Pilgrimage Places in India at GPAG

‘Art as geography’ is watercolourist’s credo

You could be forgiven for assuming Hiroshi Shimazaki is first and foremost a painter, as his exceptional watercolour landscapes are clearly the product of both talent and years of practice. But he is an academic, a semi-retired professor of international management, with cultural geography among his specialities. It all adds up when you visit the current one-person show at Gibsons Public Art Gallery, where Halfmoon Bay’s Shimazaki is exhibiting more than four dozen of his works in a collection entitled Pilgrimage Places in India.

“For me, the whole idea of the painting is the geographical record,” Shimazaki said in an interview just before the show’s opening reception on Nov. 9. “Geography and landscape painting share a common concern – the study of the relationship between people and environment.”

Part of the exhibit is a mini-pilgrimage of its own, with a step-by-step arrangement of eight sets of four paintings from eight sites of the Ashtavinayak Yatra, or Ganesha pilgrimage, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. “Each site is interpreted in four watercolours, one for each of the four universal components: geographic setting, physical setting, sacred setting and ritual setting,” Shimazaki said in his description of the exhibit.

Eighteen other paintings on display are from some of his other favourite pilgrimage sites scattered across the subcontinent, which he has visited more than a dozen times in the past four decades.

All the paintings show impressive skill with watercolours, and there’s evidence of a maturing of his technique from the earlier Ganesha pilgrimage series to the more modern-day pieces. One can linger a long time before many of these works, just soaking in the sublime atmosphere of Shimazaki’s work. “It’s important to me not how to make a painting,” he said, “but how I can capture the essence of the place.” That he has.

Remarkably, where painting is concerned, this professional educator is entirely self-taught. “My teacher is the landscape itself,” he said. The exhibit cleverly includes a display case of Shimazaki’s notebooks, which illustrate some of his method and thinking in meticulous pencil sketches and copious notes.

Hiroshi Shimazaki: Pilgrimage Places in India is on at the gallery until Sunday, Dec. 15. There are three meet-the-artist opportunities on Sundays, Nov. 17 and 24 and Dec. 1 from 1 to 4 p.m. The artist is also offering two workshops, Nov. 16 and 23. Details can be found at www.gpag.ca

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