Rebecca Salter is a British artist who lived for six years in Japan. In 2011 she had a major survey exhibition of her work at Yale Centre for British Art. She has also written two books about Japanese printmaking.
As happens with so many people who go to live in Japan, I set off with one set of ideas and came back hugely enriched with another. I had graduated from art school in the UK and after two years of securing funding I arrived at Kyoto City University of the Arts. This was 1979 and prospects in the UK for an artist were pretty dismal. Arriving in Japan I felt as if I had skipped a century. The difference between booming Japan and ‘winter of discontent Britain’ could not have been greater. But amongst all the vitality and excitement of Japan at its peak, it was the largely solitary and quiet experience of finding my voice as an artist in a totally different culture which has stayed with me.
The art history I had been taught focussed almost exclusively on the Western tradition and it was visually exhilarating and hugely challenging to be immersed in a way of seeing and interpreting the world which was so completely different. Based in Kyoto I was able to become familiar with some of the world’s greatest treasures (both artistic and architectural) and part of the privilege was for them to become part of my everyday life. For five years I lived within walking distance of Katsura Detached Palace! The understanding of space, texture, colour and form that I learned through living in Kyoto has stayed with me. Every day in my studio in London thirty plus years later I find that I am still drawing on inspiration from the time I spent in Japan.
There is no doubt in my mind that my professional career as an artist is built on Japanese foundations but on a personal level, learning to speak and read Japanese has probably given me the greatest pleasure. I live with the fear that after all the hard work required to learn it, I will lose it one day and my parallel life in Japan will be lost to me. My guilty secret is that every time I fly back to Japan I look forward to turning on the television and catching up on the latest soap operas and game shows while eating coffee jelly and cream and seeing just how many new words I don’t understand.
For more information please see www.rebeccasalter.com