The paintings in Junko O’Neill’s exhibition, Fragments of Time, at the GV gallery in Chiltern St are about ‘ma’ – the Japanese concept of negative space, or the space between things, like the intervals between pillars, or the space that surrounds an object. Without the space the object would not be what it is. In Japanese art the ‘ma’ exists in the mind of the viewer- the job of the artwork is to provoke that sensation of space rather than depict it.
O’Neill uses two techniques to depict ‘ma’. The first is to place a figure in the foreground of the paintings, with its back to the viewer. ‘If the figure faces you, then there is a conversation,’ she told me, ‘If it faces into the picture then you can identify with it.’
So the viewer in the gallery becomes the viewer in the painting, seeing what they see and experiencing the sense of space that they feel.
Junko told me that much of her work is influenced by Haruki Murakami’s novels, which have a similar sense of time passing within the space. For instance this one (detail shown above) was inspired by Murakami’s early novel Norwegian Wood.
Sometimes Junko tries to engage directly with ‘ma’ rather than trying to intermediate with it. A number of works in the exhibition are pure abstracts where she tries to depict space. ‘I don’t like the brushstrokes to be too visible’ she told me. ‘They stop the viewer engaging with the space.’
This is a detail of a larger painting:
Junko was born and brought up in Saitama, near Tokyo, but her parents were opposed to her becoming an artist so she studied American & English Literature at Rikkyo University, Tokyo where she got her degree. It was only after that that she was able to come to the UK to study at Southampton University where she got her degree and MA in Fine Art Painting.
If you’re interested in finding out more about ‘ma’, there’s a panel discussion at the gallery this evening – Thursday, March 21st 7- 9.30 pm, with Junko and Andrew Buchanan, Centre Director, Fairfield Arts Centre, Robin Thompson, musician, Okeanos Ensemble, Martina Mercer-Hall, feng-shui master and Chris Harrod, art enthusiast. It will include a music interlude by Robin Thompson from the Okeanos Ensemble.
Junko will be giving talks on Friday, March 22nd at 4.30 pm and Sunday, March 24th at 2 pm.
On Saturday, March 23rd there are two workshops – walk-in origami folding for families from 11:30 to 1 pm and an introduction to Calligraphy workshop for adults from 2:30 to 4 pm. All the events are free.
The exhibition continues until 24th March and you can see more of Junko’s work on her website.