Creating the image of peace — Kitamura Seibo

Just north of the hypocenter where the atomic bomb exploded over Nagasaki is a commemorative park honouring victims of mass destruction. Walkways wend through trimmed lawns dotted with sculptures gifted from nations around the world in a mournful solidarity. The piece that caps the display is of a powerful man, one hand pointing up at the threat of the bomb while the other is stretched out in tranquil peace. He sits in a partially meditative pose, but with one leg up, ready to leap into action to help humanity. This ten meter tall statue was created by Kitamura Seibo, a renowned artist, at the age of 70.

statue

Seibo is a curious figure and prolific artist who lived until the age of 102. You can see him spryly climbing up the statue and his fantastic moustache in this short NHK profile on him. I have seen his pieces in Nagasaki City but also in Shimabara City including some temples and Shimabara Castle.

landscape
Panoramic view from the house where Kitamura Seibo was born

The house where Seibo was born sits high on a hill above terraced rice fields in Minamishimabara, overlooking the Ariake Sea. It has been turned into a museum, and features a walking garden with a number of his works. While traveling around Shimabara I stopped at this house, as well as Shimabara Castle also has a museum dedicated to Seibo, with some of his works on the grounds. Take a look at some of these pieces.

Below I have collected some shots of the variations on the Peace Statue from around Shimabara. Interesting to see his experiment with a standing version.

collage of four images showing various versions of the same statue
Versions of the Nagasaki Peace Statue, and the final (right)

There is something about Seibo’s style, about the way he does abstract faces, that reminds me of Koganemaru Ikuhisa, another Nagasaki sculptor from my island of Iki. I asked the staff at the museum whether Seibo and Koganemaru ever met, if they were members of the same artist community, but he said he didn’t know. He had never even heard of Koganemaru.

Other than statuary, Seibo was also a renowned calligrapher. He has a very scratchy, dry style reminds me of calligraphy done with bamboo brush.

The characters branch out at all angles like a dried out bush, or sticks of driftwood stranded on a beach. The consistency of this style across the decades is remarkable. Unfortunately photography was prohibited in the museum, but I was able to sneak a bad angle with my iPhone of a piece that particularly spoke to me.

framed calligraphy

夢で始まり 情熱で育む 義務で成功する

Start with a dream

Nurture it with passion

Achieve it by obligation

This is my translation and I would like to elaborate on the word “achieve.” It should have the image of “crossing the finish line”, or to successfully complete something. I think Seibo really captures the journey of the creator: you have an idea and get all fired up about it, but oftentimes execution is the hard part. Furthermore, creators will come up with new ideas that distract them from finishing what is in front of them. da Vinci said “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Deadlines, responsibilities to others or even one’s own bank account, and social pressure can all be a source of obligation to help an artist get a project over the finish line. That is part of the discipline of seeing something through to the end. This is my interpretation, so maybe it reflects on my personal struggle with finishing projects and not Seibo’s intention in writing this! Seibo completed over 600 works in his 102 years. He wrote these words at the age of 66, and they inspire me today.

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