January 15, 2007
When Kumiko McKee first came to our office to have reproductions made of her paintings, we were fascinated by this young woman’s energy, knowledge and talent. Her life so far has been a journey worthy of a film and I am delighted to share her story with you.
Kumiko, a Fort Collins artist, embodies the spirit of Journey. A native of Japan, Kumiko has connected with her Japanese roots and expanded her focus to embrace contemporary culture, politics and the impact of war.
Kumiko has created three powerful bodies of work. “Koto” is based upon classical Japanese culture and style. “Time on the Earth” is a reverent view of who or what is responsible for creating our planet. Finally, “Power on the Earth” speaks profoundly to the emotions which embrace or clash to create our culture of the present.
“I want my paintings to have power,” she said. “And if I had stayed in Japan, I would never have painted the same. Now, from this distance, I can see and appreciate Japanese culture.”
Kumiko arrived in America with a passport full of stamps and experiences. Her extensive backpack travels in 1990 and 1991 took her through Europe, Egypt, Israel, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and southeast Asia during turbulent and historically significant political times which are clearly reflected in her artwork.
“This was the time of unification of East and West Germany after the opening of the Berlin Wall. I was in Israel when the Gulf War started and in India when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated,” Kumiko recalled. “After four months of traveling in Europe, I went to Egypt for a month before heading to Israel to volunteer at a kibbutz.”
The trip from Cairo to Tel Aviv was an eye-opener for Kumiko.
“It was a small bus and when I boarded, the man behind me caught my attention. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was making sure there was a hiding space under the seat,” Kumiko said. “Just one week prior, the same bus was raided by terrorists and all eight passengers were killed.
“We were escorted by Egyptian soldiers in Jeeps holding huge guns pointed at us and ready to shot any invaders,” she continued. “It was the first time I’ve ever had a gun pointed at me. The soldiers left us at the Suez Canal, and as the bus drove through the Sinai, I saw many rusty tanks buried in the desert. The view of Sinai left evidence of old wars and I saw its reality.”
Kumiko’s plan was to work at the kibbutz for six months before heading to Turkey. Those plans were radically changed by the beginning of the Gulf War. “By the time I received the news about the war, all flights and ships departing form Israel were already stopped,” she said. “No Arab country would allow you to enter from Israel with the exception Egypt. I managed to escape to Egypt by bus thanks to the Japanese Embassy and arrived safely with two fellow workmates and a friend. The four of us decided to stay in a hotel in Alexandria.
“Upon arriving, I saw television reports of missiles attacking where my workmates and friends were,” she continued. “I tried to call them, but all communications were cut, including those to the Japanese Embassy. I was shocked, worried and had a terrible feeling.”
At the hotel in Alexandria, Kumiko bonded with fellow travelers from Turkey, Syria and Jordan who enjoyed cooking together and sharing cultures through food and camaraderie. Kumiko spent days at a local café playing chess from morning until evening.
“I found I was the only woman in the café all the time, since Islamic women do not go out to café and play chess,” Kumiko said, smiling. “People were very kind in Alexandria.”
After waiting a month, it was finally safe to travel to London, where Kumiko worked until she felt the calling to come to the United States. She began her studies at the University of Wyoming, receiving her bachelor of fine art in 2002.
After meeting and marrying her husband Craig, Kumiko made Fort Collins her home. She paints in her sunny studio on the west side of town.
Kumiko described her recent work as an “expression of the point of my life, my view, always exposing what I feel. They are a relief to myself, what I’m thinking of my life, exposing myself as a woman.”
Her work has evolved from Japanese images based on classical Japanese culture to edgy, contemporary panels created on Masonite with headlines torn from today’s newspapers. The collages are overpainted with powerful, striking images of war and its horrific impact. The wounded, the soldiers and the world leaders are all portrayed with rich, dark detail. The resulting panels are full of passion, emotion and Kumiko’s unique impression of what the world thinks of America and the “the conflict that power and success generate.”
“All of my series of paintings are in some way connected to my life and experience,”she said. “The current war situation is the biggest issue that I’ve been concerned about in the past years and I have lots of things to say from my experience that is based on what I actually saw and heard. I am just expressing it through my painting.”
As we concluded our visit, Kumiko told me, “I think my life is a journey as you said and sometimes I feel like my journey is to be an artist.”
As we attach this talented young woman evolve, we will all agree that she is indeed on a very exciting journey. Visit www.kumiko-art.com to learn more about her powerful body of work.