Kiyota Oshiro, The Artist Who Plants Cinnamon Trees | CoolJapan

In Yanbaru forest there are trees with so much history that their arterial roots are intertwined and twisted deep into earth and rock. There are all sorts of trees here; old trees, young trees, and beyond that, lush green hills that stretch towards the coast.


Young Cinnamon Tree

A young cinnamon tree.


Within the forest, there is a clearing and a man that is not altogether a gardener who plants trees. He returns here when the occasion demands, crouched beside a young cinnamon tree, now barely a sapling, the man postured in just the same way that a father would crouch to tie the shoes of a child. He plants them in light of every book of his artwork that is sold, books with figures that come out of his visions. His name is Kiyota Oshiro, and he calls himself a pointillist.


Kiyota OshiroKiyota Oshiro uses a 0.03 mm point pen to create his intricate artworks.


He draws his visions that come out of prayer — mythical interpretations of deities and animals; a griffin with long and wispy braids flowing from its body, an elephant with feathered ears, a figure seated crossed-legged on its crown.


This artwork depicts a dragon god(dess) teaching a newborn baby about the world.


For Okinawan culture, spirits abound and are ever restless, forever abiding within the realms of nature. There was once a goddess on Miyako Island who lived in a well. When the well was destroyed to make way for a road, there began to be a series of car accidents that were considered unnatural and attributed to the well's destruction. In such a case, shamans are tasked as detectives of the extraordinary to find resolutions.


In this instance, the shaman performed a series of rituals that reconstructed the place of the well goddess, and all was right again. Kiyota grew up inured to the ideas of spirits. His grandmother was a shaman from the island, and he grew up with the same respect and appreciation for nature that underlies her religion. Kiyota prays before he draws, and what he sees when his eyes are closed is what he puts to paper.


Kiyota OshiroKiyota prays before he draws, and what he sees when his eyes are closed is what he puts to paper.


When one looks at the illustrations, one becomes aware of the detail involved, and the difficulty of the technique. These images are made out of fine maize of dots spelling out a picture, not one out of place. Watch him draw and you notice the discipline involved in the constant gesture of having to raise the arm, again and again, like the silver needle of a sewing machine. So then, knowing this, you might ask — why make points at all? Why not do as the Expressionists did, with their powerful, broad, gestural strokes? Why do away with all that passion for a banal calmness?


The answer lies in the etymology of the Japanese words for "heaven" (天, pronounced as "tien") and "dot" (点, pronounced as "ten") which are similar in pronunciation. Additionally, when 天 is deconstructed it becomes 人 (person) and 二 (two) which implies the relationship between humankind and nature. Kiyota's grandmother had told him about this concept and its relation to the natural world. And this, however incidental, is the reason for his technique.

He smiles when he talks. When he prays, right before he draws, he is very serious. One can imagine that what he sees, beyond the darkness that probes imagination, is nature itself, the huge trees with roots interlaced, the squat shrines beneath in the shade of the leaves, and beyond it all, the supernatural that implies itself to exist.


Kiyota OshiroThere is clarity in his perception, this decisive vision.


In a way, he is like Monet, the famous Impressionist, with his gentle dapples on paper, the work that is an accumulation of a series of abrupt starts and stops. Unlike Monet, who was so famously tortured by his own perception that he destroyed his paintings, Kiyota, with his calm stippling, has none of the traces of that struggle. All there is are the oblique motions of the wrist, the perfect gestures that repeat themselves again and again. And again. There is clarity in his perception, this decisive vision.


But then, is it really his vision if it comes from heaven? Perhaps, it does not really matter. When he prays, seated at the low table, with his pen in front of him, it makes you guess at that. Then he opens his eyes and begins to draw.


Learn more about the art of Kiyota Oshiro on Art Island Okinawa's website.


Portrait and artworks provided and owned by Kiyota Oshiro

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