An artist in a rising sun: Yuko Sakurai

Yuko Sakurai is one of a new “global” generation of talented Japanese painters. Born in Tsuyama in 1970, Ms Sakurai has lived in North America and Europe, and is now based in Paris, France. Her warm, rich, virtually tactile paintings have won acclaim in several major cities, and were exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2011. Ms Sakurai personifies a new, cool Japan and its enriching influence in an evolving global village. She describes some of her thoughts in this interview.

Yuko Sakurai: Travelling makes me alive, makes me flexible, makes me happy, makes me stronger by connecting with people, and makes me feel enriched by encountering nature. Travelling strengthens my emotions, stimulates all my senses, teaches me even about food origins from place to place, and shows me other ways of life by getting closer to different cultures. It is not easy to observe myself if I always live in the same place and environment that I like or know well already. One thing I want to tell you is I do care about my own home base, for it gives me self-consciousness and self-awareness.

While I want to gain as much information as possible from the outside world by travelling, I also need to return to my home base every once in a while. It might be because I am very emotional. I just cannot handle receiving so much information from being away over a long period of time. Eventually, I like to go back to my home base, and digest all my emotions from the experiences gained by travelling and which formed part of my consciousness. If I remember correctly, Hamish Fulton said that when you start travelling, you start feeling yourself to be smaller and smaller, and then the world becomes bigger and bigger. I think that those are beautiful words. So, travelling has a strong impact on my work. By travelling I get my own freedom and I can express myself in a more direct way. The emotions that come out by travelling I express in my work. I want to tell you one thing: I create my work with only positive thoughts. I like to share my emotions and thoughts in a positive direction.[…]

Peter Lodemeyer: Does it mean that art has an ethical dimension for you? Is there something like a utopian element in your work?

YS: I don’t think that I have an ethical dimension in my art. Ethical and moral principles are important to our lives, our society, our culture. Depending on the culture where you grew up, the ethics can be different. I do care about them, but I do not use them in art. Of course when I express myself, it means that the art contains my own philosophy, my own ethical thoughts, but I do not take it as a subject matter. Therefore, I do not have any utopian theory in my work. I am not a dreamer. Through my art, I would like to share my thoughts with people. I don’t wish to teach viewers or try to educate them through my art.[…]

PL: Your works refer to places you visited. So, they are strongly related to memories. What kinds of memories play a role for making your works?

YS: It’s not necessarily about memories. Sometimes I make art like a diary. Then I chose themes from my daily life and surroundings in certain places to express my existence and my awareness. Tsuyama, Heusden and Miami are places where I have lived; these places influenced my life and art. Although I do not live in Japan, Tsuyama is still my parents’ hometown. When I go back to Japan, I always visit Tsuyama. My roots are there, and after some time I miss Japanese tradition and culture and feel that I need to experience the original Japanese essence again. This is like recharging my battery, that’s why I go back there. When I come back to Europe, I make Tsuyama works. Tsuyama, Heusden and Miami are my groundworks. With them I do create a relationship with these areas. My memories are passion, excitement and fascination. My emotions come from feeling the water, feeling the earth, from the sense of touching, the atmosphere of the sky and the sun. I can feel the essence of a place with all my senses. When I can reach the source of a river, or a high mountain, a place where not many people have been, an area where local people live or a deep forest with no one, that’s fascinating. I feel existence by just being there. When I was in Miami, for example, I was lucky to stay by the beach, facing east on the Atlantic Ocean. Every day during the sunrise, I could experience the differences in colour of sky, clouds and waves. I tried to pay attention to these colours. For three months I rarely missed seeing any sunrise. That was an extraordinary time experience. I always told myself that it might be the last chance to have such a beautiful sunrise view for myself. From these days at 69th & Collins Avenue I made 55 sunrises. Sometimes I made work from cities such as Brussels, Ghent, Cologne and Paris. These are memories from my encounters with people there, who influenced me. I do not write of my experiences in a notebook. I only express them in my work to keep remembering. […]

Extract from an interview with Peter Lodermeyer (, in Venice, Italy, June 2009. Published in Personal structures-Time-Space-Existence, edited by Peter Lodermeyer, reproduced courtesy of Yuko Sakurai and Peter Lodermeyer. The full 3,000-word version can be read at

Yuko Sakurai’s paintings will be on show at the OECD Conference Centre in Paris in April-May 2014, courtesy of ALORA, the organisation’s staff social and cultural committee, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Japan’s membership of the OECD.


©OECD Observer No 298, Q1 2014

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