From East to West and the Rest of the World
Safety Harbor artist Noriko Kuehn has bridged cultures to create an international art exhibit.
By JULIE GARISTO
Photos by DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
March 31, 2018
Noriko Kuehn, an accomplished Safety Harbor artist and founder of the fine art exhibition East Meets West, has connected artists from her birthplace and adopted homeland to create a world-class exhibit — and possibly a multinational, touring art show.
Exhibiting for six years in Japanese galleries as well as local venues, East Meets West has displayed at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, Leepa Rattner Museum, St. Petersburg College and Duncan McClellan Gallery, Gallery Girasol in Japan, and most recently the Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center.
Envisioned “as a vehicle for the promotion of cross-cultural exchange and the bridging of eastern and western aesthetics,” East Meets West has artists chosen for the way their works “fuse contemporary and traditional methods of creation and presentation.”
Almost as noteworthy as the caliber of talent in East Meets West is how organically Noriko’s artistic family came together — by way of friendships and by chance meetings. Her husband, Joe Kuehn, calls her a “unifier at heart.”
With works as impressive as her curatorial efforts, Noriko shares billing in the exhibit. Her watercolors and Sumi-e reveal a meticulous hand and sensual awareness. She also excels in Japanese calligraphy, which she began learning at age 4.
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Noriko’s efforts most recently culminated in the East Meets West exhibit at the Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center, which didn’t fail to inspire and enchant die-hard art enthusiasts as well as curious spectators not usually in the know about local art shows.
“The event went really well especially the Friday night demo where we had a couple of hundred people,” Noriko said. “The mayor of Safety Harbor also showed up. People commented on Facebook that it was spellbinding and mesmerizing. Seeing a Japanese artist in traditional kimono create artwork to traditional Japanese music is something that is very special to see in Florida.”
The curator also shared that she particularly enjoyed seeing children gathered around Keisuke Teshima who gave a live art performance, employing his famous “One-Stroke Dragon” technique.
“We always hope that this in some way gets kids excited about art,” Noriko added.
Teshima literally creates a dragon with one perfect brushstroke, applying paint and movements without lifting the brush until the dragon is created. He adds detail and color afterward. He has given demonstrations around the globe, most recently in Mongolia and the Philippines
Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub couldn’t stay for the Teshima demo, so another was scheduled on Monday, March 19, at the Safety Harbor Mayor and City Commissioners meeting. A huge turnout of citizens enjoyed the demo. Teshima presented the artwork to the city and then the mayor gave both him and artist Tokuma Takibe keys to the city.
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Other East Meets West artists include St. Petersburg-based painter Nathan Beard, renowned Japanese artists Tokebe Tokuma, Yasushi Tanaguchi and Ai Kawamura, as well as Clearwater-based, globally renowned cast-bronze sculptor J. Harrison Smith. Mediums include wood, Sumi-e ink painting, pastel, acrylic abstraction, bronze figures and watercolor.
Tokebe creates delicate wooden lanterns by carefully shaving interior layers of wood until paper thin, allowing light to shine through their fragile exterior. Smith’s bronze figures and Yasushi Taniguchi’s paintings “focus on the beauty to be found in movement, impermanence and fleeting moments.” Beard and Ai Kawamura present their paintings in ancient scroll format, and Noriko and Teshima rely on traditional brush techniques to make their paintings drawn from nature and myth.
Tradition and ritual and a Japanese reverence for art mastery inform the exhibit, says Beard. “In Japan, it’s considered almost rude to walk by an artwork and not take a moment to view it,” he added.
Beard, known for his eloquent abstracts and nature paintings, has established the group’s web presence this month, showing works by the American and Japanese artists in a variety of media and posting the exhibit on East Meet West’s website, eastmeetswestexhibit.com, plus pages on all the major social networking platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The last show in Japan took place August 2017 at Gallery Girasol, a cafe and arthouse n Kitakyushu, (a city next to Fukuoka in Fukuoka Prefecture, Kyushu Island, Japan), where Beard’s work got to make their international debut. The well-attended, intimate event showcased musicians and attracted press coverage. A Tokyo gallery owner and curator for Fukuoka Asian Art Museum visited the exhibit. He will be including Beard’s work in a group exhibition in the museum, opening April 5.
No doubt the curator was impressed with the subtle dynamics of the show — such as the surprising commonalities of Eastern and Western works paired side by side, a revelation Beard said, “was really cool for me, personally.” He noted the universal recurrence of serpentine forms — the loops in his Exit Music series and Teshima’s dragons, for example.
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What’s on the horizon for East Meets West and Noriko?
Noriko will be traveling to Japan on April 23 and will spend some time in Kyoto at different Galleries, Tokyo and Fukuoka. In addition to St. Petersburg painter Nathan Beard, she’ll be introducing some other local artists’ work during her travels. After returning to the States, she and husband Joe and daughter Michele, a student at Eckerd College, will visit New Hampshire, Quebec City, Montreal and Burlington, returning to Safety Harbor on July 15.
“Passion for art runs in the family,” said Beard. “Both Joe and their daughter Michele energetically assist Noriko in many ways.”
We look forward to the new alliances Noriko forms while she’s away but can’t help wondering, how does she do it all?
“Her attitude is so awesome, so friendly, courteous and charismatic — it’s easy to like Noriko,” Beard said.
More views of the Safety Harbor exhibit and museum below: