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Knowledge Co-Creation - Profiles of researchers

Thinking About the Past and Future
Drawing Cities Which "Don't Exist Today"

Mr. Ken Yabuno
Waseda University Art and Architecture School Professor, Painter

Learning from the free atmosphere of Waseda

Although my father (Masao Yabuno) was a painter, I received 3 points out of a possible 5 in art on my junior high school report card! Due to my poor grades, I believed that it was impossible for me to become an artist, yet I was always attracted to the arts. When I was taking university entrance examinations, I had the opportunity to view the works of the two painters Mr. Yasuki Kanayama and Mr. Kunitaro Suda at an exhibition. The works left me with the strong impression that painting is a form of expression with great possibility.

I was interested in designing architecture and automobiles at the time and was seeking to enter a science and engineering school. However, architecture contained real limitations such as implementation of structure and the Building Standards Law. Conversely, I found painting to be free and interesting due to the ability to go any place or any time and to meet any person. This realization led me to change my course and enter Waseda University with a major in art history.

"One Day on a Hill in Assisi", winner of the 2008 Japan Art Academy Prize. Professor Yabuno painted this epic work while imagining a day gone by in Assisi. Forms of the current family and the deceased father of Professor Yabuno are incorporated into the front of the painting.http://www.waseda.jp/jp/news09/090617.html

I started to paint seriously at around the same time. Neither of the two painters mentioned previously had an education from an art university. Rather, they took an indirect route to becoming painters. Mr. Yasuki Kanayama was a graduate of the University of Tokyo's School of Economics and Mr. Kunitaro Suda majored in art history in the Philosophy Department of Kyoto University. I feel that my encounter with these two painters had a profound influence on my own life.

Although I majored in art history at university, I had a strong interest in cities and architecture. Due to this interest, my mentor Professor Kosei Ando offered to introduce me to a professor in the School of Science and Engineering. I then performed research for my thesis in the field of architectural history under the guidance of Professor Yoshiro Ikehara of the Architecture Department at the School of Science and Engineering. I also learned many things from Professor Kenji Imai and Professor Motoo Take of the Architecture Department, as well as from Professor Otsuro Sakazaki, an art critic from the School of Political Science and Economics. Within the free atmosphere of Waseda University, I was truly blessed with the ability to overcome the boundaries between schools and learn from many wonderful instructors.

After completing graduate school, I studied abroad in Spain from 1970 to 1971. Traveling overseas was rare at the time, so it was common for many family and friends to gather at Haneda Airport to see off a person going to another country. In my case, there was a group of people waving a shabby maroon flag. The group was composed of Waseda faculty and students who had come to see me off. My mentor Professor Kosei Ando was ill at the time and passed away while I was in Spain. However, I still remember clearly how he overcame his illness to come to the airport and how he gave me a warm sending off while he was being supported by students.

Art is a measure for living

"The Prado Art Museum-Solving the Mysteries Hidden in Paintings!", written by Professor Ken Yabuno (published by Chuokoron Shinsha, 2006)
Professor Yabuno has stated that the Prado Art Museum "is a place that changed my life". In this work, Professor Yabuno has reproduced a number of famous paintings and gives consideration to "7 mysteries" which include the historical background of the paintings, persons appearing in the paintings, composition, technique, and hidden themes.

I viewed an enormous amount of paintings in Spain, including the works of Vel叩zquez and Goya at the Prado Art Museum. I experienced the shock of encountering works which possessed different ways of thinking from their very foundation. For example, there were esoteric and iconic paintings that are not often seen in other countries. These paintings were full of darkness and solemnity, and could not be deciphered by someone without religious knowledge. I also encountered paintings of vast size and works with an overwhelming presence that seemed to challenge the viewer to a fight of some sort. Furthermore, these works contained extremely refined techniques that were unwavering. I found the ability of Spanish painters to be awesome.

For example, consider Goya's series of 14 works known as the Black Paintings. These paintings were done by Goya when he was on the verge of death, and are a series of frightening works such "Saturn Devouring his Son". These works could be called "paintings from hell". Despite being told that his death was as close as today or tomorrow, Goya, who was over 70 years old and was plagued with illness, quietly took his brush in hand, crawled to the walls of the house in which he lived at the time, and began painting. After 3 years of work, Goya had covered the walls of his home with the series of epic paintings. It is said that Goya's appetite grew fierce as he worked on the paintings, and that he ate large amounts of meat, drank vast quantities of wine, and recovered from his illness to regain powerful energy.

Upon viewing these works, I felt that Goya had truly embodied the idea that "the act of creation is a measure for making full use of life". At the time of Goya's activity as a painter, Spain was experiencing an invasion by Napoleon and a devastating civil war. I believe that Goya was forced to confront the reality of life and death, and that his experiences were expressed through works such as the Black Paintings.

In addition to being enchanted by Spanish paintings, I was also intrigued by the cities of Spain. The cityscape of Spain had been greatly damaged in the civil war, and places like Madrid were in a state of disaster. Spain had invested huge amounts of money in an effort to thoroughly restore the cityscape to the same condition as before the civil war. I was astonished by the energy and passion of the restoration. I enjoy cities and I had wandered around the neighborhoods of Tokyo before going to Spain. However, upon witnessing the urban rebuilding of Madrid, I felt that Japan was still a city of barracks that was simply continuing to build a city on top of neighborhoods that were destroyed in the war. However, my experiences in Spain were an impetus for me to take further walks around Tokyo and other cities upon my return to Japan, and I began to notice that many wonderful cityscapes remained in the cities of Japan.

Regenerating cities in the world of imagination

Since finishing graduate school, I have continued the same pace of activity until the present, teaching art theory at university and creating works as a painter. For nearly 40 years, I have continued to work by walking around cities and drawing neighborhoods. I have drawn an absurd amount of sketches. My laboratory and home overflow with my works, which continue to increase every day!

A portion of Professor Yabuno's many sketches of cities. He always writes about foods that he has eaten and enters comments in the pictures of cities that he has walked through.

When walking around cities, I always make sketches and memos of foods I have eaten and things that I have seen, in addition to the buildings which I encounter. I create something like a pictorial map of the where I have walked and what I have drawn. I have the sensation of observing and drawing buildings, lifestyles, and all other elements which constitute a city.

When walking around Tokyo, I am made to notice the extreme complex composition that the city possesses. For example, Paris has a "double composition" consisting of passages and courtyards surrounding by buildings, but Tokyo has a triple or quadruple composition in which a completely separate neighborhood appears in places which cannot be seen from the surface. Postwar cityscapes exist together with remaining pre-war and Edo Period cityscapes, and I believe that the appeal of Tokyo is found in the sensation of entering these multiple layers.

My greatest enjoyment in drawing cities comes from using my own imagination to create things which no longer exist even when actually visiting a certain place, things that existed in the past. Even in "One Day on a Hill in Assisi", a work of mine which was award the Japan Art Academy Prize, I painted the cityscape of Assisi in a time period which I wanted to visit.

The next scene which I am thinking of painting is from the time period when Vel叩zquez came to Madrid from Seville and served as a painter in the imperial court, painting works of the king. I want to paint a scene in which the king has just returned from spending time with Vel叩zquez. Currently, I am imaging the imperial court from that era, which no longer exists, and I am drawing repeated drafts in order to arrange an image. For some reason, this work proceeds best when I am riding the Yamanote Line or am inside of a train!

Another work which I would like to create in the near future is a book that travels to cities which I have never seen. These are cities which existed in history but are no more today. The book would describe as I walk through such cities in my imagination, drawing maps, sketching cityscapes, and observing the lifestyle of inhabitants.

Uniting the desires of students and scientific techniques

The "WABOT Book" series, a joint work between Professor Yabuno and members of WABOT, a robot research project at Waseda University. Introduction to research, which has a tendency to be stiff and formal, is fashioned into a picture book with a rich narrative under the warm vision and drawing style of Professor Yabuno.

Compared to other universities in Japan, I believe that the campus of Waseda University is preeminent and wonderful. In Okuma Auditorium, the central skylight of the ceiling contains the sun and the moon, and the smaller lighting fixtures are all stars. This creates the image that students are being watched over by things which are sacred and eternal. I believe that the ceiling is a symbol that students themselves, not Okuma Shigenobu, are the main characters of Waseda.

Furthermore, Okuma Auditorium has no walls or gate. It is extraordinary that the auditorium stands next to buildings such as a caf辿. It is also interesting that the positioning is not symmetrical. The location of Okuma Auditorium lies 30 degrees in a diagonal direction when viewed from the axis of the road which connects the statue of Okuma Shigenobu and the main gate of Waseda. This is almost like a connection between two worlds and is a symbolic feature found in no other university. People associated with Waseda do not have much pride in the buildings of the university. This is a shame. I believe that these buildings such be regarded with more esteem.

Past school buildings of Waseda University.

At the university, I am currently working together with instructors and students of the Department of Advanced Mechanical Engineering to create and invent ideas and items which have never been seen before. One example is the class that I conduct entitled "Visual Thinking". This is a unique class that seeks to instill students with rich inspiration and expressiveness by having them actually move their hands and work to create and assemble items. Art is very important for communication and inspiration in fields such as science and engineering, as well as political science and economics.

A sketch showing the dome of Okuma Auditorium. Professor Yabuno is pointing to the sun on the ceiling.

Nothing new will be created by simply acquiring engineering skills and assembling items in order from right to left. In order to invent new things, students must be propelled forward by the desire to create which exists inside of them. They must fully mobilize the wealth of memories which exist inside of them. I believe that something new can be created only when scientific technology is combined with these desires and memories. The School of Fundamental Science and Engineering contains a Department of Intermedia Art and Science which seeks to combine scientific technology with art and design. From within the projects of this type of new base, I hope to realize the dream of developing a new kind of professional.

Mr. Ken Yabuno
Waseda University Art and Architecture School Professor, Painter

Completed the Master's Program at the Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1969. Studied abroad at the Real Academia Bellas de Artes de San Fernando (Spain). Assumed his current position in 1999 after serving as a Professor at Musashino Art University. Teaches at the Department of Advanced Mechanical Engineering (Visual Thinking) in the Graduate School of Creative Science and Engineering , the School of Political Science and Economics (Art Theory), the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences II (Evening Division) (Architectural Culture Theory), and the School of Fundamental Science and Engineering (Art Expression Theory). Vice-President of the Niki Art Association. His major painting works include "Giorgio, I Can Hear Your Voice" (displayed in the Waseda University Central Library, 2nd Floor), "My Elementary School" and "One Day on a Hill in Assisi". Has received awards including the Japan Art Academy Prize (2008), the Niki Exhibition Minister of Education Prize (1991), Honorable Mention for the Yasui Prize (1978), and 3rd Place for the Shell Prize (1978). His many written works include "A Journey Through Meiji Period Architecture", "Drawing Buildings", "2 Hour Walk in Tokyo", "2 Hour Walk in Paris", and "Ideas in Painting".

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