The fascinating world of artist Manabu Ikeda

Photos by Yukiko Onley.

Manabu Ikeda decided to come to Vancouver when he received a scholarship from the Japanese Ministry of Culture one year ago. He chose Vancouver, he says, because he wanted to see how people lived and how the city looked, being situated right next to a vast natural wilderness.

Ikeda was unsure, though, how he would respond to such a landscape. He was so used to seeing Japanese landscapes, which are far smaller in scale but more intricate in details, and are the main inspiration behind his work.

Ikeda's art work is amazing. They are the most detailed pen and ink drawings in colour I have ever seen. And his images are mesmerizing. 

His drawings are so dense that they often take a couple of years to complete. Usually, after a solid eight hours of work, he has only completed 10 square centimetres.

Ikeda is always thinking about his art. Sometimes he sees images when he is doing something mundane, like having a meal with friends, he says.

In his universe, anything could happen. He even doesn't know what the image is going to look like by the time he completes a drawing.

Nevertheless, he needs something to start with, such as wanting to draw water or forest. He allows himself to be carried away by his imagination until a work is more or less half done, which is usually after a year or so of intense work. Then he starts thinking about the whole image, and spends another year of hard work to finish it off.

I asked him if he enjoys the process from the beginning to the end. He said it is sometimes frustrating, but also mostly rewarding.

The more you look at his images, the more you see what is happening within. You see airplanes, samurais, Japanese castles, trains, lighthouses, animals, fish, waterfalls, cartoon characters and so on. It is just staggering to realize what is in the image. Some of the images he has to look up to see how they actually should look. He doesn't want them to be just the product of his imagination. He wants to give them a concrete sense of reality. 

Ikeda has exhibited his work internationally. When his pieces were a part of the Japanese group exhibition called "Bye bye, kitty!!!" in New York this year, The New York Times printed one of his images on a full half page, which made his art dealer ecstatic. At the time, Ikeda didn't quite get how significant that is for an artist. He appears to be modest in spite of his success.

After his work had appeared in The New York Times, there have major changes in his career. The curator from the Metropolitan Museum in New York came to meet Manabu in November. He offered not only to purchase his work, but to offer him an exhibition at the museum. Ikeda told me that the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum would be more likely to happen three years from now, after his exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. He needs that much time to produce enough work for an exhibition.

His last major piece, 'Foretoken', which again took two years for him to finish, is the image of a tsunami sweeping everything away, just like the massive tsunami that hit Japan's Northen Pacific Coast on March 11 this year. As a result, however, the plan to exhibit this particular work has been cancelled -- it looks too real. 

He and his family — his wife and daughter — love Vancouver. The city and the surroundings give him rich experiences to feed his imagination. His one-year term in Canada will be over soon, however. His plan is to go back to Japan in the New Year and then apply for a visa to come back.

He is, of course, very excited about the latest development to be invited by the Metropolitan Museum -- but it means that he has years of very hard work ahead.

Yukiko Onley is a Vancouver based photographer. Manabu Ikeda's photograph was taken this year with ILFORD PAN F film.

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