走進位於上環善慶街的The Wild Lot，沿著狹窄的樓梯走上的閣樓，私密舒適的感覺猶如走進別人的家，數幅油畫放在沙發旁，草圖、畫具、顏料和素描簿雜亂無章地散落在地上、茶几上、窗台上。西山瑞貴（Mizuki Nishiyama）穿著黑色的長裙，徐徐地走來介紹自己。已接受過不少訪問的她，微笑裡仍顯得有點緊張。今年6月時西山在中環的白石畫廊首次舉辦香港的個人展覽《SHUNGA》（春畫），令人們對春畫有了別的想像。「我喜歡討論人性內心深層的一面，人們來看展覽，也許會想：『她在在畫性呢！』，不，這不是我在做的事。雖然《SHUNGA》的靈感是來自日本古代木版情色畫，但我的創作與性無關，畫中使用了深沉樸素的色調、粗糙的線條、黑色的筆觸，以抽象的風格呈現人與人之間的親密與人性的脆弱。」《SHUNGA》是西山瑞貴在紐約的展覽《An Exploration of Human Fragility: Love and Lust》的延續，是身份的探索，也是她對親密的理解。
在《Love and Lust》系列裡，西山瑞貴以意大利詩人但丁的《神曲》裡的煉獄為靈感，探討愛與慾如何模糊了真實與幻想之間的邊界，並藉此研究人類的身體，如何扭曲、重疊、擁抱和觸碰。《SHUNGA》系列中，西山最喜歡的作品之一《Dakko》就是演繹這親密的擁抱和觸碰。「Dakko在日本語的意思是擁抱，是孩子來臨世界時第一個學會的字語。當小孩感到害怕、疲累時，父母便會擁抱著孩子說：『Dakko，Dakko』，讓小孩從親密中感到舒適、安慰。」畫裡的人穿著和服，纏綿的擁抱、無辜的眼神，人和背景幾乎融為一體。「我相信一些使我脆弱的東西，也使我變得更有人性。我們都經歷過掙扎、經歷高潮與低潮，甚麼令你感到自在、甚麼推動你前進、甚麼讓你失望，這一切都是自我覺察，是成長的一部分。」人在親密關係裡，或許會變得更脆弱，或許是更願意表現自己的脆弱。西山喜歡分析自己的想法來加強覺察自己、別人和環境的能力，她相信必須以謙虛和脆弱的方式對待生活才能擁有這種覺察力。
The Wild Lot tucked away on Shin Hing Street in the Sheung Wan neighborhood. Taking the narrow steps up to its attic, a comfy and homey vibe welcomes you. There are paintings sitting neatly on the couch. Sketches, brushes, paints, and tools randomly scatter on the floor, coffee table, and windowsill. Mizuki Nishiyama, who dresses in a long black dress, slowly walks over to introduce herself. Although she has been in interviews before, she still appears a little nervous behind her smile. In June this year, Nishiyama held her first solo exhibition in Hong Kong at the Whitestone Gallery in Central. The exhibition, which is called SHUNGA (a Japanese term for erotic art), has given a brand new definition of erotic art. “I like to dig into the core of humanity. When people come to my exhibition, they might think, ‘She is painting about sex!’ But no, this is not what I am doing. Although inspiration are stemmed from Shunga, a traditional Japanese form of erotic art on woodblock print, my paintings have nothing to do with sex. What I really want to explore is human fragility and intimacy. For that, I’ve chosen to paint in abstract forms with a darker tone, rough lines, and black strokes.” SHUNGA can be seen as a continuation of Nishiyama’s previous New York exhibition, An Exploration of Human Fragility: Love and Lust, which focuses on the subjects of intimacy and identity search.
Inspired byItalian poet Dante Alighieri’s Inferno of Divine Comedy, Nishiyama’s Love and Lust is a collection of tempestuous artworks that blur the boundary between reality and fantasy, and also a study on human body in various forms, such as contortions, overlaps, embrace and touch. Being one of Nishiyama’s most favorite works in the SHUNGA series, Dakko further explores the idea of embrace and touch. “Dakko is the Japanese word for embrace. It is the first word that a child would learn after birth. When children feel scared and tired, parents would embrace them and say, ‘Dakko. Dakko.’ It soothes and comforts the child.” The abstract figures in the painting could be seen wearing Kimono and in embrace. They look innocent, and their entwined bodies blend into the background. “I think what makes me vulnerable also makes me more human. We’ve all been through ups and downs. Knowing what makes you feel at ease, what encourages you to move forward, or in contrary, what disappoints you is a process of self-awareness. That’s part of growing up” People tend to be more vulnerable in intimate relationships, or to be exact, they are more willing to show their vulnerable side. Nishiyama likes to analyze her own thoughts in order to build a higher self-awareness to herself, others and also the surroundings. She believes that in order to do so, a humbling and vulnerable approach to life must be taken.
Coming from a family of artists, Nishiyama grew up being immersed in various forms of art. Her mother, grandmother and granduncle are all painters. Each of them works with different mediums — her grandmother is a Japanese Nihonga painter who is particularly good at using natural mineral pigment (tennen iwa enogu in Japanese). Her granduncle paints with watercolor, and her mother paints with oil. “I often watched them paint when I was small. The smell of thinner would bring me back to my childhood because that was what my mother’s studio smelled like. My father worked in the fashion industry so I had a lot of opportunities to play with fabrics. My father is also a musician. I learnt a lot about music from him. My childhood experiences have shaped me into a person who can express herself through a whole variety of art. Art has become my second language. Sometimes I’d paint with my mother, but we are not the type who loves sharing a studio space with someone else. Plus I am a bit shy to show others what I’m working on. My style is very different from my mother’s. She is an abstract painter and loves painting landscapes. She’d spend a few months on a brush stroke. I am more obsessed with painting human bodies.” As a mixed Japanese artist of Japanese, Italian and Hong Kong heritage, Nishiyama speaks six languages and she jokes that she has multiple personalities too. “My personality changes as I switch between languages. When I am in Japan, I’d be more restrained; though the way I speak always betrays me as I could be quite aggressive. It’s probably because subconsciously I want to show people the different sides of me. New York is an uplifting and energetic place. I feel way more relaxed there. In Hong Kong, I am a quiet person. I feel at ease here and that allows me to take in the beauty of this city slowly and carefully. I believe that everyone has different aspects of their personality. There are so many layers of human complexity.
“Painting is an extension of self. Everytime I dip the brush in the paint, an energy is bestowed upon the brush to transform my experiences and emotions into various textures, colors, lines, and shapes. Painting is a way of responding to life and ultimately, making sense of my reality.” Nishiyama said that she dreamed of becoming a poet when she was a child, but over time, she realized that the dynamism of painting makes her feel complete. “I get anxious easily, and I have contradictory personalities that affect my works. The frustrating and sensitive aspects of life have taught me that everything is just part of the process.” Vulnerability is not a sign of cowardice. Being sensitive and vulnerable requires greater courage than simply arming up. When you suffer and feel lost, just remember that everything you come across is an opportunity to live.