Art, Beauty, Philosophy
Comments 5

Artist Study: Makoto Fujimura by Bonnie Buckingham

"Sacrificial Grace" by Makoto Fujimura

In January 2011, an Illuminated Edition of the Kings James Bible will be published to celebrate 400th Anniversary of the King James Bible. The artist: Makoto Fujimura, Japanese American artist, Head of the International Arts Movement, a writer and speaker, and a Christian. The Anniversary Edition will print the six –color metallic process for the Four Gospels.  This is what he will be remembered by.  This is a departure from the traditional art within sacred texts:  contemporary.  So how do we introduce an abstract artist to your students?

Let’s start with what a Picture Talk is. It is to open the eyes and mind to beauty and this leads to Charlotte’s principle about ideas. A Parent’s Review by Miss Hammond (from the Art Appreciation- Picture study page of Ambleside Online), says:
“The greatest picture is that which conveys to the mind the greatest number of the greatest ideas–and an idea is greater in proportion as it is received by a higher faculty of the mind, and as it more fully occupies, exercises and exalts the faculty by which it is received.”

"Tree Grace" by Makoto Fujimura

She goes on to list three root ideas to cover in a Picture Study:  the meaning of the picture, the beauty in which that meaning is expressed, and the personality of the artist. Here we find a hard task with contemporary abstract art. To find the meaning, the title of each painting will give a clue. Fujimura’s art process is a layering of metallics called Nihonga. It produces light upon light as it ages. He writes as well. Read his blog called “Refractions” on his website or order the same titled book.  He collaborates with musicians and is the only artist to perform in Carnegie Hall. He has done a series based on Dante’s Divine Comedy and Sacrificial Grace and 9/11. He asks the “500 Year Question” in his blog (“Refractions”, Vol. 19) after seeing Fra Angelica at the Metropolitan Museum. It is THE question I kept in front of my high school students last year: “What ideas, what art, what vision affects humanity for over five hundred years? It is the opposite of the Warholian ‘15 seconds of fame.’”  He says that contemporary art does not encourage such thoughts.  Makoto will and shows us the transient element of beauty that art gives us.
Looking at his series on Sacrificial Grace, we will see  the beauty of GRACE, for instance, in the hues of blues with golds hidden behind and shining out in tiny cracks. Isn’t that how grace is?  It peeks through.  Here is a taste of his writing on the Images of Grace (Artist Talk by M. Fujimura, Sept 17-18,1997):

Even the materials and technique I use reflect both the transcendent and the immanent. As many of you know I spent six and a half years in Japan studying the technique of Nihonga, which is literally translated as “Japanese style painting.” I use materials and techniques developed over one thousand years of Japanese paintings but using the visual vocabulary of twentieth century contemporary art. I import the materials from Japan–the works are all done on paper–thin, hand-made paper. Some of them are stretched over canvases, some of them over panels. For pigments I use mineral pigments, actually semi-precious stone crushed, such as azurite, malachite, cinnabar pigments. These pigments, when finely ground, become a lighter shade of color. Coarsely ground, they remain dark and intense as on the left side of “Sacrificial Grace.” You can see on “Grace Foretold,” the blue that is flowing from the top–that is the azurite pigment.

I use them not just because they are beautiful, which they are, but because they have this wonderful lineage. I use them because of the specific symbolism attached to them. For me, mineral pigments have significance as symbols; they symbolize God’s spiritual gifts to people and the glories of the saints in the Bible. In Solomon’s temple these precious stones were embedded in the walls as well as in the garments of the high priest. When you look closely at these paintings you see that they have a peculiar surface–they glitter and shine. Crushed minerals, therefore, symbolize gifts both from heaven and earth, and point to my deeper struggle to return the gifts given to the Creator.

Makoto FUJIMURA will become a household name when Crossway Publishers publishes this anniversary edition of the KJ Bible.  Find a little story of his technique or even the 500 Year Question or read one of his essays in “Refractions” AND listen to him. We have that advantage to hear a living artist talk about his work. Charlotte would have loved that!

© Bonnie Buckingham 2010

This entry was posted in: Art, Beauty, Philosophy


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. jmtulis says

    So enjoyed your post, Bonnie. I must get Mr. Fujimura’s book.
    Just found his writings on his website. Thank you so much for this!

  2. Csmith says

    Bonnie, Thank you for this post. Moving us to enjoy nontraditional art is very helpful.

  3. Bonnie, thanks for introducing me to a new artist. It is wonderful to be able to read the artist’s comments about his own work and it’s especially helpful with abstract art. I’m thankful to have a current artist to add to our picture studies and God & the History of Art class.

  4. I never knew he was a Christian. Except for the one I have from childhood, I do not have a KJV Bible. This would be a wonderful version to cherish Finally, some abstract art I might be able to process. 🙂

  5. lotaguirre says

    Heard Fujimura speak at Biola graduation service on May 26, 2012.
    He is very eloquent. He stated that creating is a work of love.
    His gentle spirit embraced us. Amazing speaker!

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