An artwork by Japanese artist Mimei Sakamoto, who has been expanding her field of work from cartoonist to critic and commentator, was selected for the Salon d’Automne (“autumn salon”). The French art exhibition is esteemed for its focus on avant-garde and up-and-coming artists. A private view of her work was held in Paris on October 27.
The Salon d’Automne first opened in 1903 and has been a platform for new movements in modern art such as Fauvism and Cubism. Japanese artists who have entered their work in the past include Foujita Tsuguharu, Keizo Koyama, Seiji Togo, Yuzo Saeki, and Hiro Yamagata.
Mimei Sakamoto, 56, has previously written an article for JAPAN Forward in which she discussed her determination to overcome her illness and difficulties presented by the pandemic. This time, she has expressed her joy at overcoming those challenges and being selected for the exhibition. Her essay on the exhibition follows.
To Live as ‘A Drop in the Vast Ocean of Art’
On October 27, 2021, I stood under the statue of Charles de Gaulle at the Champs-Élysées–Clemenceau station in Paris. I have come to attend a vernissage (private viewing) of my painting Bateau L’avoir, selected for the world-famous Salon d’Automne, with other artists and guests.
I received a printed invitation from Le Club des Amis de l’Europe et des Arts, an organization that helps Japanese artists enter their work in overseas exhibitions. We were not allowed to enter the venue without this invitation and a pass sanitaire (health pass). Of course, masks were also mandatory.
Those with an invitation were allowed to bring only one guest. My solo exhibition in Paris was going to be in November, but I decided to come early for this rare opportunity.
Needless to say, I was overjoyed when I found out my work had been selected for the Salon d’Automne. The exhibition has produced famous artists such as Picasso, Cézanne, and Matisse, and been the birthplace of major trends in modern art such as Fauvism and Cubism.
Although I didn’t win a prize for my work, I was happy just to have it displayed in the special exhibition hall on the Champs-Élysées. Everyone told me, “You’ve made it to the starting point of becoming a global artist, congratulations.”
Of course, my husband Shigeru Takeda, who had supported me through my comeback from an incurable disease, was over the moon.
Support Means Everything
Even though I was told that I would be either bedridden or dead in a few years, Takeda married me and did his best to provide rest and treatment. Although the survival rate of patients with my connective tissue disease had increased dramatically with the use of steroids and other treatments, the specific type of connective tissue disease still had a high fatality rate and a high probability of eventual immobility. But Takeda, a doctor himself, accepted me as I was. He married me even though he had nothing to gain.
Takeda would say, “Don’t do any housework. Rest your body. When you get better, you should devote your time and energy to art. Devote as much time as possible to painting and singing because you don’t have much time or energy left.”
“I just want to be like Theo van Gogh, the younger brother of Vincent Van Gogh who gave him a lot of support,” he told me, laughing. Takeda has superhuman generosity.
Then, I made a miraculous recovery. Whenever I walk, draw, or sing, I always think to myself, “Since I am in such a blessed environment, I want to give all my life’s energy to practicing, painting, and letting my expressive style resonate throughout the world. I want to make my husband happy.”
Aiming for an overseas exhibition was an obvious choice.
The Salon d’Automne
Once I stepped into the exhibition hall, I was confronted with overflowing talent. It made me wonder how I could make my work stand out among them.
I had to find an expressive style and theme that only I could create. I tried being creative in my own ways, but it wasn’t enough. I needed to be creative on a completely different level. I was really glad that I had flown in early to see the exhibition.
What made me happy was that many artists approached me, thanks to my kimono and the name tag that only exhibiting artists wore.
New artists and established artists alike were surprisingly frank and cheerful. I thought to myself, “Without this fundamental cheerfulness, artists cannot survive in a world where they are constantly judged, and sometimes rejected or easily overtaken by their juniors or novices.”
Art gives you opportunities fairly, according to the measure of your talent. That means that my work is all I have to show for myself. Whether an artist overcomes an incurable disease, faces poverty, discrimination, or war doesn’t make a difference. Also, in an international arena like this, each artist’s unique culture shines all the more.
I realize that from now on, I will live my life as a drop in the vast ocean of art, where all kinds of talent crowds together. To become a ray of light in that ocean would involve a journey of delving into my identity as a Japanese, and exploring ways to interpret and express the ancient culture in a contemporary way that is also unique to me.
(Read the essay in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Mimei Sakamoto
Find other articles by Mimei Sakamoto on her JAPAN Forward author page.