanese ukiyo-e-style watercolors with Japanese and American iconography, his visual language and media have evolved. More recently he has produced altarlike, Renaissance-style triptychs with predellas in oil, dominated by American and European iconography.
Of late, the geishas of his earlier works have returned to his canvases to represent, as he says, "the positive aspect of sexuality."
His current "Confessional" series is provocative, shocking, erotic, visionary, fantastical and totally in your face. And like one of the artists he admires most, Hieronymous Bosch, Teraoka is committed to communicating moral, social, ethical and cultural dilemmas in his work. His own visual poetry folds political and religious events together and traverses chronological time in the process. His "what ifs" unveil the darker forces at play in the world and pull back the curtain to reveal images relating to alienation and death, violence and suffering, terrorism and tourism, mass media, mythology, cloning, the Internet culture, the Inquisition and more.
And he changes diapers, too. In honor of Father's Day, we visited him in his Waimanalo studio.
What is it like being a father at your age?
It's a normal life. I'm a dad. We have Eve. We feed her in the morning, at lunch and dinnertime, and let her sleep. We put in a lot of energy and time to take care of her. I started speaking to her in Japanese so that she will get used to it. I didn't do that with my first child, which is unfortunate.
Actually, I wasn't quite sure how I could live with a newborn baby and produce at the same time. When I recall being with my first child, Adam, in Los Angeles, my attitude as a husband was different. I'm much more involved with raising this baby. Forty years ago, my ex-wife took care of the baby. I was able to take Adam to a park and things like that, but I don't remember the details I'm experiencing now. Every day I watch Eve and notice the subtle changes that take place. It's very difficult to get away from her because I enjoy watching and looking at her so much.
How do you fit painting into your schedule these days?
Before my San Francisco show (at the Catherine Clarke Gallery), which opened in February (and closed in April), I was painting intensely for two months. Then I stopped, up until now.
I'm going back into a productive space now — for my big show in April 2008. It's a five-year survey show in the Patricia Faure Gallery in Santa Monica.
Timing-wise, I'm just getting used to having Eve. She has her Eden area here (he points to a sectioned-off area with plenty of crawl space, complete with toys and brightly colored soft puzzles). I appreciate every change in her and I don't want to miss any. ... I think she's brilliant. At 8 1/2 months she can't talk, but she seems to grasp the reality that she's in and tries to figure everything out. And we have to be pretty sharp, too! She's just so cute; she melts me so much.
How does your family in Japan feel about the new addition?
Recently, we took Eve to Japan to meet my mom, who is 96. At first it was difficult for my mom to cope with all of this because she is so conservative. I have three sisters. The youngest one was supportive, but my other sisters had trouble. Eve was like the ambassador and everyone enjoyed her. They want to see her again.
Many of the women in your paintings are cut up, bleeding or have skin textures like veined marble. Why is that?
There are layers of meaning. Women have been treated like secondary citizens in many cultures for a very long time. My basic view is that human beings have to be totally equal. I can't imagine being a woman thousands of years ago knowing the first woman, Eve, was sinful. That has a lot to do with a negative psyche for women. I don't think men can even pay attention to that because men have always been born in a male chauvinistic society. They are appreciated more, paid more. The defiled women in my work are also a visual pun. The scratch marks on their bodies can also indicate that they are internally hurt or they were caught in the line of fire.
Do you think your imagery is going to get softer now that your heart is being melted?
I'm not sure (laughs), but at least I will have this overall view in my "Confessional" series. I want to cover the four seasons. Eventually, I want it to have a bright side.
What advice would you give Eve about being an artist?
You have to listen to and follow your inner passion. That's the best guide you can depend on.
This detail of Masami Teraoka's painting, "The Cloisters/Eve's First Halloween" features the artist and his daughter, Eve. The internationally acclaimed artist is known for his Japanese ukiyo-e-style watercolors with Japanese and American iconography.