NAMBATA Fumio: Works 1960-1974


Several threads of interest run through Nambata’s work. To clarify the connections between those threads, instead of maintaining a strict chronological order, this exhibition presents a multi-viewpoint introduction to his oeuvre in terms of various aspects, from motifs and themes, to the deepening of his linear and color expression.

  1. Adolescence: Days of Self-struggle

    In 1960, the 18-year-old Fumio entered the Bunka Gakuin with intentions of becoming a painter, but he found it difficult to work up enthusiasm for the classes. Rather, he shut himself up in his room, working alone. In his diary he wrote that the arts are “a struggle with one’s self.” He drew on the inspiration of music and literature as he faced the issues of life and death and the uncertainties of existence. The works produced from these efforts are in essence a monument to adolescence, characterized by a sense of direct expression, as if he had transferred, as is, his own internal complexities onto his painting surface. This section focuses on a series of works named by his parents after his death, “Self-struggling Days.”

    Self-struggling Days
    watercolor, ink on paper
    Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
    photo: SAITO Arata
  2. From the Depth of the Unconscious: Early Drawings

    Countless drawings remain from Fumio’s early period. Rather than intentional or conscious productions on paper, it is as if he were unconscious, moving beyond his own thoughts and intentions into a dreamy place, grasping at naturally surfacing thoughts that are hard to fathom. The images that appear in these drawings are the realm of the unconscious itself, they speak in naked terms of the ways and means of human existence.

    watercolor, ink on paper
    Setagaya Art Museum
  3. Journey to the Cosmos

    It was through drawing that Fumio’s linear expression blossomed, at the same time he realized a series of works rich in cosmic sensibility. People and space ships, animals and strange beings, images that float freely, stripped of gravity, across the picture plane. Humorous in tone, they speak variously of the innate human dream of flight. Let’s experience Fumio’s trip through space in this long handscroll with its occasional admixture of graphic elements.

    Terminus, Space Station
    watercolor, ink, tempera on paper
    private collection
  4. Synthesis

    After quitting the Bunka Gakuin, Fumio entered Waseda University in 1965. Two years later his work continued unabated, as seen in his first solo exhibition. By this period the production of small works that uniquely fuse pen-drawn lines and watercolor colors took on all the greater importance, and later these features became characteristic of his oeuvre. These works and their combination of his various previous experiments reveal the process by which Fumio established his style and form.

    Colored Drawing 7
    watercolor, ink on paper
    Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
  5. Loss of the Sun

    The sun reappeared over and over again as one of the important motifs of the late 1960s. Touching on Camus and Sartre, it was as if Fumio had somehow lost the warm sun, so beloved since childhood. He wrote that all that remained was an existence that radiated “absurdity.” Should people shed absurdity or become inured to it? What indeed is human existence? Such questioning may have driven Fumio’s creative production.

    Praise to the Sun
    watercolor, ink on paper
    Art Space Yu
  6. Color

    Deepening color expression became one axis of Fumio’s works from around the mid 1960s. He began to link color with psychological depths, puddling and streaking watercolors, overlapping colors to create atmosphere of translucent light and moist air, all resulting in an intricate and rich surface. Fumio’s color expression from this period onwards attained one point of conclusion in post-World War II Japanese watercolors.

    watercolor, ink on paper
    Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
    photo: HAYAKAWA Koichi
  7. Geometry and Life

    One of Fumio’s themes was the expression of vital organic forms through the use of geometric elements, as if to grasp the moment when the repetition of straight lines, curved lines, concentric circles and geometric forms engenders such a form. Antithetical to his earlier cosmic scale works, these works, drawn at times with a loving gaze, are pierced through with a micro world alive with tiny creatures.

    watercolor, ink on paper
    Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
    photo: HAYAKAWA Koichi
  8. Narrative of the Self and the Other

    While Fumio frequently struggled alone with his thoughts and works, this did not mean that he was uninterested in others or society. Rather, his solitary self-awareness was always born from his consciousness of others. In his early period Fumio liked to depict various group images, in his later period the only human figures to appear were projections of himself and of others, where clearly the subject had become the relationship between the two. Vagabonds, young girls, figures of men and women strolling along the seashore, these and other figures appear in these works—all challenging the narrative imagination of their viewers.

    oil on canvas
    Art Space Yu
  9. Towards the Source of Life and Death: Images of Water

    Throughout his life Fumio dwelt long and hard on the meaning of life, and thus, by necessity, he was driven by an awareness of death. The true meaning of life that could only be grasped through a direct confrontation with death—that alone was what Fumio continued to seek. The works of his final period, from around 1970, focused most intently on these issues of life and death. Of note in these works is the frequent appearance of the water motif, whether ocean or lake. Fumio may have been depicting a desire, amidst the harshness of life, for a return to the womb, the watery mother of us all.

    On the Lake
    watercolor, ink on paper
    Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery

In January 1974, while on a ferry returning from a trip to Kyushu, Fumio fell overboard into the Seto Inland Sea. He was only 32 years old. Consequently he is known as a painter who died young, a painter of themes of youth. Nevertheless, in spite of such images as an artist, Fumio’s arts had already fully developed, expanding out in circular waves to his rich repertoire of imagery. Fumio’s creative days, his struggles with his self through drawing, his continuing belief in his own realm through drawing—all vividly emerge through this exhibition.

Tokyo Operacity Art Gallery