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East Meets West: The Landscape Paintings of Maki Na Kamura

Maki Na Kamura, LD XXIII, 2014, courtesy: DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin, Germany © Maki Na Kamura, photograph by Jens Ziehe

21st century

East Meets West: The Landscape Paintings of Maki Na Kamura

My first encounter with Maki Na Kamura’s art left me perplexed with what exactly the German-based, Japanese artist was intending to show her viewers in her paintings. Although I was confused by the subject matter of her paintings, her cosmopolitan color palette and spontaneity of her compositions immediately grasped my attention.

Once I did some research on Na Kamura’s art, her vibrant works of art are ultimately considered to be abstract, figurative landscapes. Although Na Kamura’s landscapes are innovative and “a breath of fresh air” in comparison to other landscapes in the history of art, I believe her landscapes are derived from the landscapes of the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai and from the classical masters of the Western tradition, such as  Giorgione and Jean-François Millet. Maki Na Kamura shows us how the artistic heritage of her current home in the West and her ethnic heritage in the East can come together to create landscape compositions that diverge from the styles of landscapes created in the past.

Hokusai’s influence

Layers upon layers of paint immediately capture the eyes’ attention when observing Na Kamura’s eclectic landscapes. The multiple layers of paint that are divided into multiple lines is a testament to Na Kamura’s lack of a belief in the straight horizon line that has always been used by artists in the Western Tradition. Her absence of a primary element in Western painting also shows that no boundaries exist between sky and land.

Maki Na Kamura

Hokusai, The Suspension Bridge on the Border of Hida and Etchū Provinces (Hietsu no sakai tsuribashi), from the series Remarkable Views of Bridges in Various Provinces (Shokoku meikyō kiran), c. 1830, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

However, in the Oriental tradition, a horizon line tends to be absent in landscape paintings. Thus, it is evident that the lack of a traditional horizon line in Na Kamura’s paintings seems to have been inspired by the 19th century Japanese painter-illustrator, Hokusai. His most notable work, Great Wave off Kanagawa, is a prime example of Hokusai’s works that do not use a horizon line that is interrupted by clouds.

While many Western landscapes use straight, horizontal horizon lines to give paintings their static nature, Na Kamura creates a sense of dynamism with the horizon line by dividing it into pieces. This destruction of the straight horizon line into several pieces is what gives Na Kamura’s landscapes their fragmentary nature. However, figurative elements such as people and buildings are also found in her paintings. The combination of both abstract and figurative elements within Na Kamura’s compositions create an interesting contrast within the paintings.

The Use of Ancient Masterpieces of Giorgione and Millet

Recently, Na Kamura revealed in an interview that her use of Japanese landscape painting techniques did not come from close examinations and studies of these paintings but through her memories of seeing these paintings in a museum. The unconventional nature of this series of landscapes is further attributed by the use 0f an unusually long German word: Landschaftsdarstellung, dubbed “LD.” The use of this word is Na Kamura’s way of making a statement that her landscapes escape from the reality of the landscapes that humans encounter each and every day.

Maki Na Kamura

Maki Na Kamura, LD XXV, 2014, courtesy: DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin, Germany, © Maki Na Kamura, photograph by Jens Ziehe

In Na Kamura’s LD XXV, Na Kamura recalls the work of the Italian artist, Giorgione, and, more specifically, his composition, Sleeping Venus. She has transformed Venus’s body into a white and beige void. The other figurative elements present in Giorgione’s composition are reduced to abstraction: the red cushion upon which Venus rests is reduced to red stripes, the trees in the background are quick brush strokes, and the blue of the mountains dissipates into the air and rock. She has completely transformed Giorgione’s Venus into a compilation of various colors and abstract shapes.

Maki Na Kamura

Giorgione, Sleeping Venus, 1508, Old Masters Picture Gallery Dresden, Germany

Another reference to a classical master can been seen in LD XXIII. Na Kamura has extracted the three women from Jean-François Millet’s Gleaners  and drops them into an abstract landscape. In her version of The Gleaners, however, the women do not collect leftovers of grain from the field but golden apples, a reference to a 17th century masterpiece by Guido Reni. Reni depicts the story of the Greek myth of Hippomenes and the goddess Aphrodite. In this myth, Hippomenes wins a running race with Aphrodite’s help. Since he won the race, he is able to marry his beloved wife. Unfortunately, he forgot to pay tribute to Aphrodite. Hippomenes’ forgetfulness results in their bewitchment into lions (the ancient Greeks believed that lions could not mate with each other, so they remained childless). If you know that Venus and Aphrodite are both goddesses of love, you will soon realize that Na Kamura’s compositions contain references to classical mythology.

Maki Na Kamura

Maki Na Kamura, LD XXIII, 2014, courtesy: DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin, Germany © Maki Na Kamura, photograph by Jens Ziehe

Although Na Kamura’s paintings are considered to be landscapes, they digress from the traditional landscape painting that clearly delineates all the features of the land. Instead of following academic art tradition, Na Kamura trades clarity for abstraction and reality for imagination by using a vibrant color palette, loose brushstrokes, and abstract shapes. Tradition clearly does not seem to be followed in Na Kamura’s landscapes but introspection into Na Kamura’s ethnic background, personal experiences, and comparison of other paintings indicates that she does follow artistic traditions of both the East and the West. The abstract and figurative quality of Na Kamura’s paintings not only are an exemplification of a divergence from the typical style of the landscape painting but also a compilation of how the people of the West and the East see landscapes through the use of a brush.

Maki Na Kamura

Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

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I believe that art makes us better people and gives us many ways of reflexion on the world of today, past and future. I am amazed and look every time through the eyes of a child. That makes me an art lover and a big admirer of Pablo Picasso. I enjoy visiting art galleries and take at least 40 different looks at the same work of art.



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