Yoshiko Nakahara

Yoshiko Nakahara

Yoshiko Nakahara, Habit, 2015, ink on paper, 360mm x 420mm


The intricate drawings of Yoshiko Nakahara juxtapose a sense of rigorous activity with a calm, pattern-based technique. The complexity of her compositions inspires a mood of introspective contemplation that is both unexpected and immediate.

Working on a relatively small scale is key to Nakahara’s practice, which centres on perfecting the quality of her mark-making. Working exclusively in ink, her pieces are built slowly and deliberately from thousands of individual pen strokes and subtle washes. Every minute detail is described with unshakable precision; gradually, forms emerge and intersect in complex, multi-layered arrangements of great depth and subtlety. Pattern-making is central to much of her work, with compositions constructed largely through the repetition of simple lines or geometric forms.

Nakahara’s distinct style is predicated on the traditional Japanese aesthetic Wabi-sabi. Comprising a variety of aesthetic principles based on Zen teachings, Wabi-sabi values irregularity, naturalness, subtlety and tranquillity. Each of these properties is derivative of nature in some way, and form the basis for the model of much traditional Japanese art. It is therefore unsurprising that much of Nakahara’s work takes the natural world as its subject. Even in recent work, which has seen a shift towards more abstract patterned compositions incorporating new figurative elements, she still applies the stylistic principles of her earlier work.

Nakahara seamlessly melds her formal concerns with these understated philosophical ideas. Emphasis is placed on the details, with the artist taking great care to impart a sense of the beauty and wonder of the scene. Each composition is distinct from every other, utilising a new series of marks in order to explore different characteristics of the natural world. The compositions develop organically, though Nakahara remains conscious of the development towards a completed image.

Nakahara carefully balances these thematic concerns with the aesthetic properties of her work. The messages are subtly worked into the finely constructed forms, which are both faultlessly naturalistic and compositionally abstract. The viewer is never presented with a natural scene or a mere botanical study. Instead, elements of nature are captured, rearranged and sharply rendered; colour (though not light) is abandoned in favour of a style that draws attention to Nakahara’s complex linear construction and composition. This is particularly evident in more recent abstract work, which is highly stylised and patterned. Often a single line is repeated endlessly to create the composition; the layering and repetition of these lines becomes Nakahara’s primary means of evoking complex light conditions, as with Requiem II.

The intricacy of Nakahara’s work creates a viewing experience that is much more intimate than usual. The small scale of her pieces demands contemplation from the individual viewer, offering a moment of personal reflection rather than intellectual analysis. Nakahara’s work engages at the level of the senses and appeals to an innate bond with the natural world; her flawless renderings and thoughtful compositions capture a sense of the sublime.


Born: Kanagawa, Japan

Lives: Auckland

Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts, Musashino Art University, Tokyo, Japan

Awards/Distinctions: The Wallace Art Awards - Finalist (2008)

Public Exhibitions: Double Vision: When Artists Collaborate(with Shintaro Nakahara), Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, Wellington (2010); MORI Art Museum, Roppongi staff project, Tokyo, Japan (2005)

Publications/Articles: "The Mark of the Modern Moko" by TJ McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, 22 Aug 2015; "Art for art's sake" by Warwick Brown, The Listener, Oct 22-28, 2011, pp 40-41; "Clockwise double dip" by Rhiannon Horrell, East and Bays Courier, Nov 25, 2011, p6; Cranmer, Ursula, Exploring Drawing: A look at contemporary drawing, Whangaparaoa: Integrated Education Ltd, 2011; Double Vision: When Artists Collaborate exhibition catalogue (featured back cover), Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, 2010; ‘Brainstorming proves triumph for art’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Aug 2010; ‘Contrasts a fine fit’ by Sharu Delilkan, The Aucklander, May 2009; Sanderson, Kylie, Tamara Darragh and Kim Atherfold, The Artists: 21 Practitioners in New Zealand Contemporary Art c. 2009-2011, Auckland: Beatnik Publishing, 2009, pp 56-59

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