YEMMX | 池田 学 Manabu Ikeda
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池田 学 Manabu Ikeda

Ikeda Manabu is one of the most successful Japanese contemporary artists. He was born in Saga, southern Japan, in 1973 and earned his BA and MA from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Working primarily with pen and acrylic paint, he has produced fascinating works that are extremely detailed and combine the human and natural worlds, the past and the future into a single pictorial field. Many of Ikeda’s works intertwine elements of history, culture, nature, and cityscape. His themes and subject matter are monumental but Ikeda draws intricate buildings, people, trees, animals, birds, trains, ships, and planes. Because of the intensity of his work, most of his drawings are small in size, but he has created several large-size works, each taking more than a year to complete. His artworks are arresting and entertaining, full of visual devices that create unexpected connections between disparate scenes. His works compel viewers to “read” them carefully and remember the joy of looking.

Ikeda Manabu
Meltdown, 2013
pen, acrylic ink on paper mounted on board, 122cm x 122cm

In January 2012, Ikeda exhibited his latest work, <i>Meltdown</i> at the <a href=”” target=”_blank”>West Vancouver Museum</a> in Canada. By applying acrylic ink on paper with pen, the artist drew an incredible image that, with its concise, blunt, and even shocking title, unquestionably refers to the meltdown of three nuclear power plants at Fukushima Daiichi in Northeastern Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. A monumental iceberg-like entity, whose top comprises a gray-colored, dysfunctional industrial complex, is juxtaposed with the lively natural green forest and emerald blue sea beneath it. It will not be long until the “dead” industrial world touches and contaminates the natural worlds of trees and water through the bottom part of the iceberg. Meltdown invites the viewer to come closer to the work, to explore visual devices that the artist has set out. Ikeda’s craftsmanship and artistic skills are impressive: he meticulously draws the tiny, entangled pipes of the plant, renders individual trees with tremendous care, and presents the theme in an allegorical framework. Mirroring the practice of contemporary Japanese art, which consciously merges “subculture” (anime and manga) with “fine arts,” Ikeda incorporates into his art the fantastic world of the filmmaker Miyazaki Hayao, to whom, he publically acknowledges, his works are indebted. Meltdown is reminiscent of the old but energetic and living residential castle situated against a mountainous natural background in Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). Radiation is invisible, but Ikeda focuses on the “visible” symbol of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown: the plant. It is the uncontrolled, collapsed nuclear plant that made the nearby area uninhabitable, and Ikeda’s drawing, which is void of human figures, conveys the solitary atmosphere of this deserted part of Fukushima. The juxtaposition of the radiation-exposed broken nuclear plant and glorious, pure nature is disturbing and alarming, conveying to the viewer the urgency of the problems that Japan is both facing and causing for the rest of the world. “This time it occurred in Japan,” the artist says, “but there are hundreds of nuclear plants throughout the world, and you never know where an accident will occur next.” The audiences at West Vancouver Museum found Ikeda’s art disturbingly relevant.

Ikeda Manabu
Meltdown (Detail)

Meltdown reminds us that after nearly two years the Great East Japan Earthquake continues to haunt us. This work is the artist’s first direct engagement with contemporary social and political issues. Ikeda’s art without question adds a new chapter to the long history of disaster / nuclear art in Japan. The question is, what kind of chapter will that be? This article will first introduce Ikeda Manabu and his art, and situate Ikeda’s works within the history of imagining disasters in Japanese art by introducing prominent Japanese works, including disaster prints from the Edo and Meiji periods and nuclear art by Domon Ken, Fukushima Kikujiro, and Maruki Iri and Toshi. The article ultimately considers what Ikeda’s art means to the larger discourse of contemporary Japanese society and art.

(c)IKEDA Manabu
Images Courtesy Mizuma Art Gallery
Text via Asato Ikeda