Looking back, adults tend to view childhood as a time of joy and innocence, and we can forget that it can also be a time of uncertainty, doubt, fear and vulnerability. The artwork on this page captures this ambivalent nature of childhood.
Mayuka Yamamoto (山本麻友香)
Japanese artist Mayuka Yamamoto often paints portraits of young boys with calm, serious and emotionally ambiguous expressions. In many of her paintings, the boys wear animal costumes or sport animal features such as antlers or rabbit ears. In Monster Hand, a small and thin boy, dressed in red shorts and a pale blue flowery tank top, sports a reptilian arm. It is not clear whether this monster arm is a costume or his actual arm. Is he merely playing make-believe, pretending to have a power that belies his tender appearance, or is the danger and wildness represented by the monster arm an inherent and irremovable part of him? You can see more of Mayuka Yamamoto’s work at the website Widewalls.
Chisato Tanaka (田中千智, たなかちさと)
Chisato Tanaka’s paintings also feature children with serious and emotionally ambiguous expressions. In her painting Lying Child, a lone adolescent girl glances sideways as she trudges across a barren landscape of white snow and black sky. The child’s gender is ambiguous, but looks to be female. She wears, or is covered by, a grinning white wolf. With her red boots and colorful sweater and with the wolf atop her head, she looks like something out of a fairy tale. Her figure is slight and she slouches as she walks, perhaps burdened by the weight of the wolf. The wolf can represent the lie of the title—a kind of mask worn to trick others. A lie (even to oneself) can be a form of protection, but at the same time it can be a burden.
The dark sky and white ground are characteristic of Chisato Tanaka’s work. In her artist’s statement (now offline) she writes:
Earth is shrouded by space, night is shrouded in darkness. My works are always shrouded in blackness, yet they are not just expressions of the night, but express the state of mind and the circumstances of what is painted. I weave my tales with the kinds of images you find in storybooks, of landscapes, places and other people that we all share memories with, and whom every one of us has memories of…. I reclaim the images, approaching those objects from memory, and draw near to them that way. I am always conscious of the presence of people in whatever landscape I am in. The white earth, the black sky, and the horizon that is the boundary between earth and sky going on and on and on. You can find light in the darkness that you wouldn’t see during the brightness of the day. Ideas and stories keep on being born while people go on to die. Darkness and light are symbols of death and life, endings and beginnings, the various backdrops against which people live their lives, and the thereon after.
The following video shows Chisato Tanaka at work in her studio:
You can find out more about this artist at her website (mainly in Japanese): www.tanakachisato.com
More Artwork by Chisato Tanaka
I came across more of the artist’s work recently. The painting Journey of Memory is especially beautiful. You can see the photos on this page: artjouer.wordpress.com/artists/chisato-tanaka/
Duan Jianwei (段建伟)
In the painting Young Person, a young boy with a solemn expression holds his wrist while staring at something out of the frame. Like Chisato Tanako, Chinese artist Duan Jianwei tends to strip away any detail from the background, drawing the viewer’s attention the the central figure of the painting. It appears that the boy is nursing his wrist, perhaps because he has fallen or perhaps because he has been pulled. As no other visual information is given, it is not clear exactly what is happening. As in the other paintings shown on this page so far, the subjects in Duan Jianwei’s paintings have ambiguous facial expressions—leaving it up to the viewer to consider what emotions the subjects might be feeling.
Let’s end the page with a slightly more upbeat painting. At least this girl holding a deep fried dough cake has a hint of a smile on her face.
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries.
Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:
- Which of the paintings on this page do you like best? Why?
- How would you interpret the painting entitled What Remains at the End of the World? What is going on in that scene? What is the overall effect of the painting?
- Most of the children on this page have very flat, almost emotionless expressions? What feeling does this give you.
Draw, sketch or paint a picture representing the negative side of childhood innocence.
~ text and photos by longzijun
Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists