Seeking Rie Kono


The Goldfish by Rie Kono

Have you ever done anything so crazy that you can’t quite believe you had the nerve?

When I was growing up, there was a special word reserved for this kind of behaviour. Bold.

It began in late September when a friend told me about an amazing art exhibit that she had seen at the Ikeda 2oth century Museum. This gallery features works from Renoir, Picasso, Miró, Dalí, Chagall, Matisse, and Warhol but my friend was most excited by a temporary exhibit by Rie Kono, a contemporary Japanese painter. The exhibit, “Rie Kono Ballooning Over Everywhere”, was at the gallery only until mid-October so I planned a trip to the city of Ito which had, up until that time, been only a train stop on the journey to Shimoda, a seaside town I adore.

On Friday evening, we tumbled off the train and onto the main street of Ito where we encountered the entire population of the town celebrating a festival. There were few spectators for the parade because practically everyone who lives in Ito was in the parade. I decided the festival was a sign. A good omen for the viewing of art.

After a gorgeous night’s sleep on thick futons in a large room overlooking the river, we took a local bus to the gallery. We knew it was our stop when four middle aged Japanese women began speaking excitedly and pointing to a building of concrete and glass located on the top of a small hill. We made our way quickly through the permanent collection and followed a set of stairs to the lower level. We entered a narrow hallway filled with pastoral, pastel-coloured scenes featuring European-looking buildings, gleeful messages written in English and well-dressed people enjoying themselves at garden parties. These were the paintings that might have resulted had Renoir been a happy Japanese woman.

Our progress through this garden of paintings was slow.

Here’s how it went:
Stand in front a new painting.

Another set of stairs led down to a large open space with more paintings. In the centre of the space was a trunk surrounded by small canvases that were scattered on the floor as if some art thief had been interrupted in the process of stealing this crate of Rie Kono’s work. The heist thwarted, the thief was forced to leave the paintings for those that came afterwards.

The painting entitled The Goldfish was my favourite. The painting depicts a village scene with giant goldfish swimming through. Residents stand in the town square and they appear, in their small circle, to discuss some important topic. I wondered if they were talking about the goldfish. Then it occurred to me that they might not even notice.

It’s difficult to predict what people will notice.
{Even more challenging to guess which things will cause offence.}

When we returned to Yokohama, I found Rie Kono’s work online and bought a print of The Goldfish for our friend… and another copy for us.

On this site, there was a short biography of Rie Kono that mentioned the name of her home city in Japan. I pulled up a map of Japan and discovered that her home city is very close to my home city. In fact, I’d go farther for a good bagel.

God bless the Internet. I found the contact information for a person who sold some of Rie Kono’s work; I emailed and explained that I would like to contact Rie Kono to arrange an interview. By some strange and wonderful twist of fate, the woman I emailed was the artist’s daughter and we began a conversation about a visit.

Tomorrow, my friend and I are going to meet Rie Kono. The amazing Rie Kono who imagined and then painted the world of the Goldfish.

For most of my life, I did not know that you could contact a person whose work you admire and arrange to meet them. It turns out that you totally can.

I am reminded that the list of things one can do is limited only by one’s imagination and one’s willingness to be bold.


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