Ikeda Manabu is one of the most successful Japanese contemporary artists. He was born in Saga, southern Japan, in 1973 and earned his BA and MA from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Working primarily with pen and acrylic paint, he has produced fascinating works that are extremely detailed and combine the human and natural worlds, the past and the future into a single pictorial field. Many of Ikeda’s works intertwine elements of history, culture, nature, and cityscape. His themes and subject matter are monumental but Ikeda draws intricate buildings, people, trees, animals, birds, trains, ships, and planes. Because of the intensity of his work, most of his drawings are small in size, but he has created several large-size works, each taking more than a year to complete. His artworks are arresting and entertaining, full of visual devices that create unexpected connections between disparate scenes. His works compel viewers to “read” them carefully and remember the joy of looking.
At the same time, there is an alarming, dystonic tone in his art: human figures, which are always tiny and anonymous, have no control over the overwhelming power and scale of nature. His Lighthouse (2009), for example, depicts a gigantic lighthouse, which is so old that trees grow out of it. Pummeled by stormy sea waves, it is falling over. Numerous white birds that fly over the lighthouse, perhaps shocked by the weather and the fall of the lighthouse, add an element of drama to the picture. The human and natural worlds maintain an intricate balance of power, but Ikeda’s man-made objects, like the lighthouse, cannot always predict or endure the forces of nature. Predominantly drawn in blue and navy, the tone of the work is dark, and highlights the menacing, untamable side of the natural world.
Ikeda’s works are in the collection of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, one of the largest contemporary art museums in Japan, and in the private collection of Takahashi Ryutaro, a very prominent collector of contemporary Japanese art in Japan. His works have also been exhibited in major international group exhibitions, including Re-Imagining Asia (2008, The House of World Cultures, Berlin), Great New Wave: Contemporary Art from Japan (2008, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario), and, most recently, Bye Bye Kitty(2011, Japan Society, New York). His Existence (2004), a large-scale drawing of a humongous tree comprising many separate, uniquely shaped trunks intertwined into one, was selected as one of the best artworks of 2011 by the New York Times, establishing Ikeda without question at the pinnacle of the contemporary Japanese art world.