Standing 10 feet tall and 13 feet wide, a great wave crashes into an ornate cherry blossom tree rendered in exquisite pen-and-ink lines in Japanese artist Manabu Ikeda's latest epic drawing, Rebirth. Known for slowly and steadily improvising intricate scenes bubbling with symbolism, Ikeda sunk three years, three months, and 12 days into the work, a response to the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear reactor crisis at Fukushima.
"What’s most remarkable about Rebirth is the size and time frame," explains Chazen Museum of Art editor Kirstin Pires. In the 9,520 hours he worked as an artist-in-residence at the Madison, WI art institution, he broke 400 pen tips, emptied 20 bottles of ink, and covered 130 square feet of canvas. "While his previous works certainly represent autobiographical elements, this one really covers three years of his life."
Over the course of creating Rebirth, Ikeda fathered two daughters and injured his right shoulder, both of which Pires says are visible in the art. In a correspondance with Ikeda during the illustration process mid-July, the artist describes the incident to The Creators Project: "I dislocated my right shoulder in skiing accident last January." This had an immediate impact on Rebirth. "The first three months after the injury, I couldn’t use my right hand, so I worked with my left hand. I can use the right hand now, but it’s still weak and needs taking break every a hour. I have only four more months to finish the work, I can’t rest any more!"
In a previous interview, Ikeda describes how his 2008 work Foretoken, felt like a prediction of the tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011. Rebirth represents three years of reflecting on the disaster. There are brutal images of destruction embedded throughout. Crashed trains and planes, explosions, rubble stretching off into the distance, and refugees in green tents. But by taking a step back, one sees the big picture: a sturdy tree with vibrant pink petals and roots even greater than the waves crashing against them. Rebirth is fortified by the mandatory hope of a new father for the world his children are inheriting. Parts of it are ugly, but the taken together the whole is beautiful.