Exploring the Mind

“The ultimate challenge for me is how to express my mind,” says experimental artist Mitsuko Ikeno. For her painting Oriental Woman, Ikeno came up with the idea for the tall mirror image and then made canvas panels to fit her idea.


Oriental Woman (acrylic on canvas, 72×48) is a 2000 Art Competition finalist.

Ikeno describes her work as experimental, and Oriental Woman was an experiment for the artist on several levels. This was her first two-panel painting and her first attempt at a flipped image. Working from sketches and photographs for the face, and drawing on traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e painting (which features woodblock prints depicting everyday customs and habits) for the kimono designs, Ikeno began with the left panel and, after finishing the face, worked from top to bottom. She then painted the right panel the same way, focusing on using primary colors and intensifying the red. “The color red has qualities of pain, passion and intensity,” she says. “That?s why I used it for the background. I had to paint many layers of cadmium red to create an intense, consistent background.”

“I wanted to use a woman in a kimono, which is a cultural symbol of Japan,” says Ikeno, who found the inspiration for her figure?s face in a Japanese weekly magazine. “I liked her moody, emotional feeling. I wanted to express the beauty of seduction and moodiness.” To create that effect and draw attention to the center of the painting, she painted a mirrored image. But it isn?t a perfect reflection. “I tried to make the kimono patterns slightly different from each other because I wanted the viewer to look at them more closely and move their eyes back and forth from face to face and pattern to pattern, down the length of the works,” she says.

Her combination of traditional Japanese painting on the kimonos with a more three-dimensional style for the faces and hands creates even more contrast in the piece, which she says is typical of her work. “My work tends to be surrealistic?somewhere between reality and a dream.”

Ikeno began studying art at 10 years old. But her love and talent for art were set aside for private study, and she studied to become a school teacher. After teaching health for 16 years in Japan, Ikeno came to the United States in 1995 to earn a degree in English literature. When she took a few art classes just for fun, she discovered that art intrigued her even more than literature.

Since then Ikeno has been painting almost daily and is now pursuing her fine arts degree at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. She?s had exhibitions in Anchorage and Homer, Alaska, but her first experience showcasing her work was 20 years ago in her native Japan. Although trained in oils, the artist prefers the flexibility she has working with acrylics. “If I?m using oils I must wait for the paint to dry,” Ikeno says, “but with acrylic I can quickly change or apply an idea while I?m painting.”

D.L. Hawley is a professional freelance writer and artist who paints in oils.

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