Fumio Noma: Listening to the Whisperings of Nature

Written by: Byron Coleman

Looking at the work of Fumio Noma, on view at Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, from September 9 through 30 (reception September 11, 6 to 8 pm), one is reminded of the great Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki, who fell under the influence of Western writers such as Baudelaire, Poe, and Wilde, yet remained faithful to his national heritage and wrote the ultimate essay on the Japanese sense of beauty, "In Praise of Shadows."

For while Noma has traveled widely throughout the United States and Europe, absorbing many influences in most of the major museums and feels a particular kinship with Miro, rather than working in Western oils, he employs the quintessentially Japanese medium of sumi-e ink painting on fibrous, absorbent washi paper. Thus his paintings, which are for the most part monochromatic compositions of black ink and gray washes accented with spare areas of red pigment, while fresh and contemporary in form and content, are immediately identifiable as being within the great tradition of Asian painting and calligraphy. Although admitting that he "became interested in sumi art when I saw an exhibition for a specific calligrapher," he is quick to add that he was "not interested in calligraphy itself." He was more interested in adapting the traditional medium to a highly personal mode of expression.

"Free from limitations, I paint what can only be painted at that very moment," he explains, "accepting what materializes as myself during that time. So if someone asks about my identity, I would say it is my artwork."

Indeed, it is this subjective approach that enables Noma to dare a theme such as that in his painting "Wave" and not suffer by comparison to Hokusai's famous masterpiece. For Noma gives his own interpretation to the subject, capturing the rhythmic movement of the great wave in what appears to be a single uninterrupted stroke of a broad brush loaded with black ink. The muscular form gathers momentum as it moves across the white paper from left to right, curling upward at its tail-end in a gesture that spits spatters of ink like bits of foam.

If the previous image harks back to the spare, splashy spontaneity of the Zen literati painters of several centuries ago, in another painting on the theme titled, "A Wave in the Moonlight," much of the paper is saturated with moody black and gray tones, in the manner of a semi-abstract composition by an early American modernist such as Arthur Dove or a visionary canvas by Albert Pinkham Ryder. Only the whiteness of the wave's foamy curve and the full moon, half-veiled in wisps of cloud, relieve the nocturnal darkness.

"When I paint," Noma states, "nature's whispers such as rivers flowing, the sound of the wind and birds singing flow inside my mind like background music; no external sounds ever reach me."

From within this intensely hermetic contemplative state, cut off from the outside world, Fumio Noma transcribes an inner world composed of flowing, floating forms, laid down with a rare gestural flair. Sensual shapes flare upward in "Flaming Desire," gather like black smoke in "Hot Wind," or vibrate like the energy of consciousness itself in "Zen Sitting Meditation," each stroke becoming a unique living entity.

Image Credits: Wave Ink on Paper, 35.5" x 71"

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