Passing through the town of Anbo and heading in the direction of the mountains, I came upon small red flowers in bloom. Back behind these flowers, and surrounded by green foliage, I found the home and studio of Shoko Mukai.
Shoko is originally from Akashi city in Hyogo prefecture (in the Kansai region, near Osaka). Before moving to Yakushima, she did design-related work in Tokyo. At that time, painting was a hobby, but her desire to paint grew, and she quit her job. In 2008, she moved to Yakushima.
Inspired by the island’s nature, Shoko has painted more than 100 paintings. Her paintings have been used on packaging for Hombo Shuzo Brewery’s wine “Yakushima Sangria Passion” and elsewhere.
“I want to convey the origins of a variety of lives.”
Shoko makes impressive use of brilliant colors and bold compositions. When I stand in front of one of her paintings, I feel like I’m being pulled into that world, as if I have become a part of it. Shoko says, “When I face my work, I feel like I’m diving into a quiet place. And the deeper I go, the more I can feel the connection between all living things.”
In addition to oil paintings and watercolors, Shoko Mukai dyes thin cotton towels with red soil, paints on iron sand and other compositions that are closely connected to the island’s nature. Shoko also wants to pursue opportunities for exhibitions off the island.
There was a time though when, in the course of painting the island’s nature, Shoko came to feel that the boundaries were disappearing and she wasn’t able to draw at all. “If all life is one, how can I draw the shape of a leaf? Nature is beautiful as it is, so what’s the point of my painting it?” She spent her days wondering, “If I already have everything, what more should I be looking for?” However, she gradually came to think “Since I was born into a body, perhaps there is something I can do with it.” And she started painting and creating again.
In her studio, surrounded by a thick growth of trees, Shoko tells me “The smaller I become, the better my paintings are.” Saying this, she smiled a soft smile and the boundaries between painter, person and the world seemed to disappear as she melted into a large canvas filled with the island’s nature.