Tokyo: Picture books depict innocent eyes in war

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
A pastel painting made in 1970 during the Vietnam War also bears Chihiro Iwasaki’s wish: “Peace and happiness for all the children of the world.”
Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chihiro Iwasaki at her home in 1973. She is said to have kept the bobbed hair style of her childhood.

Children’s eyes painted in translucent watercolors and sketched in bold with plenty of white space surrounding them greeted me the moment I stepped inside the museum. All of them had Chihiro Iwasaki’s (1918-74) instantly recognizable artistic style.

The Chihiro Art Museum Tokyo opened in 1977 in a corner of the picture book artist’s home studio where she lived from 1952 until her death at the age of 55. The museum’s thematic exhibitions are curated from its collection of about 9,600 works and feature original illustrations by the artist that have appeared in published picture books.

“Iwasaki was good at using water and had exceptional skills in controlling the blur of paint,” said Ayumi Iriguchi, 39, who is in charge of public relations at the museum. “Her drawing techniques were similar to those for ink painting. She was also excellent in sketching, which formed the basis for her coloring.”

The museum features a painting desk in a studio that was restored in 1972. The desk is positioned at a height that the left-handed Iwasaki could paint on while either sitting or standing and her tools are lined up on the desk’s left. Iwasaki is said to have played the piano or cards while considering how an image should be composed, and when ready, she would reach for her brushes and finish the work in a flurry.

The studio was at one time decorated with red cyclamen flowers. In the “Chihiro Iwasaki Exhibition — Children are the Future,” an original illustration from the “Senka-no-Nakano-Kodomotachi” (Children in the Flames of War) picture book that depicts the eyes of many children within red cyclamen flower petals will be on display until June 13.

The work was completed when the artist was ill and she is said to have made the illustration while thinking of the children who lost their lives in the bombings of the Vietnam War, as well as her own personal experiences with war.

Before, I admit to thinking her paintings were overly cutesy and girly. But I have come to realize that they were the manifestation of a sensitive mind.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
The museum was built with Iwasaki’s royalties and donations from her fans. It was renovated in 2002 to have more space for public viewing.
Chihiro Art Museum Tokyo: 4-7-2 Shimoshakujii, Nerima Ward, Tokyo