Fumiyo Yoshikawa

This month not only ushers in Mother’s Day in the US, but also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.  As such, we are profiling two Asian American artists, both of whom are mothers, to celebrate and integrate these two honorable themes for the month of May.

Fumiyo Yoshikawa

Fumiyo Yoshikawa, born and raised in Kyoto, Japan, is an artist whose specialty lies in two Japanese brush painting methods called nihonga and sumi-e. 

Nihonga brought a change to artistic Asian tradition by blending elements from several Japanese styles, while incorporating some Western brush techniques, to create paintings once used for cultural hand scrolls, door hangings and folding screens.  If singular in color, the paintings were considered "sumi".    For polychromatic paintings, the ink was developed from natural, raw materials such as shells, minerals, and semi-precious stones, pummeled into a fine grain texture, then mixed with glue and water.   Many Japanese portraits and profiles were done in nihonga on washi (Japanese paper) or eginu (silk).  Today they can be framed enabling historical preservation for many, many years. 

Sumi-e is Japanese for “black ink painting”, a method invented two thousand years ago wherein soot collected from kilns was combined with glue, dried into a stick form, then rubbed in with water on a stone, thus creating ink.  These tools for making sumi-e ink are known as the "Four Treasures".    Sumi-e is often focused on “painting a poem” and is judged on the ability of calligraphy strokes, the poetic words, and if it is able to effectively capture the spirit of a message.  Yoshikawa first became interested in sumi-e by seeing a scroll hanging in the house of her grandfather.  He had a big impact on her life.  Her grandfather took her to antique events where her love for older traditions was born.  On the other hand, nihonga is a traditional Japanese painting technique that dates back to the 1880s.  Yoshikawa is a member of the prestigious invite-only Nihonga Artist Association of Kyoto and a board member of the Sumi-e Society.

(An example of sumi-e.  Source: Yoshikawa’s blog)

At age 18, Yoshikawa studied art history and traditional Japanese painting methods while matriculating at the Kyoto University of Education in Japan.   At age 20, she was accepted to Kyoto’s juried art exhibition where her career as an artist took off.  Her artwork has been featured in art galleries, shows, and in exhibitions at museums like the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, The Museum of Kyoto, and among others.  She was able to have solo exhibitions in Tokyo’s Ginza district and downtown Kyoto.

Fumiyo moved to San Francisco in 2004 and begun to incorporate elements of American art into her work.   Her work is shown in the San Francisco Modern Art Museum and other galleries around the city.   She now teaches Japanese art and culture to students of all ages at museums and universities in Colorado and San Francisco.   She is married and has one daughter named Madoka. She speaks of her connection to motherhood, her own and her mother’s, on her blog and how it impacts her art:


I paint my daughter, Madoka, and her dreams. Madoka means “circle,” a Japanese metaphor for peace, happiness, wholeness, and inclusiveness. When I gave birth, I named my daughter Madoka, wishing her to be generous and peaceful like the sun, calm and gentle like the moon.
“Tsuki Madoka”

“Tsuki Madoka”

(An example of nihonga.  Source: Yoshikawa’s blog)

Madoka’s sleeping face is a dream connecting me to the cosmos and all life … a peaceful circle that calms me and soothes my fears. When I see her dreaming face, I forget my sadness, struggles, and past trauma. It takes me to other places and happier times, and I remember my own mother’s face when awake.  
I have given Madoka unlimited love since the time she was in my womb. However, a relationship between a mother and her child is ever changing from happiness to sadness. When I paint her dreaming face, I can find my inexhaustible love for her.
When I connect with this deep ocean of love for Madoka, I reconnect with my mother’s love for me




Besides showing love and appreciation for her native Japanese culture through her art,  Fumiyo Yoshikawa also shows a tremendous mother's love for her daughter.  Both her art and emotion appear unconditional and inspirational.  

We wish Fumiyo Yoshikawa, and all readers, a Happy Mother's Day!






Contributing from New York.



All photos reprinted with the written permission(s) of the artist. 

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