Review: Golden Sea

Golden-Sea_largeMakoto Fujimura, Golden Sea. New York: Dillon Gallery Press, 2013, 143 pp., $100.00, cloth (with DVD).

This is a lovely book. After receiving it, I walked down the path that runs behind our home here in St Andrews to the East Sands. It was low tide and so I sat down on a large, exposed rock formation and began turning the large pages, shielding myself from the Scottish wind with its sturdy front cover, and listening to the sea as I listened to the works and words on the page.

Along these lines, in the monograph’s first essay, Daniel A. Siedell notes: “The work of art speaks, and, as viewers, we listen.”[p. 10] As I sat there, reading and looking and listening – to the works and words and sea – I felt as though I was listening not only to, but alongside Fujimura.

“Golden Sea” is a painting that had its beginning alongside Fujimura’s The Four Holy Gospels.  Siedell explains: “As he was at work on the The Four Holy Gospels … Fujimura would take a break from the tightly conceived parameters of the project by painting on a canvas in the corner of his studio – a form of absent-minded relaxation from the rigors of the illumination project.”[p. 10] He continues: “The unexpected result is a painting that marks a culmination and a watershed in his development as an artist.”[p. 10]

In the second essay, Kei Tatejima, the Chief Curator at the Sato Museum (Tokyo, Japan) rehearses familiar themes, discusses Fujimura’s early fascination with birds (e.g., “Aijo #3: Compassionate Love”), and speaks to Fujimura’s compassion as seen in his post-9/11 and post-tsunami relief efforts.

These first two essays are a bit heavy on biography,[pp. 7, 10-11, 15; cf. 90] a topic sufficiently covered in Fujimura’s River Grace.[1] Rather than rehearsing what has been said elsewhere, then, Siedell and Tatejima might have spent a bit more time on Fujimura’s connection to Togyu Okumura, Matazo Kayama (his teacher), Tawaraya Sotatsu, Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman. Siedell mentions them,[p. 11] but they receive scant attention. A side-by-side comparison with commentary would have been  helpful here. The same might be said for Robert Kushner’s mention of the Western landscape,[pp. 39, 41] or Julie Hamilton’s mention of Yves Klein.[pp. 110] Hamilton does cite Fujimura’s discussion of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s “The Gates, Central Park, New York City,” as well as Marina Abramovic and Jackson Pollock in relation to performance art,[pp. 107-108] but these comparisons lack specificity. With regard to Fujimura’s own work, the side-by-side of “Sketch for Futako Tamagawaen (Twin Rivers at Tamagawa)” and “Futako Tamagawaen (Twin Rivers at Tamagawa)”  was most welcome,[pp. 20-21] but it was, surprisingly, the only side-by-side of its kind.

That said, the sheer amount of space dedicated to Fujimura’s work is fantastic. The large format (11 x 14 in.) is surprisingly comfortable to hold, but could just as easily be laid open for display on an entry table or dresser. And the crisp, clean design clears would-be debris, enabling the reader to receive the works on their own terms.

Regarding the essays, Roberta Green Ahmanson’s was, from my perspective, the real standout, and this for at least three reasons:

1) It was, to the best of my recollection, one of only two essays that made reference to “Golden Sea,” essential, from my perspective, for a monograph whose opening essay suggests that the work is “a culmination and a watershed.”[p. 10]

2) Even if far reaching – perhaps too far at times – Ahmanson’s essay is a pleasure to read as it brings Fujimura’s work into dialogue with a whole host of conversation partners.

3) Like the other essay that makes mention of “Golden Sea,” Ahmanson’s essay is personal, and though that might be construed as a weakness (i.e., lack of objectivity with vested interest), here it comes off as warm and insightful.

Lectio Cathedral, Alfonse Borysewicz
Lectio Cathedral, Alfonse Borysewicz /lectio_works.html

Regarding particular pieces, I especially enjoyed “Futako Tamagawaen #65 (Twin Rivers at Tamagawa #65: Nocturne),”[p. 23] and the Cedar Board Series,[pp. 30-31] the latter reminiscent of Alfonse Borysewicz’s Lectio Series, “Lectio Cathedral” in particular.

The above criticisms aside, the book is, again, lovely, and while the $100.00 price tag might deter some readers, the book’s high design and  production quality, as well as the inclusion of an excellent DVD, make it worth every penny. A real treat, a “repose of harmony and reconciliation.”[Wolterstorff, p. 76]

Review by Christopher R. Brewer

[1] Makoto Fujimura, River Grace. New York: Poiema, 2007; cf. “River Grace,” Pages 29-40 in Image 22 Winter-Spring 1999. The monograph also includes a “Biography.”[p. 137] [2] Fujimura has been comapared previously to Rothko and Newman. See, for example, David Gelernter, “Makoto Fujimura and the redemption of abstract expressionism,” in The Weekly Standard, 3/7/2005 vol.10, issue 23. Kristen Frederickson, Robert Kushner, and Fujimura himself have made similar comparisons in various catalogues of Fujimura’s work.



  • Christopher R. Brewer (PhD, St Andrews) is a Program Officer of the Templeton Religion Trust, Nassau, The Bahamas. He has edited or co-edited six volumes, including Art that Tells the Story which was named one of Hearts & Minds Best Books of 2011. He is now working on a book for Zondervan Academic provisionally titled Understanding Natural Theology, and an additional edited volume (for Routledge). His current research has mostly to do with questions at the intersection of theology, philosophy, and contemporary visual art, but also includes Anglican ecumenism.

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