The Kumano Way extends over a sacred land that shelters Taoist and Buddhist temples, many portals and several legends; it is a pilgrimage route similar to the Saint James Way. There, nature is sacred – it imposes its rhythm. On the grounds that I left more than a hundred paintings along 800 km of the Camino de Santiago during two years, the tourism department of Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, and the city hall of Tanabe, in Japan, also invited me to bury my canvases along the Kumano Way. I learned later that it is a tradition of the monks of the Yamabushi Mountains to bury their sutras and sacred objects in these highlands, which are now on the Unesco World Heritage List. My work was accepted with great modesty and respect. The Kumano Way and the Camino de Santiago are considered to be “brothers,” for their likeness.
I took 15 canvases with me, eight of them were already finished, inspired in old paintings by the Japanese artist Ito Jakuchu (1716 – 1800). I worked on the very locations the canvases would be “planted,” using natural and vegetal pigments. In addition, I inserted many ideograms I came to know along the trip.
I went to an exposition in Paris and I fell in love with the work of the painter Ito Jakuchu. He not only portrayed nature in its exuberance, but he also revealed its abrasion done by time, reasons that resemble my work. As I received the invitation, I thought it to be the ideal moment to honor Jakuchu. It was a great pleasure to finish this activity. It was so intense, that I felt graced on my return from Japan.
The criterion to select the locations was to choose them according to their historical importance or for their proximity to an important spot. The canvases were buried in Boku, Miharashidai, Bijutsu Kan and in the mountains of Yamabushi. But I also felt and followed a very strong intuition.
A Shinto monk gave me a mirror and told me that every time I looked at my self, I would be seeing my heart. At the Shinto temples there are no images at the altars. In one of them there is a window through which we can see a grandiose and sacred waterfall.
An example: I left some canvases at a vegetable garden, next to an organic restaurant – which food, as it happens, was delicious and prepared by two young women who were the ones who kept the vegetable garden. I chose the exact location in which the radishes would be planted. I thought they would transmit the energy of my work to the food that nourished the local regular customers as it was being prepared. There I placed four paintings: one of a sunflower, another one with hydrangeas and worked the following ones with some pigments and local vegetation. This place was called Boku.
I saw a quite interesting ritual in the city of Hongu. Some men came down a steep mountain during the night, carrying torches written with the names of their families and the profession of each one of them. At the end of the course they come out as real heroes, even though some of them are hurt. This is a rite of passage in which men show their courage. And the effect of the fire on the dark, the white clothes and the torches, which make a different sound as they collide, is very beautiful. Normally there is a lot of sake drinking before they descend the mountain.
It is always a surprise. I never know the result of the canvases, only at the moment they are unburied. This always produces a great emotion in me. For it is not just about the physical aspect of what a canvas becomes, but about all the energy that comes from the pilgrims and the location.
In Japan, I was welcomed with great modesty and respect, as in the region there are the monks, who, like me, bury their sutras. The most fascinating side in this trip – besides nature’s harmony and the architecture of the temples – was the people. To name just a few: the two farmer women that planted and prepared the food; the monks, who always generously offered me gifts, such as the mirror.
Another Buddhist temple, also near the waterfall, had a little altar with the image of a man and a baby crawling: this really fascinated me, as the print had a sublime aspect. I entered this temple and saw that there were many toys, candies and sweetis to be given as offerings to the spirits of the children. A very elderly monk approached me and tried to dialogue with me through gifts: first he gave me an envelope and then, smiling, he gave me a box. As I opened the box, I saw that it contained a drawing representing the Chinese year of the ox, and it had a little bundle of candies made of brown sugar, as those given to the children. The artisans seemed like Manga characters and resembled angels.
In addition to all of that, in a little store in the mountains, I saw a bracelet with three symbols: a virgin, a ball and a key – the very same ones I found earlier, in the streets of Geneva, a little while before my trip. As I looked at the Japanese bracelet made of braided leather with these three allegories, I felt the impulse to buy it, but at the same time I saw a couple approaching me. As I said I wanted to purchase the armlet, they said they were the artisans who made the objects sold at the shop, and they were very touched that I liked their work so much. So they gave me some fruits made of cotton flowers, as delicate as themselves. I felt they were spiritual and benevolent beings as angels.
Mr. Urano – and his entire team at the tourism office – also showed matchless kindness, introducing me to the typical foods of each region and the ryokans (typical Japanese inns) that offered warm volcano water baths. I found the smoke that rises from the rivers of transparent waters especially curious.
At the airport I had a pleasing surprise, for they brought me treats: a beautiful silk belt, used to tie the kimonos and green tea with rice grains. The same happened when I visited the mayor of Tanabe – he gave me a fan and a bottle of sake. In Japan, people are very polite; one of their traditions is offering gifts.