During my residency at Studio KURA in 2013 in Itoshima in southern Japan, I visited many local shrines and temples. It was a very rural area. Sadly, many of the shrines were in disrepair, and centuries-old paintings at the shrines were being rapidly lost due to weather damage. These artworks often depict important events in local history and culture. Many were only 20-30% still visible. I thought about what a huge loss it would be if these paintings and they cultural information they contain disappeared forever, and then had the idea to digitally re-create these paintings.
Below is an example of one of the first such Shrine Paintings I completed, re-painting the image using Photoshop:
The original painting was in a small shrine near Studio KURA. The image was so damaged that nearly all the blue color was gone.
I completed 3 Shrine Paintings while I was in Itoshima, and have made more since coming home to America. I work to fill in the parts of the paintings which have been erased by time and weather with thematic continuity, researching the era in which the painting was made so that I can paint the armor and dress accurately. Below is another of the Itoshima Shrine Paintings. I restored it digitally, and then recreated the digital painting using acrylic ink:
My goal now is to expand this project beyond Itoshima to other parts of Japan. I would like to visit rural shrines in a variety of areas, but my next immediate destination is the Aso region, which suffered much damage in the recent Kumamoto earthquake. The earthquake caused many buildings in the area to collapse, putting the art in shrines and temples there in even greater danger of irreparable destruction. While there, I also plan to try to document the recovery efforts in the Kumamoto region in order to raise awareness of the ongoing difficulties for those living there.
In the future, I hope to work with the local people, historians and curators in Kyushu to further document the history and culture of these paintings. I’d like to broaden the scope of the Shrine Project if I can, to include artists in other rural areas to do similar research with their local shrines.
Eventually, images of all the Shrine Paintings (both the original damaged artwork and the digital restoration) as well as information on what each one depicts will be available to view in an expanding online database which will include art from all over Japan. I have also turned one of the Shrine Paintings into a large-scale mural in West Reading, Pennsylvania; and hope to create more such murals in the future both to spread awareness of this project and to allow more people to access these images.