CHIHIRO'S children |up close, in person

Art October 02, 2014 01:00


3,133 Viewed

One of Japan's best loved illustrators gets an endearing exhibition in Bangkok

THE LATE JAPANESE illustrator Chihiro Iwasaki’s charming “piezograghs” of the title character in the children’s book “Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window” have won many Thai hearts, and 55 of the paintings are being shown in Thailand for the first time at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Opening on Sunday, the exhibition “Chihiro Iwasaki and Picture Books of Japan”, co-hosted by the Japan Foundation, will feature reproductions of Iwasaki’s watercolours from her own Chihiro Art Museum.

Transporting the original, high-priced paintings would have risked damage, so the show instead comprises “piezograph” reproductions, made using a technique that maintains the look of the original at relatively low cost, so they can be sold at reasonable prices.

Using high-grade mat canvas or Arches watercolour paper, the large reproductions are made with a 52-inch printer and resist fading as well as the ravages of ultraviolet light. The pigmented ink is printed on the sub-surface.

The exhibition also includes several historical Japanese art books.

Best known for her watercolours of flowers and children, Iwasaki was born in Fukui Prefecture in 1918 but moved to Tokyo the following year. She began studying sketching and oil painting at age 14 under Saburosuke Okada and later learned calligraphy from Shuyo Oda of the Fujiwara Kozei School.

Her first set of illustrations for children were the 1950 “paper-theatre” storytelling panels titled “Okasan no Hanashi” (“The Story of a Mother”). In 1956 she created her first picture book, “Hitori de Dekiru yo” (“I Can Do It All by Myself”). Prizes began coming from around the world during the 1970s.

Chihiro was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1973 and died the following year, age 55.

“One of the more intriguing aspects of Chihiro Iwasaki as an artist is that, throughout her career, she never tired of painting children,” her museum’s website points out.

Even without a model, she could accurately capture the subtle differences between a 10-month-old baby and a year-old child. Chihiro used her keen eye and polished drawing skills to create countless images of youngsters in literally thousands of works. Without even a rough sketch, she would pick up a brush, dip it in the paint, and move it freely across the paper to convey the soft and elastic qualities of a child’s skin. The pictures she created were fresh, vivacious and brimming with life.

“When a child holds my finger, I delight in feeling his powerful grip,” she once said. “Those soft, chubby hands are astonishingly strong. You can’t draw such internal movements by simply observing and sketching.”

Chihiro was able to refine her ability to capture the youthful energy of children in pictures by drawing them for more than 20 years and through her own experience being a mother.

The children she depicted appear alive, filled with thoughts and emotions. “When I’m painting children, I feel as if I’m painting my own childhood,” she said.

The little girls in her work may very well be reflections of Chihiro in her youth.

She invented a unique style of subtle expression by mixing techniques from Western watercolour painting with those from Japanese and Chinese traditional India ink painting. This delicate and flowing style represents an essential quality in her work. Her early experiences with the calligraphy of the Fujiwara Kozei School also seem to have influenced her drawing technique.


“Chihiro Iwasaki and Picture Books of Japan” opens at 4pm on Sunday on the third to fifth floors of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. It runs through November 16.

At 5 on Sunday, Chihiro Art Museum vice director Yuko Takesako will talk about “The History of Japanese Picture Books from E-ingakyo (the Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect) to Chihiro Iwasaki”. The Chihiro Museum’s curator will then lead a tour of the exhibition.

Find out more at and