With every painting, Miyata expands her horizons, and that’s what keeps her going.
Mt. Kaya standing majestically beyond the waving wheat fields. The wind-rippled sea of Funakoshi. Chihiro Miyata has gained a reputation for a painting style that conveys the sensations of light and wind. Her annual exhibition, “Itoshima Impressionism,” attracts many visitors from Itoshima and beyond.
It has been eight years since you began painting Itoshima landscapes in earnest. Looking back, what has it been like?
Drawing is something I have loved since I was two years old and is an inseparable part of who I am. The thing that I am most grateful for are the many people I have met since I became a painter of Itoshima landscapes. In the winter of 2021, my paintings of cherry blossoms and rapeseed blossoms were used by JA Itoshima as truck wraps. I am thrilled to imagine my work being a mobile billboard for Itoshima as far away as the Kanto and Kansai regions. The group exhibitions I participated in with woodworkers, potters and felt and fabric artists were also good opportunities to make friends.
The interesting thing about holding exhibitions is that people will often visit and tell me “That’s me in your painting” or “I know this person.” I paint things like a person SUPing in the distant ocean or a kei truck parked on a farm road in a field, and that’s where real interactions begin. I often paint landscapes of people in nature, and the fact that people can tell who someone is even though they appear as small dots in my paintings is a phenomenon unique to Itoshima, where local relationships remain intact.
The encounters I have had through painting have also helped me grow as a person. One woman purchased a painting of Mt. Kaya, and her husband joined a mountain climbing club because he said he suddenly wanted to climb the mountain after he saw the painting. I was surprised to learn that there are people who climb the mountain at least once a week to pick up trash, to check for damage caused by lightning strikes or wind storms and to do research on plants and historical sites. I have always painted Mt. Kaya with the feeling that we are protected by the mountains, but this made me realize that there is a group of people who are actually working to protect the mountains of Itoshima.
You are a self-taught painter, and your solo exhibitions have been successful. Have you run into any problems?
I deal with anxiety every day. (laughs) Since I call myself a painter, I want to make a living by putting my work out into the world.
Even at my exhibitions, not everyone likes my work. Some people give me some professional pointers, and others harshly critique my work by saying it’s not that impressionistic. When this happens, it pains me for a moment, but it’s also a learning opportunity. It helps me reconfirm my own approach to what and why I draw.
The landscapes I depict are not famous tourist spots. I put on canvas scenes from my fast-paced day-to-day life that suddenly strike me. In fact, each piece of artwork has a story to tell. I don’t want to impose anything on the viewer, so I don’t reveal too much of the story, but it is a story nonetheless because it is a landscape that I painted as someone who lives in the area. Because this is the thought process behind my painting, I can stay surprisingly strong even when I receive harsh criticism at my exhibitions. (laughs)
What do you feel when you are painting?
When I feel frustrated or my emotions are in turmoil, I find that I want to draw waves or wheat fields. You might find it surprising that I get frustrated! (laughs) But painting nature helps to calm me down. Some days are rainy but some days are sunny, and nature is beautiful even when the same rhythm repeats itself day after day. The workings of nature inspire me.
I think the same must have been true for impressionist painters like Monet and Van Gogh. They faced many hardships, like economic downturns, war and illness, but their work is beautiful. I think they all found the power to live from nature. In that sense, I am truly happy to live in Itoshima, where nature is so abundant.
I used to work for a social welfare organization, and for about 10 years, my job was to drive patients to and from our facility. Every day I worked hard to make sure they got to our facility safely and on time. One day, everyone in the car said, “Oh, how pretty!” I nonchalantly turned to see what they were looking at, and I saw a beautiful sunset. It moved me. I burst into tears, wondering how I had spent the last 10 years without noticing something so beautiful. I got an impulse to paint that sunset, and that was my first work as a painter.
What are your dreams for the future?
I don’t have many aspirational dreams. I just want to keep on painting.
Every year, you can see the wavering wheat fields because every year, the farmers keep growing wheat. When human activity and nature are combined, it can yield a very beautiful landscape. I paint these landscapes, so I just want to keep painting them this year, next year, the year after and so on and so forth. It is important for me to have that same feeling every time I stand before the landscapes of Itoshima, even if I do not wish to do something grand.
Just as the sun rises and sets in the same cycle but yields a different kind of beauty every day, I want to repeat the same cycle but express myself in a way that is beautiful and full of light each time. It would make me very happy if I could continue to paint landscapes that help the people living in Itoshima remember and rediscover the beauty of their hometown.
I have met Chihiro several times before and have always found her to be a lovely person. In this interview, I felt like, for the first time, I was able to catch a glimpse of the “painter’s soul” behind her smiling face. I think Chihiro’s strong desire to paint the landscapes of Itoshima, her determination to live as a painter and the warmth of the many people who support her may be her true assets. Chihiro Miyata’s works are on permanent display at the gallery Artistation Itoshima located across from JR Chikuzen-Maebaru Station.
Interview: Leyla / Photos: Seiji Watanabe