Traces of the Gods. Paintings by the Japanese Artist Torii Rei
It is a great pleasure and an honour to present the art of the remarkable Japanese artist Torii Rei. Torii Rei was born in 1952. In 1974, he graduated from the Musashino Art University, and has since worked as a freelance Nihonga artist and writer. He has studied Japanese legends and traditional culture for more than 30 years. The artist is fascinated by ancient vernacular culture, especially by the era before the arrival of Buddhism, Chinese hieroglyphics and Confucianism. He has been inspired by the twirling designs of the pottery of the Jōmon Era (14 000 BC), as well as by the classical Japanese paintings (yamato-e) of the Heian period (794–1185). The exquisite aesthetics of his works, achieved by the masterful application of classical Japanese painting techniques, is based on the study of and reflection on Japan’s ancient vernacular culture, mythology and traditions, which date back thousands of years. Torii’s works are contemporary reflections of Japanese mentality and spirituality. Speaking of his art, Torii Rei has explained that he prefers to look towards early Japanese art and traditional culture for new creative approaches, in order to overcome the anthropocentrism, and to convey the unity of humans and nature. The abundant mythological heritage, which fascinates Torii Rei, especially the fact that it is rooted in nature worship and is expressed through a deep respect for natural forces and an attempt to find harmony between mankind and the universe, provides the opportunity to look for similarities in the mentality of Estonians and Japanese.
The exhibition “Traces of the Gods” focuses on paintings that depict the rebuilding of the Ise Shrine. The Ise Grand Shrine, or the Ise Jingū, is the most important Shintō sanctuary in Japan, and the tradition of rebuilding it every 20 years is more than a thousand years old. The rebuilding tradition of the Ise Shrine began in the seventh century. In 2013, the 62nd rebuilding was completed. It takes about eight to ten years to rebuild both shrine complexes of the Ise Shrine − the Naikū and the Gekū, and during the various stages of the process, nearly 100,000 people from all over Japan are involved as workers or skilled masters. In addition to being significant from the point of view of religious history, this tradition expresses a deep respect for the vernacular cultural heritage, as well as a wish to keep the skills of the masters of previous generations alive. This is an excellent example of the Japanese principle of preserving cultural heritage: it is not the physical original that needs to be preserved, because different eras will undoubtedly add their layers to it. It is about passing on, from generation to generation, the authentic form, the idea, the building principles, the skills and the techniques of all the different masters, thus preserving the heritage for thousands of years. The stages of rebuilding the shrine are accompanied by detailed rituals, all of which pass on and preserve the spiritual meaning of the shrine culture of Shintō. Torii Rei has depicted the various rituals performed at the Ise Shrine with great dedication. He was commissioned to paint 30 pictures depicting the 62nd rebuilding of the shrine, which was completed in 2013. The paintings are part of the permanent display of the Sengū Museum, and it is a great honour to present 14 of those paintings in Estonia. Torii Rei’s high position in the world of Shintō art is proven by the fact that he participated in the most important ritual of the rebuilding of the Ise Shrine: the procession of relocating the deity, which involves the Emperor’s envoys and the supreme priests of shrines.
Torii Rei’s large-scale paintings are on display in numerous Japanese shrines and temples (the Suwa Taisha Kamisha Shrine, the Daienji Temple, the Okuni Shrine, the Mishima Taisha Shrine etc.), as well as in the festive halls of public buildings. His works have been exhibited in several Shintō museums.
In his works, Torii tries to recapture that warm and all-embracing sense of communion that emerges when human beings, nature, planet Earth and the universe all function in a harmonious whole. In Japan, the shrine culture and Shintō are phenomena that preserve and pass on the traditional way of thinking, with its deep respect for nature and for the continuation of life. The beauty that lies in purity, mental aptness, a sense of happiness, simplicity and reverence, and that expresses itself through ritual prayers, serves as the spiritual point of departure for all of Torii Rei’s art.
The exhibition is held at the Adamson-Eric Museum in cooperation with the Ars Orientalis Association.
The project is supported by: The Japan Foundation, EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee, Ise Grand Shrine, Ise Grand Shrine Sengū Museum, Okuni Shrine, Association of Shintō Shrines, Embassy of Japan in Estonia, Ministry of Culture of Estonia, Cultural Endowment of Estonia and Toyota Baltic AS.
Exhibition curators: Taimi Paves (Ars Orientalis), Kersti Koll (Adamson-Ericu muuseum / Adamson-Eric Museum)
Exhibition designer: Inga Heamägi
Graphic designers: Külli Kaats, Inga Heamägi
Torii Rei. Uji Bridge. Courtesy of the artist