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#601 from the Monado Series.

Last year Dr. Hitoshi Nakazato GFA’66 was looking for a way to celebrate the new millennium, three decades of teaching at Penn’s Graduate School of Fine Arts, and his “new citizenship—not American, but seniorcitizenship.”

“I needed something very loud to wake up myself,” recalls the 66-year-old Japanese-born artist. So he embarked on a plan to paint 2001 works in the year 2001. 

As prolific as he was, Nakazato needed an extension, so he renamed his series of paintings “2002 for 2002.”

“The first eight months of [last] year went very smoothly, very productively; then September 11 happened and I couldn’t work,” Nakazato explains one spring afternoon in a phone conversation from his Manhattan studio. “I was glued to the TV screen. I felt this project was so meaningless.” 

An adjunct professor whose work has been exhibited internationally, Nakazato says it helped him to recall other times in his life when he couldn’t paint: during World War II in his native Japan, and also during the Japanese student uprisings of the late 1960s. During the latter period he heard a visiting artist named Carl Andre comment that, “Art is about imagination, [and] if we stop making art, then history itself would stop.” Remembering Andre’s words after September 11 “saved me,” Nakazato says. “I just kept working.”

#652 from the Monado Series.

Despite his use of such impersonal titles as #700 and #399, he says, “Painting is like a diary for me, so every painting reminds me of that moment I finished, and also the day I finished.

“Painting one painting leads to the next painting,” he adds, “so the process itself leads me to the unknown territory.” Using the forms of circle, triangle, and square as a “vocabulary,” he creates in each work a different “sentence, a kind of statement.” 

Thirty-five of the works were exhibited at the Montpelier (Vt.) Cultural Arts Center this past spring. Nakazato is also looking to exhibit his paintings in Israel, China, Croatia, or Bosnia.

To keep “fresh,” he listens to music, reads literature—and visits art galleries, which tend to tick him off. “Usually I don’t like the things I see in the galleries, so I’ll be frustrated and angered and bring my emotions back into my studio. I get upset seeing people working very superficially,” he explains, “not seeking their own path.”

As of late June, Nakazato had completed 911 numbered paintings—still far short of his goal. Not wanting to sacrifice quality for quantity, he now predicts he will reach his target number sometime in early 2003.

Regardless of his finish date, he says, the experience has changed him. “My sensitivity is sharper. My color vocabulary is deeper and my methodology is cleaner and more systematic, and, at the same time, more flexible. And I feel freer than ever.”

—Susan Frith

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